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Potential Health Risks from Dry Cleaning Compounds - at Home or Work

Potential Health Risks from Dry Cleaning Compounds - at Home or Work

Drycleaning Environmental and Health Issues and Resources for Owners and Operators of Dry Cleaning Facilities

For the general public:

This page is aimed at owners and operators of dry cleaners, but if you are concerned about the danger of perchloroethylene from dry cleaning to your health, click here for another page that answers many of the common questions about hazards from having clothes dry cleaned or working at a dry cleaners. 

For owners and operators of dry cleaning equipment:

It is important for you to know the hazards associated with the use of liquid perchloroethylene (perc), and the kinds and sources of perc wastes that are produced by the dry cleaning process. Although perc is the most common cleaning solvent used in the dry cleaning industry, it is also suspected of causing cancer and has been found to be moderately toxic to people. It is classified as a pollutant in both air and water regulations. Its disposal is regulated as a hazardous waste.

Air Emissions

The two largest potential sources of air emissions from the dry cleaning industry are the release of perc vapors into the atmosphere during transfer of clothes from the washer to the dryer and the venting of the dryer exhaust airstream.  The concentrations of perc in the outside air is of concern to neighbors of dry cleaners! To eliminate these sources of air pollution, EPA regulations are phasing out the use of transfer machines and phasing in requirements on the installation of control devices for dryer exhaust airstreams.

Hazardous Waste

Dry cleaning facilities typically generate wastes in the form of cooked powder residues, still bottom residues, spent cartridges, and button/lint trap wastes. These wastes are perc-based and have an EPA Hazardous Waste Number of F002. Dry cleaners may also occasionally dispose of unused perc and these wastes have a Hazardous Waste Number of U210. The EPA Hazardous Waste Number is needed when filling out the Notification of Hazardous Waste Activity form (Figure II-1, page II-24) when obtaining an EPA Identification Number for generating hazardous waste. It is also needed when filling out the Uniform Hazardous Waste Manifest (Figure II-6, page II-41). This Manifest must accompany each hazardous waste shipment to ensure the hazardous waste arrives at its final destination. Of course, most of the perc wastes are recycled instead of being disposed.  In this case, they are not subject to the hazardous waste regulations.


The only source of process wastewater that would be of general concern to a dry cleaner is separater water, since it contains perc. Separator water can be disposed of as a hazardous waste or treated in a mister or an evaporator. Disposal of untreated separator water into on-site disposal systems such as dry wells, cesspools, and septic tanks is prohibited. Disposal into a municipal sewer system is subject to state and local Publicly Owned Treatment Works (POTW) requirements.

Complying with the law

In September, 1993, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued national regulations to control air emissions of perchloroethylene (perc) from dry cleaners. The rule, in the form of a national emission standard for hazardous air pollutants (NESHAP) for perc dry cleaning facilities, was published in the September 22, 1993 edition of the Federal Register(volume 58, page. 49354). The regulation affects all dry cleaners that use perc.  There are also regulations that control the water that leaves your facility (via a drain, sewer, surface or the ground!  There are regulations that control any pollution you put on the ground or soil.  There are regulations for any waste that you put in the dumpster, trash, or take away from you facility, or have taken away.

these are serious laws with criminal penalties.  You MUST understand them and how to comply - jail is the alternative!

If you read nothing else, read these documents!

bulletWhich regulations apply to my dry cleaning shop?
bulletHow do I prepare my dry cleaner to comply with environmental requirements?
bulletHow to properly operate a dry cleaning machine and shop to stay in compliance with enviromental regulations?
  • Questions that an Inspector May Ask While Visiting Your Dry Cleaning Shop [40K pdf file]
  • Questions? E-mail Garment and Textile Care Partnership Helpline
  • OSHA

    Hazards such as chemical, fire, and ergonomic-related are associated with dry cleaning processes. Exposure to hazardous chemicals commonly used in dry cleaning shops may occur through skin absorption, eye contact, or inhalation of the vapors. Perchloroethylene (PERC), a potential human carcinogen, is the most commonly used dry cleaning solvent. Symptoms associated with exposure include: depression of the central nervous system; damage to the liver and kidneys; impaired memory; confusion; dizziness; headache; drowsiness; and eye, nose, and throat irritation. Repeated dermal exposure may result in dermatitis.

    The following questions link to safety and health information relevant to dry cleaning.
  • bullet What OSHA standards apply?
    Standards | Preambles to Final Rules| Standards Interpretations
    bullet  How do I recognize dry cleaning hazards?
    bullet What are some examples of possible solutions for dry cleaning hazards?
    bullet  Where can I find additional information?
    Related Safety and Health Topics Pages | Other Resources


    EPA Fact Sheets