Chemical
Perc: Keep Perc Out of Your Home

Perc: Keep Perc Out of Your Home

December 3, 2013

Perc is short for perchloroethylene, a colorless liquid with a sweet odor that’s often found in products like typewriter correction fluid, spot removers, wood cleaners, and shoe polishes. Also known as perchlorethylene, tetrachloroethylene, and tetrachlorethylene, it’s most common use is as a dry cleaning solvent.

Perc is a volatile organic compound that turns into vapors at room temperature—the primary route of exposure for most people. Though we can inhale minute amounts of perc when we use products that contain it, most of contact comes via the dry-cleaned items we bring home. When these items aren’t aired out before they’re bagged at the dry cleaners, they can release unhealthy amounts of perc into indoor air when we unwrap them at home.

A single minor exposure to perc can irritate the eyes, skin, nose, and throat, and cause dizziness, lack of coordination, and drowsiness. Over time, repeated contact to perc can lead to neurological damage, liver and kidney problems, and cardiac issues. Though perc is not yet officially classified as carcinogenic, studies linking it to increased risks of esophageal, lung, breast, cervical, liver colorectal, and other types of cancer have prompted both the World Health Organization and National Toxicology Program to label it a likely human carcinogen.

This is why it makes sense to keep your home perc-free. Here’s how:

  • Don’t patronize traditional dry cleaners. Instead look for “wet cleaners” that use water and special non-toxic detergents. Also safe are CO2 cleaners that use high-pressure carbon dioxide to clean garments. Beware of perc-free operations marketing themselves as organic when they just substitute other toxic cleaning agents. Always find out how your items will be cleaned before you hand them over.
  • If you choose a conventional dry cleaner, always remove your cleaned items from bags and air them out in a safe semi-outdoor location like a garage or sheltered porch for several hours before bringing them inside. Avoid dry cleaning items that will live in kids’ rooms, especially bedding and baby blankets.
  • Avoid chemical spot removers and polishes. Choose natural formula alternatives that rely on safer ingredients like oxygen bleach and enzymes.
  • Always use products with a strong chemical odor in a well-ventilated place with lots of fresh air, preferably one that’s outside.