Environmental activists are pushing federal regulators to eliminate “dry clean only” labels for the sake of saving consumers and the environment.
Activists argue that dry cleaners use environmentally harmful cleaning chemicals and human health.
The Hill newspaper reports that green groups are pressing the Federal Trade Commission to change labeling rules so that labels say that clothes can be “wet cleaned” — which greens argue is more eco-friendly.
Wet cleaning is a “greener” method of garment cleaning that uses a gentle washing machine using biodegradable cleaning materials and different types of pressing equipment for different types of fabrics and fibers.
The FTC is considering allowing clothing manufacturers the option of including professional wet cleaning on their labels, but environmentalists want to mandate wet cleaning labels. But wet cleaning is not as easy as dry cleaning as it requires experience and knowledge of the proper ways to wet clean certain garments.
“This suggests that the vast majority of garments currently labeled ‘dry clean’ or ‘dry clean only’ could be labeled with a wet cleaning instruction,” writes the Coalition for Clean Air (CCA) in their comments filed with the FTC.
CCA has been on a multi-year campaign to get wet cleaning labels on clothing. In 2007, they helped get the California Air Resources Board to phase out the dry cleaning chemical perchloroethylene (perc) by 2023.
“The Coalition for Clean Air worked with more than 35 groups to call for a stronger perc phaseout plan, including a faster timeline of 10 years and a phaseout of hydrocarbon cleaners, which cause smog,” according to their website. “We were also joined by dozens of cleaners who had voluntarily stopped using perc and switched to nontoxic, non-polluting options such as ‘wet’ cleaning.”
The FTC, however, is unwilling to adopt such a rule without making sure that consumers can get access to professional wet cleaners. Wet cleaning is also a relatively new industry and can be expensive.
One study from the University of Michigan even found that wet cleaning’s effects on water usage make it less eco-friendly than green groups tend to argue. The study found that the “environmental impacts of using and treating water are much higher for wet cleaning than they are for dry cleaning” adding that the “process uses significantly more water, but this could be partially mitigated through the use of water recycling.”
The Michigan study also called for “government-subsidized worker-training programs, tax breaks and low-interest loans to buy equipment” for wet cleaning.
Many professional wet and dry cleaners are on board with the FTC’s optional labeling rule because it would give them more options for how to wash clothes. Cleaners admitted that many consumers prefer dry cleaning over wet cleaning because that’s what the current labeling regime tells them.
“In our members’ experience, a dry clean label is interpreted to mean ‘do not wash’ by many, if not all, consumers,” wrote the Drycleaning and Laundry Institute in their FTC comments.
“There is a subset of consumers that will not buy anything with a dry clean label. If all methods of care are required to be on the label, this consumer might be willing to purchase the item,” the group added.
The clothing industry is also on board with the rule because of how it would facilitate international trade. It would allow U.S. clothing makers to streamline labels that are more popular in Europe.
“It will eliminate one of the differences between domestic and international requirements,” the The United States Association of lmporters of Textiles & Apparel wrote to the FTC.
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