Admit it: Your clothes are in need of dry-cleaning. Maybe you wore your favorite vintage dress (check the tag—it's probably made of polyester or rayon) at one too many smoky bars or dripped some Stumptown French press on your silk tie.
But if you're planning a trip to the dry-cleaner, you've got a tough decision ahead of you. Dry-cleaning is about more than just getting that chocolate stain out of your cashmere sweater; it's about the environment, too. Who knew?
Just this past January, California banned the use of perchloroethylene, the most common dry-cleaning chemical. PERC (as it's widely known) is considered carcinogenic and is slated to be phased out of all California dry-cleaners by 2023. Portland has taken notice of the chemical's harmful side effects: This year the city issued a request for proposal for laundry and uniform rental services, requiring that no PERC be used in city-funded dry-cleaning. According to Brendan Finn, City Commissioner Dan Saltzman's chief of staff, PERC "hasn't really gotten onto the radar of the [Oregon] legislature," but Portland is doing what it can to reduce PERC's negative impact on the environment.
Sure, we all want a healthy, cancer-free world, but no one wants to spend loads of cash to launder her clothes. But lucky us! Portland already has alternatives to PERC-based dry-cleaning—including two types of green dry-cleaners and a company that patented an earth-friendly home dry-cleaning product. WW wanted to know just how well these green cleaners clean, so we trundled over to Forever 21 and bought four of the same blue-and-white striped jacket (made of cotton, linen and spandex) and proceeded to assault them with stubborn everyday stains. We took one jacket each to two different green dry-cleaners and a traditional dry-cleaner, and cleaned the last sucker ourselves with that at-home kit. We measured the quality of the cleaners on three factors: How clean the clothes were, how quick they got clean and how long the cleaning took. It's not perfect science, but we'd never claim to be experts—we're just earth-conscious people who like clothes that look and smell clean.
TEST 1: COFFEE
You're rounding the corner after leaving your office break room when you literally run into a caffeine-loving co-worker. He walks away unscathed, but your new jacket (and, unfortunately, your shoes) are drenched in 12 ounces of coffee—with cream and sugar. Since coffee isn't a stain or a smell that goes away all by itself, you need professional help. We took our coffee-soaked garment to PERC-free Champion Cleaners (900 NW Lovejoy St., 241-3349), which uses a "wet cleaning" method. Safer for the environment, wet cleaning involves water, soap and computer-controlled washing machines that adjust for different types of fabrics. The downside? Wet cleaning doesn't work on all types of dry-clean-only fabrics—but it worked fine on our cotton-linen-spandex-blend jacket. Champion got the jacket clean for $5.50, but it took five days. We dropped it off on Tuesday and it wasn't ready until Saturday—and even that was a quick job: Champion originally suggested we wait until Monday.NEAT TREAT
TEST 2: SPAGHETTI SAUCE
Not everyone eats their dinner at the dining-room table. Some people like to enjoy a bowl of rigatoni and marinara while reclining on their sofa and watching Grey's Anatomy—a more comfortable way to eat, but not the most dignified. Get spaghetti sauce on your dry-clean-only jacket and you have two options: Throw it away or get it cleaned. We dropped a sauced-stained jacket off at Dry Cleaning Station (2209 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 232-0667; 3010 NE Broadway, 288-4200), a national, environmentally conscious dry-cleaning franchise. Dry Cleaning Station is a member of Green Earth Cleaning, the company that patented a chemically inert dry-cleaning method. All Green Earth cleaners replace PERC with a silicone-based solvent that has few environmental side effects. Dry Cleaning Station erased all oily traces of marinara for $5.75. A rush order—dropping off the jacket on Wednesday and picking it up on Saturday—takes four days; a standard order takes one or two more. SQUEAKING CLEAN
TEST 3: SMELLING LIKE A BAR
Has this ever happened to you? After a long night of drinking, smoking and rubbing up against potential hook-up partners at your neighborhood watering hole, you stumble back home through the rainy Portland night. You drunkenly toss your damp, dry-clean-only jacket in your hamper, where it's gradually buried under a mountain of dirty, stinking laundry. When you dig it out a week later (in hopes of wearing it one more time before sending it off to the dry-cleaner), it smells worse than the hobo who panhandles in front of the Plaid Pantry.
"The average person will wear something five times before taking it to the dry-cleaner," says LeAnne Williams, director of marketing at Dry Cleaner's Secret, a Portland-based company that created and sells an environmentally friendly home dry-cleaning product. "But you don't always feel good about putting it back on." Dry Cleaner's Secret (drycleanerssecret.com) is by no means a total replacement for the dry cleaner; it's just a way to refresh clothes between cleanings. Even the product's package recommends heading to the real dry-cleaner if your clothes are stained. It's simple enough: You put a nontoxic "Cleaning Cloth" in the dryer with one to four dingy, smelly garments. After 20 minutes on medium heat, your clothes should come out odor- and wrinkle-free. We threw our jacket in the dryer with two other non-stained but well-worn articles of clothing. Dry Cleaner's Secret definitely cleared away any smoke odor, but it left more wrinkles in the jacket than before it was "refreshed." But it was cheap—$7.89 for six Cleaning Cloths (at Target, the lowest price in town)—and the other two garments came out looking new.SO-SO SCRUBBING
TEST 4: CAR GRIME
Changing a tire sucks for many reasons. For one, it means you have a flat tire, which means you'll have to buy a brand new tire if you ever want to drive above 65 mph again. Then there's jacking up your car, pulling off the old tire and putting on a spare, which takes more physical effort than 10 minutes on a treadmill. But worst of all, it's just plain dirty. Your car almost never gets a flat tire when you're wearing optimal tire-changing attire—chances are you'll be stranded on Powell during rush hour, putting the doughnut on your Toyota while wearing your nicest threads. Leave the tire dirt and wheel grease to a professional cleaner. We trusted Pearl District Cleaners (1414 NW Glisan St., 224-7733), a traditional dry-cleaner that uses PERC, to remove black smudges from our jacket. It took only two days (from Thursday to Saturday), but left a few stains behind. Pearl District Cleaners left a tag on our jacket explaining, "We've tried and tried but we find that the stains on this garment cannot be removed without possible injury to the color or fabric." (To be fair, the folks at Dry Cleaning Station said they couldn't be sure they could have cleaned the jacket either.) Disappointing, since this method was the priciest: $6.75 for just one jacket.SO-SO SCRUBBING
LET'S REVIEW: Wet cleaning has no environmental risks and works fine—if you have a week to spare and no sensitive fabrics (like silk) that need cleaning. While it's worth buying Dry Cleaner's Secret to support a local company, it's not worthwhile if you want a wrinkle-free wardrobe. And traditional dry-cleaning is speedy, but a two-day turnaround may not be worth the high price and negative side effects.
Here's the good news: Dry Cleaning Station removed our stain in a couple of days for low dough and without giving anybody cancer or polluting the planet. So, even if our earth-hugging state outlaws old-fashioned dry-cleaning, you can still keep your sexy fabrics fresh and pressed—without getting taken to the cleaners.