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Worksafe, Industry Guidance – Drycleaning

Dry-cleaners store and handle a range of chemicals, many of which are hazardous; some may be flammable, others are toxic or corrosive.

Dry-cleaners commonly use the following hazardous substances: 

  • solvents, such as perchloroethylene (PERC), aromatic hydrocarbon solvents (for example, stoddard solvent), carbon disulfide and ethyl ether
  • bleaches, such as hydrogen peroxide and sodium hypochlorite
  • spotting agents, such as acetic acid, amyl acetate, aqueous ammonia, hydrofluoric acid and oxalic acid.

Careful management of these is important to protect people and the environment.

Most dry-cleaners use PERC because it has a number of convenient properties. Its high grease solvency allows shorter processing times than other dry-cleaning solvents, giving improved productivity.  It's also chemically and thermally stable under normal conditions of use in an enclosed dry-cleaning machine. Some properties are a disadvantage; PERC is both toxic and ecotoxic and can cause both immediate and chronic effects from over-exposure. Dry-cleaners must avoid inhaling solvent vapour, contact with the skin and eyes, or ingesting the solvent.