Arts » Arts Etc.

The Green Goddess

All of you dry-cleaning history buffs out there can skip the following two paragraphs, but fellow naïve readers who have taken this modern convenience at face value, read on.

The use of non-water-based solvents to remove dirt and stains from clothes originated in the mid-19th century when French dye-works owner Jean Baptiste Jolly began using petroleum-based solvents. It has grown to become an essential part of modern American life, and since its inception, scientists have sought more effective chemical solvents and methods. In the 1930s, the U.S. dry-cleaning industry began using the chlorinated solvent tetrachloroethylene (a.k.a., perchloroethylene or “perc”).

But according to the EPA, exposure to perc has been linked to increased risks of bladder, esophageal, and cervical cancer, eye, nose, throat and skin irritation, and reduced fertility, among other effects. Perc gets around, too. Once at home, your newly cleaned clothes emit the colorless chemical for you and your family to share. Also, according to Environment, Health and Safety Online, dry cleaners give off perc vapors during both the transfer of clothes from washer to dryer and the exhaust process that can make their way into the outdoors and even into public drinking wells for the community to share. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

If like me you’re ready to hear about a safer alternative to dry-cleaning, here it is: Wet-cleaning. It’s a solvent-free method that uses cleansers derived from bananas, citrus, and other biological sources — available in San Antonio at Derba Mills’s four Clothes Line locations.

“I had a real strong need to do something good,” said Mills, who used to own vitamin stores and work as a massage therapist in California before moving to San Antonio. “We have a real passion for this.”

After speaking with Mills and visiting Clothes Line’s Olmos location, “passion” seems like an an understatement. “I wouldn’t work for anyone else,” says three-year employee Cole Freeman. “This is by far the best job I’ve had since high school.”

I went into the Olmos store on a Saturday afternoon to chat with some customers. The attendant invited me to sit down while I waited, handed me a copy of the Current to read (product placement!), and said she would have offered me coffee if they had not run out of the go-withs. After a relaxing wait, a customer arrived to pick up some articles of clothing.

Although it was her first time coming to Clothes Line, she sure had plenty information regarding dry-cleaning’s dangers and wet-cleaning’s potential benefits. (In fact, she offered plenty of information about other problems in America, from childhood obesity to the corrupt health-care system.) Neither distance nor convenience prevented her from making the trip to Clothes Line. She drove all the way to Olmos from Harmony Hills and declined a free dry-cleaning service offered by her work.

Mills says customers have even brought items to Clothes Line still on the hanger or in the packaging from another cleaner to be re-cleaned, adding that she and other Clothes Line employees have sewn up small tears, repaired buttons, or removed deep stains without special request. In addition to your workday button-downs, Clothes Line can service cashmere, wool, down, silk, and linen. The wet-cleaning system leaves the clothes feeling fresh and smelling nice — without any harmful residual perc.

Though Clothes Line may not be as close or as cheap as traditional dry-cleaning services, it sure seems that the beneficial effects on your health and the environment are worth it. Plus, Tony Parker goes to the Clothes Line at Thousand Oaks.

Happy closet cleaning.

— GG

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