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Dry Cleaning

Hazards such as chemical, fire, and ergonomic-related are associated with dry cleaning processes. Exposure to hazardous chemicals commonly used in dry cleaning shops may occur through skin absorption, eye contact, or inhalation of the vapors. Perchloroethylene (PERC), a potential human carcinogen, is the most commonly used dry cleaning solvent. Symptoms associated with exposure include: depression of the central nervous system; damage to the liver and kidneys; impaired memory; confusion; dizziness; headache; drowsiness; and eye, nose, and throat irritation. Repeated dermal exposure may result in dermatitis.

OSHA does not have a specific compliance standard for dry cleaning. However, due to most dry cleaning industries using perchloroethylene (PERC), exposures related to dry cleaning hazards are addressed in specific standards for general industries.

OSHA Standards

This section highlights OSHA requirements related to dry cleaning, including standards and standard interpretations (official letters of interpretation of the standards).

Note: Twenty-five states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have OSHA-approved State Plans and have adopted their own standards and enforcement policies. For the most part, these States adopt standards that are identical to Federal OSHA. However, some States have adopted different standards applicable to this industry or may have different enforcement policies.

General Industry (29 CFR 1910)

Standard Interpretations

Hazard Recognition

Dry cleaning shops contain all elements necessary for uncontrolled fires: fuels, ignition sources, and oxygen. Potential combustible materials include furniture, garments, lint, and portions of the building. The greatest risk of fire and explosion exists if the dry cleaning shop uses a petroleum-based solvent in dry cleaning machines.

Ergonomic risks occur during garment transfer, pressing, and bagging. These activities, combined with a high work rate and frequency, may cause physical discomfort and musculoskeletal problems for workers. Disorders may include damage to tendons, muscles, nerves, and ligaments of the hand, wrist, arm, shoulder, neck, and back. The following references aid in recognizing hazards associated with dry cleaning.

  • 1,1,2-Trichloro-1,2,2-trifluoroethane. OSHA Hazard Information Bulletin (HIB), (1984, April 23). Discusses the toxicity and health effects associated with 1,1,2-Trichloro-1,2,2-trifluoroethane also referred as Fluorocarbon 113, Freon 113, FC-113, Refrigerant 113, Ucon 113, or Arklone R-113.

  • Stoddard Solvent. OSHA Chemical Sampling Information, (2006, August 8). Provides  exposure limits, health factors, and monitoring information for this dry cleaning solvent.

  • Drycleaning. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Workplace Safety and Health Topic. Provides links to all NIOSH dry cleaning publications and related articles.

  • Criteria for a Recommended Standard: Occupational Exposure to Tetrachloroethylene (Perchloroethylene). US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 76-185, (1976, July). Presents the recommended standard based thereon which were prepared to meet the need for preventing occupational diseases arising from exposure to tetrachloroethylene.

  • Tetrachloroethylene. National Institute of Health (NIH), National Toxicology Program, (2011, April 21). Provides testing status information on tetrachloroethylene, a synonymous chemical to perchloroethylene. Also includes short and long-term carcinogenicity as well as genetic toxicology information.

  • Perchloroethylene [119 KB PDF, 7 pages]. Halogenated Solvents Industry Alliance (HSIA), Inc., (2008, November). Discusses the use of perchloroethylene or perc in drycleaning processes and includes information about its health effects and regulation.

  • Ford, E.S., et al. "Deaths from acute exposure to trichloroethylene." Journal of Occupational Environmental Medicine 37.6(1995, June): 749-754. Advises employers to ensure that their employees are adequately trained in the dangers of working with trichloroethylene (TCE), that adequate ventilation of the working environment is provided, that the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) is available to their workers, and that workers should not work alone or unobserved when using TCE in confined spaces.

  • Goldenhar, Linda, et al. "Concerns of the dry-cleaning industry: a qualitative investigation of labor and management." American Journal of Industrial Medicine 35.2(1999, February):112-123. Describes dry cleaning owners and workers concerns regarding health and safety and whether certain health and safety practices might or might not be followed. This information could be used to determine what motivational techniques might be useful for influencing employer and employee safety and health behaviors.

  • Ruder, Avima, Elizabeth Ward, and David Brown. "Mortality in dry-cleaning workers: an update." American Journal of Industrial Medicine 39.2(2001, February):121-132. Discusses the excess cancer mortality found in dry cleaning workers exposed to perchloroethylene (PCE), a known animal carcinogen and probable human carcinogen. Many of these workers also had exposure to Stoddard solvent, a petroleum-based dry cleaning solvent.

Possible Solutions

Engineering and work practice controls are the first line of defense against dry cleaning hazards. For instances where engineering and work practice controls cannot reduce employee exposure, personal protective equipment (PPE) is used. The following references aid in the control and prevention of hazards in the dry cleaning industry.

Additional Information

Related Safety and Health Topics Pages

Additional Resources

  • Design for the Environment - Resource Guide. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), (2001, June). Lists numerous government and non-government organizations including national trade associations and public interest groups. These organizations provide helpful service to garment care professionals and others interested in garment care issues.

  • Pollution Prevention Information Clearinghouse (PPIC). Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Provides free information dedicated to reducing and eliminating industrial pollutants through technology transfer, source reduction, education and public awareness.

  • Profile of the Dry Cleaning Industry [823 KB PDF, 95 pages]. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), (1995, September). Developed by EPA's Office of Compliance, this industry notebook contains detailed information on various topics that might be of interest to safety and health professionals. It includes an industrial process description, a comprehensive environmental profile, innovative control programs, contacts, and a list of bibliographic references.

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