“Do Not Remove Tag! Under Penalty of Law!”
Remember when this warning, found on mattresses and pillows, inspired unthinking compliance instead of derision? Well, I’ve been wondering why the “Dry Clean Only” label to which so many of us bow down isn’t regarded with similar bemusement.
Dry cleaning has been around since the mid-19th century, and wasn’t widely used until the mid-20th. Silk, cotton and wool, on the other hand, have been worn for thousands of years. How is it possible that just in the last few decades, those fabrics are suddenly in danger of being ruined by soap and water? Um, pardon my cynicism, but does the dry cleaning industry give a kickback to clothing manufacturers to ensure that the intimidating label gets sewn into far more duds than necessary?
If there’s something iconic about the image of clear-plastic-wrapped clothing pinned neatly to wire hangers with spongy pastel grips, there’s also something unsettling about it. Perchloroethyline, the chemical used most frequently in dry cleaning, is a known carcinogen, and despite some forays into greenness, there’s no question the industry as a whole is eco-hostile. Additionally, for most people, a trip to the dry cleaner involves a schlep in the car—a drain on the earth’s resources and on the individual’s time and pocketbook. Then, yet another schlep in the car to shell out the big bucks and collect that freshly sneeze-inducing, creepy-if-you-think-about-what’s-going-next-to-your-skin apparel.
I can understand being leery of hand-washing a business suit (though I have been known to sponge one off). But a Merino wool sweater? Clear the sink, hand over the suds and lemme have at it. Afterwards, as always, I’ll wring it out, roll it tightly in a bath towel to remove excess moisture, put it in the dryer for three to five minutes, then put the still-damp, perfectly fluffed sweater on a hanger to air-dry.
No sweat, so to speak.
Published in the Piedmont Post July 15, 2009