GreenEarth® Cleaning is a patented process for drycleaning using liquid silicone (decamethylpentacyclosiloxane, or D5), a clear, odorless, non-toxic solvent solution. A safe, natural byproduct of sand, silicone degrades into sand (SiO2) and trace amounts of water and carbon dioxide within days if spilled or disposed of. This is its environmental advantage over the industry standard, perchloroethylene (commonly called perc), a chemical that produces toxic waste, and is classified as a probable human carcinogen and Toxic Air Contaminant by the EPA. GreenEarth’s name reflects its “environmentally-friendly” differentiation from traditional drycleaning methods.
Need for alternatives to perc
Although perc has been the solvent of choice for drycleaners since the 1950’s (more than 80% of dry cleaners in the United States use it), environmental, regulatory and consumer forces have fueled a growing demand for greener technology. Concerns about perc were first raised by the scientific community in the 1970’s, but viable alternatives did not exist until the late 1990’s. In January 2007, California passed the nation’s first statewide ban on perc, initiating a 15 year phase-out of chemicals and equipment.  Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey are considering similar bans. To date, the industry has been slow to embrace green technology because conversion burdens operators, typically mom and pop cleaners, with large capital expenses for the purchase of new equipment.
Consumers today are increasingly concerned about the environment and the business practices of companies with which they do business, fueling demand for “green” products and services. 49% of consumers feel that it is “important for companies to not just be profitable, but to be mindful of their impact on the environment and society,” according to a study done by the National Marketing Institute.
Hydrocarbon, sold by Exxon-Mobil under the brand name DF-2000, is currently the primary alternative solvent to perc in use by dry cleaners. Hydrocarbon does offer a health and environmental profile that is better than perc, however DF-2000 is classified as a VOC (meaning its use can contribute to air pollution and global warming, and it is listed by the EPA as a neurotoxin and skin and eye irritant for workers. Dry cleaning operators often market DF-2000 as an “organic” cleaning technique because, like perc and gasoline, it is a chemical that contains a chain of carbon (the scientific meaning of “organic”). Although it is not “green”, hydrocarbon solvent is popular with operators because it requires less change and capital expense. Like all petroleum-based products, however, the sustainability of hydrocarbon systems is uncertain.
In addition to GreenEarth, two other dry cleaning technologies are widely recognized as “green”: wet-cleaning and CO2 cleaning. Wet cleaning is a non-toxic, water-based cleaning method that works similarly to home laundry processes with high tech equipment that adjusts the water's Ph and controls humidity while drying, enabling most dry-clean-only garments to be cleaned with water and detergent. While most conventional dry cleaners use wet-cleaning on some garments, there are only a handful of dry cleaners using 100% profession wet-cleaning because it is more expensive and labor intensive. CO2 cleaning uses a liquid carbon dioxide solvent that has minimal environmental impact, but the cost of equipment—twice that of a perc machine—makes converting difficult and expensive for small business owners. Of the approximately 35,000 dry cleaning establishments in the U.S., there are currently 35 that use this process.
GreenEarth Cleaning LLC, based in Kansas City, Mo., was formed in 1999 by Jim Barry, Ron Benjamin, and Jim Douglas, all former dry cleaners. Procter & Gamble and General Electric are also founding partners of GreenEarth Cleaning. The company does not operate any drycleaning plants, sell machines, solvent or detergents, but rather licenses independent drycleaners and chains to become affiliates and use the GreenEarth process. Licensed GreenEarth affiliates receive marketing support as well as operational and technical assistance. There are currently more than 1,200 GreenEarth affiliates worldwide.
GreenEarth Solvent Effectiveness
D5 solvent is chemically inert, meaning it does not interact with textiles or dyes during the cleaning process. This helps keep preserve the quality of garments, eliminate problems with color loss, maintain a soft “hand” and prevent shrinkage. Unlike petroleum based solvents like perc or hydrocarbon, D5 is odorless and does not leave a chemical smell on clothes.
The International Fabricare Institute (the leading trade association for garment care and dry cleaning) conducted an independent, comprehensive study of the GreenEarth Cleaning system in 2002 to assess its effectiveness in comparison with perc. Tests and evaluations in direct comparison to perc resulted in IFI assessments on six criteria: cleaning performance; ability to handle a variety of fabrics and trims; labor and operating costs; capital costs; health and safety; and potential for contamination. GreenEarth consistently received excellent or good ratings in every category and was found to be a viable alternative for the drycleaning industry. Perc and GreenEarth were concluded to be “virtually identical in terms of the ability to remove stains completely” except in the cases of ballpoint pen and shoe polish stains.
The IFI also tested common materials that pose problems for regular drycleaners, such as leather, faux fur, sequined and metallic garments. Specialty fabrics and decorative trims withstood the GreenEarth process much better than the perc process, which often destroys such items.
A separate independent evaluation of alternative solvents by the IFI in 2007 using the same criteria rated GreenEarth as "good" in the areas of capital costs and health, and “excellent” in the categories of cleaning, environmental safety, ability to handle fabrics and trims and labor/operating efficiency. Perc received a “poor” rating in the areas of health and environmental safety and excellent in all other areas. 
- Is not a VOC
- Is safe for air, soil and water
- Not regulated by the EPA
- Listed as by the EPA as a “SNAP” (Significant New Alternatives Policy) material, a good substance to use in place of ozone-depleting chemicals
- Degrades to sand and trace amounts of water and CO2
- In most areas, requires no special permitting
- Not listed on California Proposition 65
- Can qualify as alternative technology for special funding or tax breaks
Health and safety profile
D5 has many commercial and industrial applications beyond dry cleaning, and is the base ingredient in many personal care products such as body lotions, soaps, underarm deodorants, and shampoos. It may be listed as dimethicone, cyclosiloxane, siloxane or other abbreviations on the ingredient lists of such products. It is non-toxic, non-irritating to skin, non-sensitizing and has no immunosuppressant effects. More than 30 studies on D5, performed at a cost in excess of $30 million, have been conducted and the data support the safe use of D5 in all of its many applications, including dry cleaning. No other alternative dry cleaning solvent has been subjected to independent health and safety testing.
GreenEarth was given excellent ratings for health and safety by the IFI in its 2007 Alternative Solvent Evaluation. Independent waste stream and air exposure testing, conducted by Severn Trent Laboratories and California Industrial Hygiene Services, confirmed that D5 as used in daily dry cleaning operation exceeds all federal, state and local requirements for water and air safety.
A 2-year study was commissioned by Dow Corning, a manufacturer of D5, to study the effects of inhalation of D5 at the highest concentration possible (160 ppm, total air saturation) on lab rats. The rats were exposed to fumes 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, for 2 years. The results, submitted to the EPA under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) section 8(e) in 2003, showed an increased risk of uterine tumors and increased liver weight in female rats. No effects were seen in male rats. Based on the observed effects, follow up research was conducted by the Silicones Environmental, Health and Safety Council (SEHSC) and concluded that the effects observed in the Dow Corning study were rat-specific, not relevant to humans, and did not pose a health risk to humans. The SEHSC report also pointed out that the concentration of D5 that the rats were exposed far exceeded workplace or consumer exposure from dry cleaning applications; the average exposure to a silicone in a drycleaning plant is less than 3 ppm. The Dow Corning study was a risk assessment of the chemical D5, not its application in a dry cleaning operation. The EPA has not moved to conduct a risk assessment of D5 in dry cleaning or other applications.
- GreenEarth Cleaning Official Website
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “About Air Toxics”. Retrieved on 2007-08-03.
- Blackler, Caitie; Richard Denbow, William Levine, Kathy Nemsick, and Ruth Polk (1995). “A Comparative Analysis of Perc Dry Cleaning and an Alternative Wet Cleaning Process.” University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment. Retrieved on 2007-08-03.
- California Air Resources Board. “Dry Cleaning Program”. Retrieved 2007-08-03.
- Northeast Fabricare Association News. Retrieved 2007-08-03.
- McCoy, Michael. “Dry Cleaning Dreams.” Chemical and Engineering News 83(46):19-22, November 14 2005. Accessed 2007-08-02.
- “Find CO2.” Accessed 2007-08-03.
- International Fabricare Institute Fellowship Report (2002) No. F-47.
- Riesenman, Stephanie. “Alternative Dry Cleaning Method May Be Unsafe.” February 17 2005. Accessed 2007-08-01.
- Silicones Environmental, Health and Safety Council. “Fact Sheet: D5 in Dry Cleaning.” December 2004. Accessed 2007-07-30.