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Dry cleaner embraces environmentally-friendly methods

Traditional dry cleaners and clean air regulators haven’t had the happiest history.

But if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, said Chad Boucher, owner of Carr’s Cleaners in Atwater.

He dismissed the old dry cleaning solvent perchloroethylene or perc — said to be toxic and potentially cancer causing — from his business completely. In its place he has the environmentally-friendly new method of wet cleaning.

It sends water and a mix of soaps up from the bottom of the machine, and can wash wool and other delicate fabrics just like the dry method, he said.

As far as he knows, Boucher is the only cleaner in the San Joaquin Valley who has yet adopted this particular technique, said Peter Sinsheimer, director of the Pollution Prevention Center at Occidental College’s Urban and Environmental Policy Institute in Los Angeles. “He’s what I call an early adapter.”

A couple of cleaners in the Bay Area have started using it, and only about 80 in the entire country have it in place. “But it’s not yet at that tipping point,” he said.

Sinsheimer has for years participated in studies on alternatives to dry cleaning. And the non-toxic, non-polluting method of wet cleaning has been proven a good and affordable method, he said. The problem has been for cleaners to get over their fear of water on delicate clothes.

But there’s a bigger fear professional dry cleaners need to worry about — the law.