Sunny Brite Cleaners of Eagle Rock First in Area to Trade Dry Cleaning for "Wet" Technology
Sunny Brite Natural Cleaners of Eagle Rock is the first dry cleaner in northeast Los Angeles to trade traditional chemical solvents for water-based wet-cleaning technology, an environmentally friendly alternative to conventional dry cleaning.
The conversion is part of the Professional Wet Cleaning Commercialization Project conducted by the Pollution Prevention Education & Research Center (PPERC) at Occidental College. Sunny Brite Natural Cleaners, located at 4927 Eagle Rock Blvd., (323) 255-8981, is the seventh wet clean demonstration site in Los Angeles area.
Professional wet cleaning was introduced to the United States from Germany in 1991 and involves the use of computer-controlled washing and drying machines that use biodegradable soaps and sizing agents to clean wool, silk, rayon and other delicate fibers often labeled “dry clean only.”
In January, Sunny Brite Natural Cleaners owner Sunny Kim converted her dry cleaning operation to wet cleaning with a $12,500 grant from the Southern California Air Quality Management District (AQMD), The California Wellness Foundation, The Gas Company, and Southern California Edison. The grant was one of 22 awards the agencies are making available to dry cleaners willing to become a demonstration site.
Kim’s decision to switch to wet cleaning marks an important step in helping the AQMD meet its goal of removing the estimated eight tons of toxic perchloroethylene, or “perc,” released daily into the environment by Southern California dry cleaners. The cleaning solvent, used by 85 percent of all dry cleaners, has been classified as a probable carcinogen by the International Association for Research on Cancer and a hazardous air pollutant by the federal government and the state of California. In December 2002, the AQMD adopted a regulation to phase out its use in the region by 2020.
“Wet cleaning works,” said Kim, who has been a professional cleaner for 14 years. “We continue to offer high-quality service and, because operational costs are low, we didn’t have to raise our prices. Also, by switching to a non-toxic technology, I can protect my customers and employees from health risks associated with perc exposure.”
Recent case studies sponsored by the AQMD and other agencies showed that professional wet cleaning drew compliments from customers who rated the technology as equal to or better than dry cleaning. Cleaners reported operating costs were reduced from between $3.59 to $17.49 per 100 garments, due to lower equipment, maintenance, and utility costs, and the elimination of hazardous waste and regulatory fees. None of the cleaners reported an increase in the number of hours worked by employees, and all considered the switch a good business decision.
“By providing financial incentives, training and technical support, this grant program is designed to help cleaners like Ms. Kim make a successful transition to a proven pollution prevention technology and become a model for others in the industry,” said Peter Sinsheimer, PPERC’s director and principal investigator for the commercialization project.
A PPERC report, “Commercialization of Professional Wet Cleaning: An Evaluation of the Opportunities and Factors Involved in Switching to a Pollution Prevention Technology in the Garment Care Industry,” can be found online at http://departments.oxy.edu/uepi/pperc/resources/index.htm.