A method of dry cleaning clothes that's still used by some 70% of dry cleaners leaves potentially harmful residue behind in fabrics that has been linked to cancer and neurological damage.

For years, a chemical called "perc" has been relied on to dry clean fabrics. There's been talk during that time about perc damaging the health of workers in the industry, not to mention its effect on the water supply. But no one focused on the consumer and the danger they might face from repeatedly wearing dry cleaned clothes.

No one, that is, until a 15-year-old named Alexa Dantzler got curious. The Washington Post  reports that the high school sophomore designed a research project to figure out how wearing these clothes after they're dry cleaned might put your health in danger.

The head of Georgetown University’s chemistry department worked with Alexa to implement the study, having grad students do the legwork on research.

Their findings showed that perc -- a solvent linked to cancer and neurological damage -- stayed in the fabrics. The more you dry clean a particular garment, the more the concentrations of the chemical rose. Worst of all for high concentrations were wool garments.

The dry cleaning industry is as mad as can be about the findings and dispute them. As for the public health issue, The Washington Post quotes the GU chem director as saying, "Without further research, it [is] difficult to say how much risk consumers might face from wearing, say, dry-cleaned wool pants for a year or breathing air from a closet full of dry-cleaned clothes."

But if you just follow my rule of never buying any garment that has to be dry-cleaned, then you never have to worry about whether or not it has perc residue. (Polyester and wrinkle-free cotton are truly underestimated fabrics!)

In the end, I just love that this kid uncovered a real possible public health issue. As for her future, she's now decided she wants to be a doctor. Good for her; she'll save the people who get sick from chemicals!

Image of Clark Howard About the author: Clark Howard

Clark Howard is a consumer expert whose goal is to help you keep more of the money you make. His national radio show and website show you ways to save more, spend less and avoid getting ripped off. View More Articles

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