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From the San Antonio times... http://www.mysanantonio.com/business/stories/MYSA071107.01E.Clothesline.2c86130.html Former dry cleaning worker starts 'green' cleaner
Web Posted: 07/10/2007 08:25 PM CDT
Express-News Business Writer
Some people prefer their "dry-clean-only" garments wet.
As an alternative to dry cleaning, Derba Mills started Clothesline Cleaners Corp. in 2003 with a single location in Olmos Park.
Now the privately held company has four locations with more than 30 employees and generates around $1 million in revenue annually. It also is opening a new 5,500-square-foot plant in South San Antonio.
Mills worked at dry cleaners in Texas and California before starting her own "greener cleaner" business. "This industry was one that really needed an alternative," Mills said.
Wet cleaning works similarly to traditional dry cleaning, but the process does not use chemicals. Instead, Clotheslines workers dab little bits of banana oil on the garments to remove any stains such as perspiration, makeup, ketchup or chocolate. They work out the stains by hand. Then they put the clothes into specialized washing machines that clean them with water and citrus-based cleaning agents.
The wet cleaning process works on many "dry-clean-only" garments such as silks, woolens, linens, suede and leathers. One benefit is that the clothes smell better, Mills said. Another is that the cleaning agents are biodegradable and do not need to be disposed of in a hazardous waste facility, she said.
The wet cleaning movement is part of a trend sweeping Europe and starting to catch on in North America. It stems from people's concerns about health risks associated with dry cleaning chemicals and concerns about the environment. Clothesline is one of the few "wet cleaners" in Texas and the only one dedicated to wet cleaning in San Antonio. Because of that, it has garnered a lot of attention. Two months ago, the Texas House of Representatives honored Mills and Clothesline with a resolution sponsored by Rep. Frank Corte Jr., R-San Antonio, for offering "an eco-friendly method of cleaning garments." It states, in part, that Mills "provides a vision of a business that combines profitability with concern for the ecological well-being of the Lone Star State."
In addition to the legislative recognition, Mills boasts some celebrity customers, including Eva Longoria and Tony Parker, Mayor Phil Hardberger, and actor Thomas Gibson and his wife, Cristine.
Tina Teel, a school counselor in San Antonio, patronizes Clothesline in Stone Oak because her 22-year-old daughter doesn't like chemicals.
Now that Teel has tried Clothesline's "wet" cleaning methods, she doesn't think she will go back to regular dry cleaners. She says the cost is comparable to other cleaners. Clothesline charges $1.75 for a shirt, $4.50 for slacks, $8.95 for a suit and $5 for a skirt.
It's not just the wet cleaning that makes Clothesline a greener cleaner, Mills said. It uses "ecohangers," made from 100 percent recycled paper. Clothesline's delivery van runs on biodiesel, and the company uses CPS Energy's "Windtricity" power. Consumer demand for wet cleaning is on the rise because of concerns from adverse health problems associated with perchloroethylene, also known as perc, said Peter Sinsheimer, director of the Pollution Prevention Center at Occidental College in Los Angeles.
He helped launch California's first wet-only cleaner, Cleaner By Nature, in 1996.
California has the nation's most wet cleaners with 60 locations, Sinsheimer said. He estimates there are 25 wet cleaning operations in the rest of the country.
Most dry cleaners use perc responsibly, and there is no effort to ban it in Texas, said Andy Stanley, executive director of the Southwest Drycleaners Association, based in San Antonio. It has 500 members in eight states, including Texas.
"Our trade association fosters education of all dry cleaners and the responsible use of solvents," he said. Today, an estimated 27,000 of the nation's 35,000 dry cleaners use perc, which is a colorless solvent that can cause adverse health effects such as liver and kidney damage and cancer. The Texas Legislature passed a law in 2003 requiring dry cleaners that use perc to pay a fee that goes into an environmental cleanup fund.
In 2002, the greater Los Angeles region began phasing out the use of perc, and now it has banned it, Sinsheimer said. In January, the California Air Resources Board adopted a regulation to phase out the use of perc by dry cleaners statewide by 2023. By Jan. 1, 2008, the state will not allow cleaners to install any new perc machines.
"There is this simple and elegant solution, which is not using perc," said James Pew with Earthjustice, a nonprofit law firm in Washington, D.C.
Last September, the Sierra Club, represented by Earthjustice, filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the Environmental Protection Agency's refusal to phase out perc. The EPA did not respond to a phone call and e-mail.