wet cleaning
n. The use of water, biodegradable soap, steam, and computer-controlled washing machines as an environmentally friendly alternative to dry cleaning.
Anyone who has sent clothes to a dry cleaner has experienced it. You can detect a chemical smell when you take the clothes from the plastic wrapping. Many of us wonder: Does that chemical smell indicate we're being exposed to something harmful?

The chemical we smell, perchloroethylene or perc, is in fact hazardous to the environment, a health risk to the cleaners and employees who work at dry-cleaning facilities, and a problem for communities where dry cleaners are located…

As regulation of perc dry cleaning intensified, so did interest in alternatives to perc. One such alternative was professional wet cleaning—a non-toxic water-based cleaning process that uses computer-controlled washers and dryers, specially formulated detergents and specialized finishing equipment. By removing perc from the cleaning process, professional wet cleaning eliminates all the risks and regulations associated with perc use. Chicago has been in the forefront of the search for perc alternatives, including wet cleaning.
—Peter Sinsheimer & Robert Gottlieb, “Chemical-free dry cleaning: A sound proposition,” Chicago Tribune, December 18, 2002
1992 (earliest)
Employees at a half dozen government agencies will air their dirty laundry beginning today.

It's all part of a four-week experiment in "wet cleaning" — as an alternative to dry cleaning — sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. William Reilly, the EPA's administrator, will "give the shirt off his back" to kick off the program.

The experiment is part of an effort to ultimately reduce exposure to perchloroethylene, or PCE, a hazardous air pollutant used in regular dry cleaning. Cooperating with the project is the Neighborhood Cleaners Association of New York and the International Fabricare Institute of Silver Spring, Md. "It's an attempt to address ourselves to the EPA's position that there's a need for a new solvent," says Bill Seitz, executive director of the New York group. "Whether I believe in it totally or not is not the point."…

Wet cleaning uses biodegradable soaps, steam and pressing. "It's not like taking a load of underwear, sheets and pillowcases, putting them in a machine, adding detergent, water and bleach, pushing a button and going out to lunch," Mr. Seitz says.
—Margot Habiby, “Clothes Encounter: Alternative Sought For Dry Cleaning,” The Wall Street Journal, November 16, 1992
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