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Toxic Chemical Glossary:
What is Perchloroethylene (PERC): Chemical Free Living

What is perchloroethylene or “perc”?

Perchloroethylene or “Perc” is a colorless, noncombustible, volatile organic compound (VOC) typically found in liquid form [2] [3]. The compound turns into vapors at room temperature [3].

What is perchloroethylene in?

Typewriter correction fluid, spot removers, shoe polish, and wood cleaner often contain Perc [3]. It is used prolifically in dry cleaning and as a solvent in metalworking factories as well as the automotive industry [1]. Perc is also a common groundwater and soil contaminant [1]. Most human contact occurs via bagged dry-cleaning items that are unwrapped in the home, releasing unhealthy amounts of the chemical into indoor air [3].

How to tell if a product has perchloroethylene

Perchloroethylene is also known sometimes listed as “Perc”, tetrachloroethylene, or tetrachlorethylene [3].

Risks associated with perchloroethylene

Even a minor exposure to perchloroethylene can cause irritation to the eyes, skin, respiratory system along with a variety of other unpleasant symptoms including nausea, flushing, dizziness, and headache [2] [3]. Over time, this chemical has been shown to cause more serious health issues including:

  • Cancer
  • Organ system toxicity
  • Neurotoxicity
  • Cardiac issues
  • Kidney problems
  • Reproductive toxicity [1][3]

How to avoid perchloroethylene

Don’t dry clean your clothes if at all possible. Instead, use toxic chemical free “wet cleaners” that use special non-toxic ingredients along with water or CO2 cleaners that use high-pressure carbon dioxide to launder clothes. Avoid so-called “perc-free” dry cleaners that claim to use organic products. Often, these operations simply substitute other toxic ingredients for perc” [3]. Read ingredient labels and always avoid products like chemical spot removers or polishes that contain perc. Choose natural formulas instead that use safer ingredients like enzymes [3].


[1] EWG (2007-2011). National Drinking Water Database. Available online: December 6, 2016.

[2] CDC (2016). Tetrachloroethylene. Available online: December 7, 2016.

[3] Healthy Child Healthy World. (2013). Keep PERC out of Your Home. Available online: December 7, 2016.

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