Clean ‘n’ green

Local couple opens an eco-friendly dry-cleaning shop

Stephanie Kim greets every customer with a smile.

Stephanie Kim greets every customer with a smile.

Photo By Anne Stokes

Anyone who knows Stephanie Kim adores her. This woman, with her welcoming smile, easy laugh and friendly hugs, keeps the customers coming back. So when Kim and her husband Moon opened E. Sac Natural Dry Cleaners on H Street in October, their loyal customers followed right along.

“I go there because of Stephanie,” said Christine Ziegler, who’s been a customer of the Kims for the past decade, previously at the Swansons Cleaners franchise the couple owned down the street. “She’s a real bright spot in the community and a consistent part of my weekly routine.”

Kim’s sister started in the dry-cleaning business in the late 1970s, so her family has worked in the industry for 30 years. Although she and her husband owned a franchise for 10 years, they always hoped to open their own business. While Swansons Cleaners has been good at keeping up with eco-friendly changes in the industry, Kim said the new business has given them the chance to go even greener with the environmentally respectful cleaning agents they use. In addition to using a nontoxic, biodegradable solvent that is better for our air and water and creates a healthier work environment for employees, all the washing is done in-house, so there’s no transportation involved, cutting down on associated greenhouse-gas emissions.

Dry cleaners have typically been major polluters, with their use of petroleum-based hydrocarbons for solvents or the chlorocarbon perchloroethylene—better known as PERC—a toxic-air contaminant and hazardous waste now banned in California.

One alternative method growing in popularity is wet cleaning, which uses water, mild or biodegradable detergents, and computer-controlled washers and dryers, considered by the Environmental Protection Agency to be one of the safest professional-cleaning methods available. Another method involves the use of a liquid carbon-dioxide cleaning solvent. Carbon dioxide is captured as a byproduct of industrial processes, utilizing emissions that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere, according to the EPA. Only about 2 percent of the carbon dioxide is lost into the air with each clothing load, producing a minimal amount of harmful emissions.

Meanwhile, business has been steady for the new East Sacramento dry cleaner.

“No complaining, it’s been way better than I expected,” Kim said. Her customers aren’t complaining either, such as Ziegler, who’s grateful for the eco-friendly help, as it makes doing the right thing much more convenient. Ziegler works as an independent contractor in the field of business and technology implementation project management and has no choice but to dress executively to consult with clients, which means she needs her clothes professionally cleaned.

“There are so many of us in East Sacramento, downtown and Midtown who are ‘suits’; that need not imply that we aren’t environmentally responsible,” said Ziegler, who’s taken several steps to green her life.

She installed dual-pane windows and insulated her old Land Park house, and uses a water-efficient washer and dryer and a tankless water heater. She has reduced her use of disposable items, takes canvas bags with her to the grocery store and is already prepared for the cold winter months ahead: “The easiest thing is to wear a wool sweater, socks and a hat at home before you turn up the thermostat.” Because Ziegler travels often for work, she buys credits to offset the carbon generated by her airplane flights, although she admits she’s “not sure how much that really helps.”

One thing she knows makes a difference, though, is getting her clothes cleaned at E. Sac Natural Dry Cleaners.

“I may not be able to green my whole life, but there are steps I can take,” Ziegler said. “And when business owners in town move in that direction, it makes it easier for me to go that direction.”