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Perchloroethylene (PCE, PERC)

What is Perchloroethylene (PCE, PERC)?

Perchloroethylene is a colorless liquid that is also called tetrachloroethylene, PERC, or PCE. It is primarily used for dry cleaning fabrics and degreasing metals.

See also: Factories Dry Cleaning Brownfield Birth Defects Cancer Learning and Developmental Disabilities Reproductive Health

Where is Perchloroethylene (PCE, PERC) found?

  • Dry-cleaned clothes – releasing small amounts of perchloroethylene
  • Consumer products - adhesives, spot removers, typewriter correction fluid, shoe polish, printing inks, paint products, and household cleaners
  • Fabric finishers

How can I be exposed to Perchloroethylene (PCE, PERC)?

Perchloroethylene (PCE, PERC) commonly enter(s) the body through:


Ingestion (swallowing)


Inhalation (breathing)

  • Breathing releases from dry-cleaned clothes, or products that contain perchloroethylene

Skin contact

  • Touching dry-cleaned clothes, products made with perchloroethylene, or soil contaminated with it
  • Bathing in water contaminated with perchloroethylene

What happens when I am exposed to Perchloroethylene (PCE, PERC)?

Breathing high levels of perchloroethylene for a short time can cause:

  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Lack of coordination
  • Irritation of eyes and respiratory tract

Skin contact with perchloroethylene can cause:

  • Irritation
  • Redness and chapping

Long-term exposure to perchloroethylene can cause changes in:

  • Mood
  • Memory
  • Attention
  • Reaction time
  • Vision

Long-term exposure to perchloroethylene can cause:

  • Cancer

Who is at risk for exposure to Perchloroethylene (PCE, PERC)?

  • Consumers
    • Dry-cleaned clothes and some consumer products contain perchloroethylene.
  • People who live near dry cleaning locations
  • Women of child-bearing age
    • A few studies in humans have suggested that exposure to tetrachloroethylene increased the numbers of babies with birth defects, but these studies were not large enough to clearly answer the question. 

Reduce your risk

If you think your health has been affected by exposure to perchloroethylene, contact your health care professional. 

Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling chemicals. For poisoning emergencies or questions about possible poisons, please contact your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.

  • Do you dry clean your clothes?
  • Do you live near dry cleaning facilities, chemical waste sites, or chemical storage areas where perchloroethylene has been stored?
  • Do you use products that contain perchloroethylene?
  • Do you use well water?
  • If your drinking water comes from a public source, contact your local water system to find out if there are contaminants in your water.
  • Routinely test well water for perchloroethylene.
  • If your well water has high levels of perchloroethylene, contact your local or state health agency or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for information on how to reduce your exposure.
  • If you dry clean your clothes and think some of the solvent was not removed, or if the clothes smell like solvent, ask your cleaner to re-clean your clothes, or take them to another cleaner for re-cleaning.
  • Air out dry-cleaned clothes outside before bringing them into the house.
  • If you live above a dry cleaning facility, ventilate your home by opening windows.
  • Check product labels for perchloroethylene. Follow instructions on product labels to minimize exposure. Store them in a shed or outside location.
  • Use proper ventilation when you use products containing perchloroethylene.

Don’t let children play in dirt or eat dirt if you live near a waste site that contains perchloroethylene.

National Library of Medicine Resources and Databases

Additional Resources

  • What is Perchloroethylene (Tetrachloroethylene or PCE)?
    Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center
    Resource on perchloroethylene (tetrachloroethylene or PCE) that addresses its properties, uses, populations at risk of adverse health effects due to exposure, and the distribution of PCE in the environment.
  • Tetrachloroethylene (PERC). ToxFAQs.
    Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
    Factsheet with answers to the most frequently asked questions about tetrachloroethylene (PERC) exposure and its effect on human health, developed by a federal public health agency that protects communities from harmful health effects related to exposure to natural and man-made hazardous substances.
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