Dry cleaning may remove stains from your clothes, but the process can also leave behind nasty chemicals in the environment.

The majority of dry cleaners use a solvent called perchloroethylene, a serious health and environmental hazard that can wind up in the groundwater. The Environmental Protection Agency has suggested that dry cleaning workers exposed to the chemical can have an increased risk for several cancers; another study showed a possible association between the chemical in drinking water and an uptick in childhood leukemia. Intense, even short-term exposure can cause dizziness, mood disorders, sleepiness and liver and kidney problems.

According to the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, there are an estimated 2,000 active and abandoned dry-cleaning sites in North Carolina. At many of these sites, the groundwater is contaminated with the solvents used in the cleaning process. In 1997, the state Legislature enacted the Dry-Cleaning Solvent Cleanup Act to pay for removing the contamination. The source for the cleanup fund is a tax on dry-cleaning and dry-cleaning solvents.

So before trotting those wool pants to the cleaners, check to see if they can be washed by hand in Woolite, for example, or on the gentle cycle in the machine. Better yet, buy clothing that does not require dry cleaning.

Also, ask your dry cleaner about the chemicals and methods it uses; encourage its owners to consider going green. And if a dry cleaner claims to be environmentally friendly, quiz them on their process as well.

Find out more about the state’s cleanup plans, including an interactive map of the locations.