Coin-operated dry cleaning machines may be responsible for acute tetrachloroethylene poisoning: report of 26 cases including one death

J Toxicol Clin Toxicol. 1996;34(2):191-7. doi: 10.3109/15563659609013769.


Background: Incorrect operations by customers are not uncommon in coin-operated dry cleaning establishments; dry cleaning machines may also be poorly maintained. This may result in retention of large amounts of the cleaning solvent in dry cleaned items.

Case report: A 2-year-old boy was found dead in his bed, with a strong odor of solvent in the room. Toxicological analysis demonstrated tetrachloroethylene poisoning. The solvent had been retained in the double curtains of the bedroom which had been dry cleaned in a coin-operated establishment the same day. A retrospective study at the Paris Poison Center revealed 25 additional cases, all with a favorable outcome. Analysis of the circumstances of these accidents showed that the main causes of tetrachloroethylene retention in clothes are overloading of the machine and dry cleaning of bulky items. However, failure of the dry cleaning machine may also be involved.

Conclusions: To immediately reduce the health risks, consumers were informed both via the mass media and by warnings in coin-operated dry cleaning shops. A second batch of preventive measures is in preparation including modifications of the machines to limit solvent exposure and a specific regulation concerning their inspection and maintenance.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child, Preschool
  • Ethylene Chlorohydrin / analogs & derivatives
  • Ethylene Chlorohydrin / urine
  • Fatal Outcome
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Laundering*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Poison Control Centers
  • Poisoning / etiology
  • Poisoning / prevention & control
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Tetrachloroethylene / analysis
  • Tetrachloroethylene / blood
  • Tetrachloroethylene / poisoning*
  • Tissue Distribution
  • Trichloroacetic Acid / urine


  • Trichloroacetic Acid
  • Ethylene Chlorohydrin
  • 2,2,2-trichloroethanol
  • Tetrachloroethylene