Abstract Background Significant numbers of people are exposed to tetrachloroethylene (perchloroethylene, PCE) every year, including workers in the dry cleaning industry. Adverse health effects have been associated with PCE exposure. However, investigations of possible cumulative cytogenetic damage resulting from PCE exposure are lacking. Methods Eighteen dry cleaning workers and 18 laundry workers (unexposed controls) provided a peripheral blood sample for cytogenetic analysis by whole chromosome painting. Pre-shift exhaled air on these same participants was collected and analyzed for PCE levels. The laundry workers were matched to the dry cleaners on race, age, and smoking status. The relationships between levels of cytological damage and exposures (including PCE levels in the shop and in workers' blood, packyears, cumulative alcohol consumption, and age) were compared with correlation coefficients and t-tests. Multiple linear regressions considered blood PCE, packyears, alcohol, and age. Results There were no significant differences between the PCE-exposed dry cleaners and the laundry workers for chromosome translocation frequencies, but PCE levels were significantly correlated with percentage of cells with acentric fragments (R2 = 0.488, p Conclusions There does not appear to be a strong effect in these dry cleaning workers of PCE exposure on persistent chromosome damage as measured by translocations. However, the correlation between frequencies of acentric fragments and PCE exposure level suggests that recent exposures to PCE may induce transient genetic damage. More heavily exposed participants and a larger sample size will be needed to determine whether PCE exposure induces significant levels of persistent chromosome damage.