Counter inspection

19 October 2018

When it comes to managing expectations, a wise operator will always under promise and over deliver. Stacey King of DTC looks at some common failures where this rule was not adhered to.

An inspection is called for

Achieving a very low complaint level is not all to do with being good at cleaning.  The most successful cleaners spend time and effort at the counter examining every item, foreseeing problems and giving realistic expectations. Counter inspection is a drycleaner’s first opportunity to assess the condition of a garment and to ensure the owner has realistic expectations of the cleaning outcome. Taking time and care here ensures no pre-existing damage or potential challenges are over looked and as a result reduces the chance of customer complaints. There is nothing more difficult than having to explain to an angry customer that the fault on the item was already there when it was handed in for cleaning and that you just didn’t notice it or point it out. The only time this might be justified is when a fault only becomes notably visible after cleaning because the cleaning process has exacerbated pre-existing damage.

Clothing is very personal so always handle items with respect to avoid causing offence. When checking over the garment, there are two key points to remember. Firstly, always allow enough time to inspect every item however inconvenient this may be. Secondly, adopt the Guild system for inspection and folding to ensure that you see and feel every part of the garment. Start with the basics; check pockets for any personal items, check for missing or loose buttons and then proceed to check for any staining or damage. Damage caused by abrasion or chemical damage will often have the appearance of staining and might result in holes after cleaning where fibres have been weakened. Damage and staining can sometimes be differentiated by viewing the fabric from different angles to identify any irregularities to the yarns/fibres. Where damage or staining is seen, make a note of this and politely ask the owner if they know how it has occurred. Not only will this highlight the pre-existing problems to the owner but it will help the cleaner identify suitable treatments and precautions if the source is narrowed down.

Always give realistic expectations. If small holes are noted, advise that cleaning might flush out loose fibres and worsen the appearance of these. This can also happen in areas of abrasion and a severe outcome could leave those areas threadbare or with severe colour loss if the dye-to-fibre bonds have been weakened. Most stains can be removed if the origin is known and the fabric and dyestuff are able to withstand the process required. Take into consideration the composition of the garment; if the fabric is elicate explain any associated risks and that to avoid these a less vigorous process might have to be used which might not fully remove the mark. It is also useful to know if the owner has attempted any stain removal themselves as this may have set the stain or might result in an unexpected outcome during cleaning. If you find any evidence of damage or staining, don’t just issue a verbal disclaimer; offer a repair, if feasible, and note any observations and comments on the customer’s ticket.

Be wary of contradictory care labels and highlight these to the customer. If any deviation from the care label is needed, ask the customer to authorise this. Over half of all disputes about dry cleaning could be avoided by more care and expertise at the counter, both when the item is handed in for cleaning and when it is collected. It is also important for cleaners to protect themselves against being set up for fraudulent claims.


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Ruche to the rescue

Fault: The cleaner agreed to clean this heavily ruched dress, but was unable to press it successfully. The result was a very creased ruched area, with hard pressed-in folds, not quite in the right position.

Cause: When this garment was made, the ruching was laid up onto a dummy, with soft folds, held in shape by the three-dimensional form of the wearer.

Responsibility: This type of garment is particularly difficult to clean and finish. It’s too great a challenge for an untrained presser and if it is accepted for processing and proves too difficult, then the responsibility lies with the cleaner for accepting it.

Rectification: In order to remove the creases produced in wear and in cleaning, the ruched area must be blown out and steam-ironed over what is effectively a bed of air. Some cleaners will find it easier to use a narrow dressmakers iron to do this, working either on a former or on a professional finishing table equipped with air blow.

Once all of the creases have been removed the ruching can be laid up by hand, ideally working with a shaped former.

This is a long and challenging job which requires patience – not for the faint hearted.


Faux leather leads to cleaner faux pas

Fault: The trim of this jacket was degraded during cleaning.

Cause: No reference to the trim was made by the care label and the straps were wrongly assumed to be leather. They were in fact faux leather made of a polyurethane coating which notoriously cannot withstand perc, the solvent advised by the care label. Any coated fabric deserves a close look at the counter because most PVC coatings are not dry-cleanable and even plasticised polyurethane has a failure rate of around one in four. The damage occurs on a worn garment because normal wear flexes the coated areas so that tiny, almost invisible, cracks open up in the plastic surface. The drycleaning solvent penetrates these and lifts the coating; the rest of the damage then occurs through normal mechanical action, especially during the tumble dry stage of the process.

Responsibility: Lies with the manufacturer in this instance for the substandard care label however we would always recommend where composition is unknown that owner authorisation is sought.

Rectification: None is possible.


Cleaner falls into hole of own devising

Fault: After drycleaning and pressing the customer pointed out a hole in the outer fabric at the lower back.

Cause: The neatly severed fibre ends and straight edges to this hole when viewed under magnification indicate that pinch or entrapment damage is the cause here.

Responsibility: the blame for causing the hole originally is more likely to lie with the owner but the hole would have been clearly visible at the cleaner’s reception. The owner should have been offered a repair or the option to scrap the garment before incurring the cleaning cost. The responsibility for pointing these out lay with the cleaner.

Rectification: The hole could be professionally repaired to create a wearable garment, although the hole would not be invisible.


Air-brushing faults could blow away problem

Fault: Pale areas remained in exactly the same size and shape as the original stains.

Cause: When faced with this red wine stain the cleaner tested its tannin remover on a hidden seam, leaving it on the fabric for 10 minutes before flushing and feathering dry. No mark was created, so the same procedure was used on the stains. This only tests the effect of the tannin remover. The marks caused by the red wine also contained alcohol which had damaged the dye to fibre bond. It is only when the damaged dyes are flushed out after stain removal that the problem is revealed.

Responsibility: The responsibility here lies with the wearer. The symptom which clinches the responsibility is the size of the area of colour loss which exactly mirrored the original stains and not the area wetted by the cleaner.

Rectification: Air-brush recolouring might recreate a wearable garment.


The highs and lows of curtain shrinkage

Fault: These cotton curtains shrank by approximately 3” in a 100” drop leaving an unsightly gap between the hem of the curtain and the carpet.

Cause: The British Standard for fabric for curtains and drapes allows the maker of the curtain a 3% dimensional change relating to relaxation cleaning. Even the strongest drycleaning solvent does not shrink cotton curtains by solvent action but all solvents will bring out the relaxation potential of a textile which has had a slight stretch set into the fabric during the final stage of manufacture.

Responsibility: The blame for relaxation shrinkage lies with the clothmaker. The drycleaner can neither foresee nor prevent this. Most modern curtain fabrics should not shrink by this much.

Rectification: The curtain could be stretched and re-set to length using a vertical curtain finishing machine but there are relatively few of these in use. Where the shrinkage is in excess of 3% then it is less likely that re-setting will work. If a curtain maker knows that the fabric being used has a significant relaxation potential, then the curtain should be fitted with a 3-row Rufflette® header and hung on the lowest row of attachment points to allow stepwise adjustments (i.e. lowering) when relaxation occurs. Alternatively, a large hem can be used to allow for alteration post-cleaning. The cleaner can back up the consumer’s claim if the curtain is measured before cleaning, at the counter, in the presence of the customer and


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