Identifying the causes

FABRIC DAMAGE

27 November 2009



Richard Neale explains how to resolve arguments about fabric damage


There are simple techniques for recognising the most common causes of holes and abrasion damage but the cleaner needs to be able to explain these clearly and precisely to avoid paying compensation unnecessarily.

The main problem a cleaner faces is that the cleaning process is designed to remove lint, dirt and stains but it also takes off fluff and other debris that might be concealing pre-existing damage. A thorough counter inspection is essential and can save many unnecessary claims but some types of damage will be not be visible at this stage.

It is always useful to explain first to the customer that drycleaning involves a vigorous wash process in liquid solvent, rather than scrubbing down by hand with a dry brush. This wash process does not normally cause holes or rub marks. Usually, the only garments that need brushing vigorously by hand are suede jackets and items with a pile or nap that needs to be raised.

The insects that nibble at cashmere or angora tend to burrow down into the fabric and push loose debris above them. This conceals both the insect and the hole it has made.

If the edge of a seat belt cuts through a velvet pile, the damaged fibres will be left in place and largely disguise the damage. Even the best counter inspection can miss either of these faults.

When a cigarette or car battery fluid damages a cotton garment, the fibres are often left in place and look like a stain, which an optimistic cleaner might hope will be removed. Unfortunately, the vigorous flushing action of the solvent will wash away the damaged yarns, leaving a hole even though the garment looked intact before.

ACID MAKES HOLES IN SHIRT

Fault: This designer shirt had some obvious water-based splashes when it was brought in and the cleaner assumed they would come out in the wash. Instead the shirt was full of holes after cleaning.

Cause: This damage was caused by splashes of strong acid, which weakened the cotton. As soon the tumbling action of the wash started, the acid-weakened fabric came away, leaving holes in the material.

Responsibility: The cleaner cannot foresee this type of damage, which is only revealed during the wash. The garment wearer is to blame as this staining must have occurred during wear.

Rust remover is the only acid that is used by cleaners and is strong enough to rot cotton. But even rust remover would have had to be on the garment for some time to cause this damage.

Rectification: None.

CIGARETTE BURNS SWEATER

Fault: This cotton sweater had a whitish smudge when it was left for cleaning. The mark looked much worse after the sweater was cleaned in perc and the fabric damage could be seen clearly.

Cause: The damage has been caused by the end of a lighted cigarette. This has charred the surface fibres, which have been lost in the cleaning solvent. The cigarette has also whitened the dyes and left some ash debris deep in the knitted structure.

Responsibility: The blame lies with the wearer and the careless smoker. No drycleaning technique, however clumsily applied, could reproduce this pattern of damage. The smoking ban is rigidly enforced in drycleaning businesses as inhaling drycleaning odours through a cigarette poisons the smoker.

Rectification: The fibre damage can only be repaired by a professional darn. This will at least make the sweater wearable although the repair will be visible.

GARMENT SUFFERS IN INSECT ATTACK

Fault: This garment was unmarked when it was brought in. It went into the drycleaning machine without any pre-treatment but after cleaning it had a large hole with three smaller damaged areas round it. All the damaged areas looked darker than the rest of the garment.

Cause: The missing fibres removed in creating the holes and surface damage have all of the characteristics of attack by an insect such as a clothes’ moth or the grub of the carpet beetle.

Responsibility: The damage has occurred during long-term storage so the owner is probably to blame. Drycleaning generally kills and removes the grubs. It is very unlikely that the insect attack could have occurred in the drycleaner’s shop as the garment would not usually have been there long enough to be damaged to this extent.

Rectification: Professional reweaving would be the only possible solution but the structure is complex so a quote should be obtained first.

MARKS OF A CLUMSY PRESSER

Fault: This jacket looked fairly good when it came out of the machine but the owner returned it complaining that there were pale patches all over the garment.

Cause: These patches are very regular and match the shape and position of the inside buttons and studs and those of the internal seams. If the marking had been less extensive and limited to the high wear areas, then the wearer might have been partly to blame. In this case the fault was caused by a heavy-handed presser.

Responsibility: This lies with the cleaner.

Rectification: None is possible.

STRAP DAMAGES COLLAR

Fault: This top coat looked fine when it went into the hydrocarbon drycleaning machine but after cleaning the right collar had a white worn patch. The left collar was unmarked as the owner quickly pointed out.

Cause: This coat has been damaged by the edge of a nylon seat belt. As the driver sits on the right in the UK the right-hand side of the collar has been damaged, while the left hand side remains unaffected. If the owner now checks the contact points in the car, they will find that these correspond with the damaged areas.

Responsibility: The blame here lies with the wearer. All the cleaner has done is to reveal the fault.

Rectification: Unfortunately none.




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