Part 2 – Finishing with style6 June 2018
In the second part of our masterclass on wetcleaning, our resident expert Roger Cawood draws attention to some critical issues of particular interest to those who are new or fairly new to textile finishing and explodes a few myths about the wetcleaning v drycleaning
It seems some who are new to wetcleaning and textile aftercare are getting false information on the subject. Do not be encouraged to believe that virtually all textiles can be safely and easily wetcleaned, including those garments carrying ‘dryclean only’ care labels. Neither is it true that finishing is easy and straightforward with only the minimum of equipment and skill being required to produce good standards of finish.
While it is true that a substantial number of garments marked ‘dryclean only’ are wetcleanable, not all may be. After many years in the industry specialising in training and the assessment of quality and having seen some of the appalling results achieved in wetcleaning (and drycleaning) by those with only the most basic knowledge of textile aftercare, I can only say that accepting this kind of advice at face value is likely to result in some disappointing results for both customer and cleaner alike, with in some cases, legitimate claims for compensation.
In my professional opinion, the best advice for newcomers is to research one or more drycleaners with a good reputation who are also using the new wetcleaning technology and arrange a visit with the object to get some good advice straight from ‘the horse’s mouth’. I think you will soon be advised that there are very many garments which, while they may be wetcleaned safely, are much better drycleaned to avoid extended finishing times or difficulties in finishing. You will also find that there are some garments and/or fabrics where experience has proved wetcleaning should be avoided at all costs. I would also strongly recommend that you visit one or two standalone High Street wetcleaning businesses.
It is apparent that some standalone wetcleaners’ advertising is, to say the least, ambiguous and may lead some customers to believe that their clothing is in fact being drycleaned. In the event of customer dissatisfaction or a claim, if the customer feels they have been misled and finds out the item has been wetcleaned contrary to any aftercare information, the chances are that they will stand their ground and pursue their complaint/claim more vigorously.
Finishing equipment and finishing issues
Having acquired a good basic insight into dry- and wetcleaning, and perhaps selected a location for the new business, you will need to consider equipment. One of the most important points to confirm with your prospective supplier (preferably in writing) is service back up in the event of a breakdown. This is critical as every day you are waiting for the engineer to arrive you may be losing money and possibly regular customers if you are unable to deliver a service or complete orders that have been part processed. You also need to take a close look at the equipment guarantees so that you are aware of any exclusion clauses in the small print. Feedback from existing wetcleaners has confirmed that in some cases the equipment supplier really does not want to know once the equipment has been sold.
Leasing the equipment rather than outright purchase is said to be a solution to this problem; in addition, if the new business is located in a hard water area you will need to seek specialist advice on the need to install a water softener.
Irrespective of the supplier’s claims regarding the superiority of their system or equipment there is no doubt in my mind that if the prospective investor is to avoid making costly and damaging mistakes, in-depth training particularly with regard to textiles and finishing must be an integral part of the business plan. I have no reservations in stating categorically that to produce high finishing standards on wetcleaned garments the finisher requires a higher skill set than that needed for drycleaned items. In fact it is fair to say that to ensure customer satisfaction, in depth experience and very high skill levels are needed to finish some structured garments.
Furthermore, in terms of finishing equipment you do need more than the bare minimum and in my view a tensioning jacket/coat former, an ironing table with ironing surface steam, vacuum and air blowing controlled from both sides (remember not all staff are right handed) together with a dedicated trouser topper should be specified. As trousers are a high volume item and can be some of the most problematic items to finish well, newly developed automatic trouser finishers capable of producing very good standards are well worth considering – but they are expensive.
In view of the extended training and practice required to produce high standards of finish, scissor presses or Hoffman presses are not recommended for those who are new to the industry. You will also need a flat topped table for pre-cleaning inspection and pre-spotting and a spotting table with a steam/air gun and high pressure water sprays. It is not good practice to pre-spot and post-spot on the same table as you risk cross contamination from previously used chemicals.
Textile aftercare has always suffered from a lack of locally based training providers and in order to access good quality services the main options have been a residential course in-house, or on-site training provided by SATRA the FCRA or on-site training provided by The Guild of Cleaners and Launderers. Following the demise of training at SATRA and FCRA, The Guild, www.gcl.org.uk, continues to provide a range of theoretical and practical training delivered as on-site courses using the cleaner’s installed equipment and covering all aspects of wetcleaning, drycleaning and laundering, with free training days around the country being occasionally available to members with non-members making a contribution to costs.
In most cases machinery suppliers and chemical manufacturers/suppliers will provide or facilitate training for their equipment or products. However, trainers are not always qualified and training is not normally supported by the necessary theoretical classroom training, accompanied by comprehensive course notes. The theory component is particularly important if newcomers are to quickly assimilate the skills and knowledge needed to avoid costly mistakes, build a successful business and develop a sound understanding of the technical issues surrounding textiles, stain removal and finishing.
Prior to setting up a wetcleaning business it is a good idea, to spend some time working/helping out in an existing business so that you have some ‘hands on’ production experience before you take the plunge. Do bear in mind the fact that even with the most sophisticated equipment you do need to develop in-depth hands on skills. Provided you are not going to be in competition this can often be easily arranged on a no remuneration basis. Thorough preparation before opening up your new business will not guarantee success but it will help avoid many sleepless nights.
As I have already said, claims have been made that the vast majority of dryclean-only garments can be safely wetcleaned but is impossible to quantify this kind of statement. However, you should be aware of the fact that if a garment, fabric or integral trims fail in wetcleaning the customer may have a claim that will be very difficult to defend.
Garments that are labelled as ‘dryclean only’ or ‘do not wash’ can often be wetcleaned very successfully. However, the cleaner may have to accept responsibility for any damage if the garment has not been accepted at ‘owner’s risk’. In cases where such items are to be wetcleaned owners risk can only be considered viable provided that the soiling/staining is of a type that could not be expected to respond satisfactorily to drycleaning or where drycleaning has already proved ineffective.
The main challenge for the budding wetcleaner is assimilating sufficient knowledge to enable you differentiate between those items which are unlikely to be affected by exposure to wetcleaning and those where the risk is unacceptable.
Just as machine wash symbols and circle P symbols and so on are no guarantee of a satisfactory response to drycleaning or washing processes the circle W wetcleaning symbols, which are now being increasingly seen on garments, do not guarantee a satisfactory response to wetcleaning. This is because garment manufacturers are under no obligation to have their garments type tested by an accredited testing house before using the aftercare symbols. It will be seen from the above that the cleaner needs to exercise great care when accepting items that are not labeled for washing or wetcleaning or which specifically exclude washing. This is particularly the case when accepting high value items.
Hygiene in wetcleaning
As previously stated in part one (LCN February 2018, ‘Wetcleaning v drycleaning Part 1 – putting the record straight’), due to the low temperatures involved there is no thermal disinfection in wetcleaning. However, as in drycleaning, a lot of potentially infectious contamination is diluted and flushed away during cleaning and rinsing. Any remaining spores, viral or bacterial contamination are likely to be spread throughout the load, resulting in some items that may have been initially free from contamination, picking up pathogens. In the absence of thermal disinfection it should be appreciated that the incorporation of bactericide into the cleaning process will not guarantee the elimination of all pathogens.
The vast majority of garments but not all that have been wetcleaned will of course be subjected to some form of steam finishing. But steam finishing, due to infinitely variable ironing techniques, the extremely random nature of ironing and the low steam pressures (max 70psi but often below 60psi) at which steam heated irons are used, will do little to eliminate remaining contamination. Furthermore, automated finishing equipment such as some rotor cabinets and garment formers, often due to inadequate maintenance or control settings, in many cases do not even reach 100C and I have recorded temperatures as low as 70C.
There can be major temperature variations between the upper and lower parts of garments during steaming. In my experience even the new tensioning jacket/coat formers do not exceed 120C, which in itself is insufficient to ensure complete disinfection. Low temperature combined with, in some cases, inadequate settings mean that this form of finishing cannot be relied upon for complete disinfection.
The question of disinfection and levels of disinfection in both dry- and wetcleaning is very open to debate. The possibility of pathogens remaining after cleaning will depend upon the type, age, maintenance of the installed equipment and the chemistry of the wetcleaning process in a particular unit. The potential for residual contamination will also be influenced by production rates and in units with the minimum of equipment – for example, with just a rotor cabinet and ironing table residual levels of contamination might be expected to be higher. In both dry- and wetcleaning to date, there are no confirmed cases of infection attributable to either – but complacency would be unwise.
Items at risk in wetcleaning
While it is accepted that a very high percentage of garments can now be safely wetcleaned using the new technology, there remain some fabrics, finishes and item types where experience has shown that fabrics will be damaged or there is a high risk of fabric damage or customer dissatisfaction due to fabric appearance, handle or the finish. These include moiré effects some of which are removed by water, some pile fabrics including silk and acetate and acetate taffetas and silk ties. Careful consideration needs to be given before wetcleaning high value items where the aftercare label may dictate drycleaning or a specialist service – for example silk wedding gowns and pure wool suits from Savile Row tailors. You also need to consider the risk/value relationship, the potential effects of water on trims buttons beads and sequins and the possible adverse effect on dyes as well as the risk of shrinkage. Curtains in general can be a potential problem item and some cleaners will not accept them for wetcleaning because of handling problems and a higher risk of shrinkage or distortion.
Although in percentage terms the number of items seriously at risk may not be great, the cost to the business in the event of a claim, particularly in the case of designer and high value items, can be considerable, not to mention the adverse publicity that can arise when customers are dissatisfied with the service.
There is no doubt that the new technology is a considerable improvement on 1990s wetcleaning systems with manufacturers and chemical suppliers marketing a diverse range of equipment and products which, together with good professional training, can produce excellent results on a wide range of garments.
However, feedback from existing standalone wetcleaners indicates that many consider there is still some way to go before it can really take over as an acceptable replacement for drycleaning while others appear to be be very satisfied with the new technology and believe it to be a viable substitute.
On the other hand, many existing drycleaners are now finding that wetcleaning is enabling them to diversify their drycleaning offering by diverting a substantial part of their workload to wetcleaning while at the same time producing significantly improved cleaning results and solving many problems associated with extensive water based soiling and stains.