Minimising the risk of first time failures

Spring is a time for renewal in many senses of the word. From new flowers to newborn lambs, for many, the milder weather that spring brings means new clothes. Inevitably when buying new clothes, sooner or later they will be subject to their first clean and with this can come a host of different issues.

The British Standard for assessing the performance of a garment in drycleaning/wetcleaning advises that a garment should be tested for its dimensional stability, colourfastness, seam pucker, loss of finish, creasing, abrasion and wrinkle recovery. However, it’s rare that the manufacturer carries this out.

This can leave cleaners open to complaints where garments have been inappropriately labelled. In this month’s feature, we’ll review some common first clean faults.

Coloured garments can experience colour bleed in the first clean. This can be because the dyes have not been set properly or because they have not been rinsed off properly during the manufacturing process. Be wary of contrasting items and bright colours, which may fade. Taking a piece of white cotton cloth dampened with solvent or water (depending on your chosen cleaning process, drycleaning or wetcleaning) and rubbing any risky areas will give an indication if any dye will migrate during cleaning. It can be handy to do this in front of the customer so that they can authorise the process if dye bleed appears as though it will be an issue. Try to do this in as inconspicuous area as possible just in case of localised colour fade or smudging onto nearby contrasting colours.

In a similar manner to dye bleed issues, glittery finishes, beads, trims and similar may also exhibit issues regarding incompatibility with the drycleaning solvent. Where possible, and without detriment to the garment, remove a bead and immerse it in the intended solvent for a few minutes to give an indication of how it may react to the cleaning process.

Adhesives can be rubbed to see if they will dissolve or become tacky but this is less conclusive as it doesn’t replicate the full immersion nature of the drycleaning machine and may risk damage if any print or trim does come off.

Shrinkage is one of the most common complaints received at DTC. Relaxation shrinkage is inherent to all textiles and occurs due to the release of tension, which has been ‘set’ into the fabric during manufacture.

Relaxation is much more difficult to premeditate and cannot be prevented; the British Standard advises that any dimensional change may be progressive and take up to five cleans to fully manifest. A small amount of relaxation might be rectifiable in pressing – however, any relaxation greater than 3% should be brought to the attention of the retailer. Ensure that process conditions are allowed by the care label, as the responsibility for any shrinkage caused to misprocessing is down to the cleaner, not the manufacturer.


Hole lotta heavy metal

Fault: Multiple small holes surrounded a metal trim on a cashmere jumper.

Cause: The jumper carried several heavy metal adornments. The care label stated clean in perc on a normal process and no mention of the trim. The letters were non-removable so the cleaner took precautions to pad them prior to cleaning to prevent snagging or damage to the pearl-like beads. The sheer weight of the adornments put too much strain on the yarns during the mechanical action of the cleaning process. This resulted in broken yarns and many small holes in a linear pattern away from the point of attachment.

Responsibility: The manufacturer was deemed responsible here for not ensuring the garment could withstand the process outlined by the care label

Rectification: None.


Curtain suffers in sunlight

Fault: This curtain was sent in for a spring clean and became torn in intermittent bands.

Cause: Although this was the curtains’ first clean, it was not brand new. The curtain had been hung for several years before the owner decided to send it for a freshen up. The areas which had been more predominantly exposed to sunlight had suffered photodegradation and lost tensile strength and subsequently became torn due to the mechanical action of the drycleaning process.

Responsibility: Resistance to sunlight is ultimately the responsibility of the manufacturer but will inevitably manifest in time on curtains.

Rectification: None is possible.


Heat causes sequins to shrivel

Fault: After drycleaning the sequins on this dress had become misshapen and shrivelled.

Cause: The dress was labelled for drycleaning on a normal process but the sequins had very low resistance to heat. The heat from the tumble drying stage of the dry cleaning process resulted in the sequins becoming highly pliable. When tumbled, the sequins distorted and ‘set’ back into a new shape when eventually cool.

Responsibility: The responsibility lies with the manufacturer, the garment is unable to withstand the process outlined by the care label. The sequins were so sensitive to heat that they would unlikely withstand even a mild process.

Rectification: Some of the beads were flattened out by ironing on the reverse however this did not completely rectify the misshaping.


Lost length

Fault: The outer fabric of this curtain had shrunk during drycleaning.

Cause: The outer fabric was constructed of cotton while the lining was polyester. The only reason why cotton should shrink in drycleaning is relaxation shrinkage. Polyester tends to be more dimensionally stable, which is why the lining now under hangs the outer fabric.

Responsibility: Ultimately, relaxation shrinkage is the responsibility of the manufacturer. However, when compared with original measurements the curtain was found to have shrunk by 1.4%. This is within the 3% allowed to the manufacturer. The shrinkage may worsen in future cleans resulting in a viable claim.

Rectification: Pressing under tension or mounting on a Sandershade system may recover some lost length but there will likely be a fee for this as the cleaner is not responsible.


Another fine mesh

Fault: This delicately layered wedding dress became severely frayed around the edges after cleaning.

Cause: The edges of this dress were not finished with a suitable hem. This left a lot of exposed fibres, which were able to fray during the process. The fraying occurred due to the mechanical action the fine mesh had to undergo during both cleaning and drying.

Responsibility: The manufacturer should be responsible here as the result was not a result of cleaner error or negligence. Although a wedding dress is designed to be worn only once, cleaning afterwards to avoid any developed stains from food/drink spills whilst in storage is recommended. It is questionable if an item that cannot be cleaned is fit for purpose.

Rectification: The hem could be tidied up and re-finished. However, this would result in a shorter length and may detract from the overall appearance of the dress.


Wave goodbye to puckers

Fault: A wavy appearance was noted to the seams and zip of this jacket post cleaning.

Cause: The waviness had been caused by relaxation of tension in the stitching of the garment. This caused the fabric to pucker but could be easily rectified by pressing under tension with application of vacuum.

Responsibility: No responsibility was allocated as the fault was rectified.


Not all that glitters

Fault: The train of this dress lost a large amount of glitter during cleaning.

Cause: The dress was labelled for handwashing. The main dress was processed on a hand wash process in a washing machine and was undamaged. The detachable train was washed in a Belfast sink, by hand, but lost considerable amounts of glitter. In testing, it was revealed that the glitter was very poorly adhered to the train and was removable by dry rubbing alone.

Responsibility: The responsibility lies with the manufacturer as the finish is not properly adhered.

Rectification: The glitter could be reapplied but the fault will only reoccur if the dress is subsequently sold on.