Manufacturing faults and, it has to be said, faults and problems caused by the failure of many clothing manufacturers to test their products against BS/ISO standards (to ensure a satisfactory response to cleaning processes), continue to frustrate cleaners, who are often left to pick up the pieces. When defective garments fail during cleaning, then understandably the customer blames the cleaner, who may have to spend an inordinate amount of time and effort helping to seek a replacement or compensation from the retailer. Add to this the garments that a manufacturer has rejected as seconds which are then sold on to the public at reduced prices, after first having removed their brand name and you have an absolute minefield of unattributable fault. Finally, there are the home-made garments which may not stand up to the stress of cleaning. This month we give examples of what to look out for and what to do to minimise the risks.

Initial assessment

As always, a good initial assessment and (where appropriate) documentation at the counter, can save a lot of hassle further down the line. Bear in mind that risks can increase exponentially with the value of the item. In addition to documenting any potential problems using an ‘owners risk’ form, many cleaners now photograph high value items to further confirm their precleaning condition.

Labelling issues

In their own interests (and in order to limit their risk and exposure to substandard garments), cleaners should take particular care with the following:

1. By law in many regions, all garments must carry a fibre content label, which is usually combined with aftercare information (although surprisingly there is often no legal requirement for aftercare instructions!). When customers find that cleaners are reluctant or unwilling to accept a garment because of fibre content or misleading aftercare information, they may remove the label in an effort to get the item accepted; so always be aware of this when faced with missing labels and look for signs that the labels have been cut out.

2. The absence of the manufacturer’s label is a good indication that the item may be a ‘second’ and therefore has a defect. In some cases, manufactures can reject items for faults that can be extremely difficult to detect, such as a fine broken yarn in an underarm area that could result in a run when the garment is subjected to the unavoidable stresses in cleaning.

3. In the absence of aftercare information and a fibre content label, it is all down to the cleaner to decide if the item can be safely cleaned. If the item is accepted without qualification and fails in cleaning, the responsibility is likely to fall squarely on the shoulders of the cleaner.

4. Home-made items may not carry any labels and, in their absence, may require very careful assessment of the fabric and the make-up of the garment. Look for insufficient selvedge along seams, lack of overlocked edges where required, untidy sewing, and trims and buttons that may not stand up to the stress of cleaning.

5. The cleaner needs to exercise extreme caution before accepting any item with the ‘spot cleaning’ instruction.

Dye fastness

Over recent years, loose colour and dye bleeds have become an increasingly common problem for cleaners. The ongoing need for manufacturers to remain competitive and reduce costs is undoubtedly a contributory factor here, with loose or extraneous dye on some fabrics being a serious issue for the cleaner. Insufficient rinsing during manufacture is thought to be at the root of the problem, with even some polyester fabrics being affected, which was unheard of years ago.

Provided good cleaning practice and care label information is followed, loose colour, dye bleeds and fading are not normally the responsibility of the cleaner. However, responsibility often has to be accepted for any colour transfer or mark-offs to other garments in the load, leaving the cleaner holding the can and having to claim against the retailer for consequential damage – not an option most cleaners are willing to pursue. Many dyes are substantive (have a strong affinity for specific textiles). This means that if, for example, a cotton item bleeds in cleaning and the colour is picked up by other cotton, linen or viscose items in the load, it may not rinse out and may prove impossible to remove. This explains why some garments can remain unaffected by even a heavy dye bleed. Strict attention to colour checks on the suspect item, and careful classification, will go a long way to limiting your exposure to this risk. (NB: the topic of dye fastness was addressed in Trade Secrets, LCNi, March 2022, and readers should refer to this also.)

Home-made cocktail dress fails in cleaning

Item: home-made cocktail dress made from 100% plastic-coated metallic yarns.
Fault: parts of some seams split open when the dress was cleaned in perc using a reduced cycle.
Technical cause: the yarns in this metallic fabric were easily displaced. The seams were loosely stitched, the edges had not been overlocked and insufficient selvedge had been allowed. This was a crudely made-up garment, which should not have been accepted for cleaning.
Responsibility: in the absence of fibre content and aftercare labels, the responsibility rests with the cleaner, who should have identified the nature of this dress and its limitations during reception. It is quite reasonable for the cleaner to seek ‘owner’s risk’ and the value of this would be strengthened by stating what the risks are and how they will be minimised.
Rectification: fortunately, it was possible to restore this item to an acceptable condition by repositioning the displaced yarns and skilful finishing, which took appreciable time. Phew!!

Trousers fail after three washes

Item: light grey trousers, 97% cotton.
after only three wear and wash cycles, the fabric started to fray at several wear points including the trouser bottoms, waistband area and the pockets.
Technical cause: under normal wear conditions this item could have been expected to withstand at least 20 wear and wash cycles. The overall nature of the damage in areas exposed to normal, varying wear in use suggests that the cotton fabric was bleached excessively during manufacture and in its weakened state was unacceptable for use in garment manufacture.
Responsibility: in this case, the retailer accepted responsibility.

Buttons and trims

Buttons and trims such as glass/ plastic beads are a constant problem for cleaners, mainly due to inadequate testing by some manufacturers. The main issues are coatings, and plastic beads and buttons made from solvent soluble plastic. However, cleaners should be aware that the colour in some solvent resistant plastic buttons can mark off on to the garment during drycleaning, even when covered with metal foil. To avoid problems, we strongly recommend that cleaners carry out solvent tests on high value items.

Finally, if buttons and trims are integral with the garment and cannot be easily removed – as with the extensive beading or riveted buttons found on some garments – they are covered by the care label and must be capable of withstanding the specified cleaning process. Some cautious cleaners do protect buttons and where appropriate, cover beading and/or clean in a net bag if this seems appropriate, even if the care label does not call for this.

Dye bleed leads to a headache for the cleaner

Item: dress with black bodice panel adjacent to a white panel.
Fault: when cleaned in perc, the dye from the black panel bled into the white. Although re-cleaning removed the majority of the dye, the cleaner was unable to remove the last traces immediately adjacent to the black strip.
Technical cause: the evidence here points to extraneous dye released during cleaning being responsible and as both the black and white fabrics had a similar fibre content it is probable that the remaining colour could not be removed, because it had bonded to the white panel fibres. Responsibility: the retailer and manufacturer should take the blame.
Rectification: it is highly likely that the remaining colour could be removed using 9% hydrogen peroxide, which would be most unlikely to have any adverse effect on the black fabric. However, as this is considered to be a manufacturer fault, a very careful colour test would be essential, and most cleaners would probably refrain from going further, to avoid any risk of being blamed for the original problem.

Curtain fabric sheds dye in cleaning

Dark shades of velvet and cotton print curtains are very susceptible to colour loss, particularly the first time they are cleaned. This should be pointed out to the customer during reception and taken into account by the operator when preparing household loads.