A sticky puzzle

Problem: After a cotton jacket with white polyurethane coating had been cleaned on a sensitive process, the sleeve fabric crinkled and stuck to itself. Most of the other panels were in good condition.

When the material was tested it was found that in the presence of perchloroethylene it was virtually impossible to get the polyurethane to stick to itself at temperatures below 50oC, but above this temperature the coating softened and would eventually stick.

Cause: This garment was labelled as being suitable for sensitive drycleaning which means the air of the cage temperature for tumble drying should have been reduced below 50°C. Most of the panels survived which means the damaged sleeve was probably folded against the hot metal of the cage at the end of the cycle and it was then the damage occurred.

Responsibility: This garment would have survived a sensitive drycleaning cycle with correctly controlled drying and a proper deodorising cooldown. In this instance, blame was allocated to the cleaner.

Coating complaints

Coatings probably cause more problems for the drycleaner than any other single item because the fabric producer rarely considers the cleansability of a coated fabric, even when it is brand new. Flexing in normal wear generally makes a coating more vulnerable to damage in drycleaning, so any proper test protocol for a coated garment range needs to include test drycleanings interspersed with periods of normal wear.

Coatings are usually based on a plastic or a resin and materials of this type are always susceptible to attack by perchloroethylene solvent, whatever it may say on the care label. The only thing which varies is the speed at which the damage occurs. So to minimise the risk the canny cleaner uses cool solvent (first load of the day), with a short cycle time and a reduced drying temperature. A quick rub test with solvent at the stain removal table will indicate the worst potential failures but you may need the owner to authorise the substantial residual risk, because so many coated fabric garment ranges are labelled with hopeless optimism, often by guesswork by under-informed manufacturers or cowboy importers.

Coatings on the outside of a garment tend to stick to themselves, crack and bleed colour in cleaning. Those on the inside will change the handle and appearance of the fabric when they break up. All coatings tend to stiffen and shrink slightly, so if the garment looks as though it is washable with care then discuss this with the owner. A professional cleaner with wetcleaning skills can frequently produce a bright, clean, fresh result by cool handwashing with a neutral detergent and many never even tell the customer. The do-not-wash symbol on the care label is often there only to deter the customer from domestic washing. Of course, you are on your own if anything goes wrong but many cleaners find that on balance they are still much better off than following a suspicious designer label.

Soft drape to hard wrinkles

Problem: Although this black suit was labelled as being suitable for cleaning in perc, it did not look too good after its first cleaning. A second cleaning resulted in total wrinkling shrinkage of the skirt.

Cause: Opening up the skirt revealed a soft back-coating to the outer fabric which appeared to be based on a plasticised polyurethane, probably chosen to give a very soft drape. This material has shrunk and delaminated, as this type of back-coating does in perc.

The reason the jacket survived was because this had a more conventional interlining applied by what appears to be a heat sensitive adhesive. This was relatively unaffected.

Responsibility: The garment maker is responsible. In order to be deemed drycleanable, every internal component must be capable of withstanding the solvents specified on the care symbol.

Rectification: None is possible. The customer was advised to take this garment back to the retailer.

Outer fabric gets mottled

Problem: An all weather jacket, which had a polyester cotton outer back-coated with a semi-permeable polyurethane layer, was drycleaned on a sensitive process.

After cleaning, the back-coating degraded resulting in an unattractive mottled appearance to the outer fabric. Some panels were affected more than others, depending on where the panel was cut from the original roll of cloth.

Cause: Tests indicated that the coating here softened in the presence of perchloroethylene.

Responsibility: The blame was placed on the garment maker. No rectification is possible.

Silver coating slips away

Problem: A grey jacket with silver coating to the outer fabric was drycleaned in perc on a sensitive cycle. Following this, the coating was almost totally removed from all areas other than the collar and pocket flaps. Specks of coating remained on the other panels and this was the only proof that they had ever been finished in this way in the first place.

Cause: Careful testing of the undamaged areas of coating with perchloroethylene fluid indicated that the coating came off very easily in the presence of this solvent.

Responsibility: The blame here lies with the garment maker. If a prototype for this garment range had been properly checked for its drycleanability in the first instance, then this fault could have been avoided. No rectification is possible.