Colour loss is the second biggest problem for drycleaners because the fault often cannot be rectified and explaining this to an angry and upset customer can be extremely difficult. Fortunately, recent developments

in chemicals and processes now make it easier to minimise the risk of avoidable damage.

Sometimes colours can be damaged during stain removal (see LCN June) but the problem may have other causes.

Colour loss caused by drink spills, especially from alcoholic drinks, can be awkward to explain, particularly if the customer is a life-long teetotaller. Problems also occur when someone tries to mop up a spill and rubs rather than blots the mark or uses a coloured napkin rather than a white tissue.

Explaining belt and strap damage requires skill because customers often do not understand the machine process but do not want to appear ignorant. When a seat belt rubs a fabric, the damage is usually severe because the hard nylon belt cuts through the surface fibres. However, this damage only becomes visible after the drycleaning fluid has flushed away the loose fibres to reveal the full extent of the problem.

If the customer says they never drink alcohol or do not drive, accept this. Explain that while the symptoms indicate alcohol damage, this could have come from a perfume or skincare product. Similarly, with belt damage, point out that this could be caused by a shoulder strap on a bag.

Never assume that all customers are fraudulent. It should be possible to give a reasonable explanation without accusing the customer of lying.

Dress fades in holiday sun

Fault: A pleated, designer dress looked a grubby and very creased before cleaning. Afterwards it was clean but had ugly fade marks along the pleats on one side.

Cause: The linear edges to the marking are characteristic of the effects of light fade. Designers often use vibrant, fashionable colours. If one or more of the dye components cannot withstand strong light then the dress can fade. Garments worn on Mediterranean holidays in August can be a particular problem.

Responsibility: The cleaner cannot foresee this type of damage but drycleaning solvent flushes out the damaged dyes. The blame lies with the garment maker and ultimately with the original cloth dyer, unless the owner has left the garment on the back seat of a car in strong sunlight.

British Standards give a test for this type of misuse but this is not the cleaner’s concern.

Rectification: Normally, none.

Abrasion damages dyes

Fault: This brushed-cotton coat was grubby but the colour was uniform and it was unstained. It came out of the machine with a pale line running diagonally across the right front, a pale mark on the collar and extensive colour loss at the leading edges of the fronts and on the raised seams of the pockets.

Cause: In the 1980s and 1990s certain dye intermediaries were found to pose health and safety risks. Dye recipes changed but one result was that the colours could not withstand abrasion. Improved recipes were then introduced to avoid the fault but the problem still affects some ranges. Abrasion during normal wear damages the dyes and fibres but does not cause immediate fade. The linear marks are from a seat belt or bag strap. Drycleaning solvent flushes out the damaged dyes and fibres are flushed away, revealing the fault.

Responsibility: The garment maker and ultimately the original cloth dyer are to blame. Improved recipes have been available for some time.

Rectification: Any attempt to re-colour using spray or pad produces dark patchiness because of variable absorption by the cotton.

A brush with a pre-spotter

Fault: After cleaning, this garment had obvious patches of fading which were not there before.

Cause: The patches have distinctive brush marks along with a line of circular dribbles. These indicate that pre-spot detergent has been used incorrectly. The moisture in the detergent has damaged the water-sensitive dye components. The fault occurs when the detergent is over diluted (see instructions) or when too much is applied –?only a small trace is needed. It also occurs if the treatment is used to soften a mark. Stains need expert pre-treatment with the correct reagent. Using a brush-full of pre-spot detergent as a quick alternative is fraught with danger.

Responsibility: The cleaner is to blame.

Rectification: Air-brush re-colouring might be the only possibility but a quote should be obtained before going ahead.

Bottle steriliser marks jacket

Fault: After a busy morning the cleaner noticed patches of total colour loss near the cuffs of this jacket, which was processed on an express service. The cleaner does very little pre-treatment and is certain that the jacket had not been near the stain removal table.

Cause: A tannin remover is unlikely to have caused this damage and the mark’s run shape suggests staining in use. Total colour loss is usually caused by either a strong oxidising or reducing agent. The patch was tested with a little de-ionised water and starch iodide paper, which turned from white to blue, confirming baby bottle steriliser fluid as the culprit. The other possibility here would have been splashes of bleach as both domestic products contain sodium hypochlorite.

Responsibility: The wearer is to blame for the stain but it would have been visible before cleaning so the cleaner should have noticed it then and issued a disclaimer before processing. The busy Monday morning is no excuse.

Rectification: Air-brush re-colouring might be possible. Get a quote first.

Don’t spill the gin and tonic

Fault: This waistcoat looked unmarked so it was drycleaned without pre-treatment but afterwards unsightly spill marks with considerable colour losss appeared.

Cause: The marks’ tear-drop shape indicates that the spill occurred when the waistcoat was vertical so it was probably being worn at the time. This type of marking is typical of a spill from a strong alcoholic drink. As the stain was not visible at the counter inspection it was probably from a colourless drink such as gin and tonic or vodka.

Responsibility: The blame here lies with the wearer. As the stain was invisible before cleaning, the drycleaner should not be blamed for not pre-treating it or for failing to warn the customer of the possible result of drycleaning. Little pre-treatment is possible other than steam or water flush.

Rectification: The only possibility might be air-brush re-colouring, but a quotation should be obtained first.