Identifying the hidden culprits

It is quite often that unintentional damage can be caused to garments during wear or storage. Around one third of the problems encountered by dry cleaners can be attributed to that scenario.  As a result, disputes may occur, particularly in cases where pre-existing damage (which was not originally detectable), becomes visible during the cleaning process. The cleaner may be confident that they have not caused the damage but unable to explain the root cause; this is often met with defiance if the customer believes that their item was in pristine condition prior to cleaning.

Common faults which might be attributable to conditions of wear and/or storage can include abrasion, staining or localised discolouration, pilling or holes.

Maintaining a good counter inspection routine can help to identify any potential issues which may worsen or develop in cleaning and will go a long way to manage your customer’s expectations. The real problems occur when the garment has become abraded and is soiled. Dry cleaning will remove not only the soiling but any damaged fibres potentially revealing holes and fading which were not blindingly obvious prior to cleaning. Worse yet are the ‘invisible’ stains which are prone to turning brown. These cannot be seen in natural light and, as such, the cleaner will not know that the contaminant is present and thus will not spot-treat. They will then be faced with a customer who is certain there was no stain present prior to cleaning. Investing in a handheld UV lamp can help to detect these invisible stains and allows the cleaner to react to stains which might emerge during cleaning.

A good cleaner must be thorough in counter inspection and have a good knowledge of the reasons why stains may develop or why seams may fade. Understanding why faults occur and being able to explain these to your customer in a patient and pacific manner can help to minimise the number of stand-offs encountered and ensure your customers do not lose faith in your service.

When all white is all wrong

Fault: White discolouration was noted after cleaning in localised areas on the lower front of a ladies bomber jacket. The owner complained that the jacket was clean when dropped off for a freshen-up and had been returned to her in worse condition.

Cause: The white discolouration had been caused by a build-up of some contaminant. Under magnification it could be seen that the contaminant was a hard, flaky substance which was coating some areas of the weave.

Responsibility: The responsibility was found to lie with the wearer. The contaminant was not consistent with anything which could be introduced on the cleaning premises. Whatever had caused this staining had dried out during cleaning leaving a residual white debris.

Rectification: The contaminant was easily removed with some localised post-cleaning spot-treatment.

When the strain shows

Fault: The customer was unhappy with the appearance of the underarms of this printed blouse after cleaning. She felt that the cleaner had caused the damage and was looking for compensation.

Cause: The appearance had changed due to movement of the weave. The yarns had become twisted revealing the paler colour of the fabric from the interior (where the textile was not printed). The fault was mimicked at both underarms indicating that the fabric had been strained in these areas. The lubricating action of the solvent allowed the stressed fabric to move from its original position.

Responsibility: Lies with the wearer. The garment was too small causing unnecessary strain during movement/wear.

Rectification: None is possible.

Age-induced cracks couldn’t be smoothed over

Fault: A perforated leather jacket was found to be cracked around many of the perforations around the waist.

Cause: The jacket was of an appreciable age. The perforations had cracked due to repeated movement of the fabric around the waist during wear. The fault was noted prior to cleaning but had been exacerbated due to loss of some of the natural leather oils. The loss of leather oil allowed the fabric to become brittle and crack more.

Responsibility: Ultimately lies with the wearer as the fault has stemmed from conditions of use over an extended period of time. The age of the jacket exceeded the time where a complaint to the manufacturer would be viable.

Rectification: None is possible.

Not stained but scuffed

Fault: Dark green patches were visible on this coat when examined at counter inspection. The wearer had advised that the marks were a stain and wanted the cleaner to remove them.

Cause: The dark green marks were not successfully removed. When viewed under magnification it became clear that they were not a result of a stain attained in wear. Many of the fluffy surface fibres were missing in these areas indicating that the disparate appearance was due to abrasion. This could have been related to rubbing of the jacket after a splash/spill resulting in scuffing of the surface.

Responsibility: Lies with the wearer. The marks were apparent upon counter inspection and there is nothing the cleaner could have done to remedy these.

Rectification: None is possible.

Perspiration leaves its mark

Fault: Yellow/brown underarm shadows tainted this cream dress after cleaning.

Cause: The location and yellow fluorescence seen here are both characteristics of perspiration. Perspiration may dry to be invisible but the sugars from which it is composed remain on the textile. These sugars are susceptible to oxidation during the necessary tumble- drying stage of the drycleaning process. The oxidation process results in darkening and leaves a visible stain.

Responsibility: The responsibility lies with the wearer.

Rectification: Post-treatment with a colour-safe bleach should successfully remove the brown stain. Flushing with water will ensure any residual sugars are removed to prevent further development of staining.

Turning the light on fading problem

Fault: Panel to panel colour variation spoilt the appearance of this men’s jacket. The customer was convinced the jacket was of even colour before left with the cleaner.

Cause: The dye used on the jacket was tested for its colourfastness to water, dry cleaning solvent and detergent. It was found to be colourfast to all test mediums. The pattern of the discolouration here leads us to the root cause here. The areas which are naturally shadowed from the elements remained unaffected while exposed areas were now faded. This is indicative of sunlight fading. Further discussion with the owner revealed that the jacket was reasonably old and was often left hung in the back of a car. Hanging behind glass can exacerbate the effects of direct sunlight.

Responsibility: The responsibility lies with the owner for conditions of storage. The manufacturer is expected to ensure a garment has suitable colourfastness to light but, in time, all garments which are frequently exposed to direct sunlight will succumb to photo degradation.

Rectification: None is possible.

Undone over abraded buttons

Fault: This jacket had multiple buttons down the front seam which now appeared white on the surface.

Cause: Examination under magnification showed that the discolouration had not been caused by loss of dye or by a contaminant on the surface and was a direct result of abrasion. The surface fibres had been repeatedly rubbed resulting in abraded fibres masking the original colour of the weave.

Responsibility: Lies with the wearer.

Rectification: None is possible however strategic use of a black fabric marker might improve the appearance of the damaged buttons.