A curtain cleaning service needs specialist expertise, to avoid the pitfalls, and the precise attention to detail that starts at the reception counter. The receptionist should measure the curtains in front of the customer and record the dimensions, in ink, in a diary or curtain book. This allows the cleaner to work out precisely the extent of any shrinkage caused by the relaxation that occurs in cleaning and decide what action to take.

There is a common belief that British Standards allow cleaners to shrink a curtain by up to 3%, without liability. This is wrong. The allowance applies only to the fabric maker. This is the only person that can know how much stretch is set into the cloth during the final manufacturing stage, which is then released in the first few drycleans as relaxation shrinkage. The cleaner can neither foresee nor avoid this relaxation but shrinkage from other causes is usually the cleaner’s responsibility.

How should relaxation shrinkage be dealt with? If the curtain has a three-row Rufflette header tape, then when the curtains were sold, the retailer should have advised the customer to hang them on the bottom row. This allows the curtain to be lowered by hanging on the second or top row after cleaning, in two 25mm steps.

Some curtain makers will leave a soft hem and this can be let down before cleaning and re-made to the correct length afterwards. In this case, the cleaner should treat the ingrained soil in the hemline with neat pre-spot detergent so that the hem is as clean as possible.

Sometimes, the maker will pre-shrink the fabric before it is sold, so that there is no relaxation shrinkage. An increasing number of big name manufacturers are doing this.

If a curtain suffers significant relaxation shrinkage, it may need to be re-stretched and set to length on a vertical curtain finishing machine. Ownership of one of these machines often sets the curtain specialist apart from the high street cleaner.

Silk curtain cracks and creases

Fault: After cleaning, this curtain had fine crack creases that were not there before and could not be pressed out.

Technical cause: Curtains tend to collect considerable moisture while hanging at the window. They should be aired in a warm dry place before cleaning. If this is not done, the combination of moisture and mechanical action will crack the yarns in any silk components, as has happened here.

Responsibility: The cleaner should take responsibility if silk has cracked because the moisture has not been controlled properly.

Rectification: Cracked silk cannot be restored to its original un-cracked condition.

Shrinkage and distortion

Fault: These heavy silk curtains suffered from shrinkage and distortion after drycleaning.

Cause: The curtains have a thermal inner interlining, which makes them very heavy but keeps the warmth in the room. It is usually this interlining that shrinks excessively so if this interlining is stitched to the other curtain layers it will cause both significant shrinkage and distortion.

Responsibility: Generally, the curtain maker is responsible when hidden interlinings shrink and this was the case with this cotton interlining. However, many interlinings contain recycled wool, which is very moisture sensitive so shrinkage can result from poor moisture control.

Rectification: Using a vertical curtain finishing machine is the best way to correct this fault. This generally produces a straight lower hem at the correct height.

Carpet shampoo splashes

Fault: This set of curtains had splash marks along the lower hem after it had been drycleaned. The marking looked like a mountain range and the peaks matched the natural folds when the curtains were drawn. The marks could be seen more clearly under UV (ultra-violet) light as shown here.

Cause: The carpet next to the curtain had been shampooed, probably using one of the popular hot water injection machines. The side spray from the machine has been picked up by the curtain. It probably dried without leaving a visible mark but the shampoo has affected the curtain dyes and weakened the dye-to-fibre bond sufficiently to allow the dyes to be flushed out in the drycleaning machine process. The high fluorescence under UV light is a feature of carpet shampoo damage.

Responsibility: The blame here should be taken by the carpet shampooer, who should have been aware of the problems that this type of over-spray can cause. It can be avoided with a little care. Alternatively the curtain could have been removed before the carpet cleaning started. The drycleaner would have been unable to predict this outcome or to do anything about it.

Rectification: None. The dyes have been lost in the solvent and the brightening agent in the shampoo has bonded irreversibly onto the curtain fibres.

Buckram separates and leaves creases

Fault: This stiffened curtain and pelmet assembly looked creased after it had been drycleaned as advised by the supplier. The cleaner tried to remove the creases by steam finishing, as instructed by the label, but could not do so.

Cause: The damage here has been caused by the delamination of the buckram stiffening. The buckram has remained smooth and flat but the fabric that it supported has been permanently creased. Once the buckram has separated from the fabric it cannot perform its function of keeping the assembly flat and crease-free.

Responsibility: It is possible to bond buckram to the fabric in such a way as to resist both the solvent action and the mechanical action in machine drycleaning. If that had been done here, then the problem could have been avoided.

Rectification: Although the label advised steam finishing, the best way of pressing this assembly was found to be lightly damping the fabric layer and then pressing it with a dry iron. This produced an improvement of about 90%, which satisfied the customer.

Cage marks spoil the finish

Fault: This curtain had an area of black circular marks when it came out of the drycleaning machine. Re-cleaning failed to remove these.

Cause: The regular pattern of marks seen here mirrors the pattern of holes in the cage of the drycleaning machine. The marks occurred just after the end of the solvent wash after the dirty solvent had been drained down.

Unfortunately, the machine went onto high-speed extract before the solvent had drained completely and so it spun the residual solvent out through the section of curtain in the base of the cage. The fabric filtered out all of the soiling that had just been washed off the curtain, creating the marks now seen. The reason why the solvent failed to drain completely before the extract stage was probably a blockage in the drainage pipe to the pump or in the button trap.

Responsibility: The responsibility here lies with the cleaner because the problem could have been avoided by routine checks on the button trap and pump.

Rectification: It is always worth trying to remove cage marking by re-cleaning, but this is rarely successful as this cleaner found.