A sensitive issue

The dryclean symbol P in a circle with bar beneath effectively instructs the cleaner to use a ‘delicates’ cycle with restrictions on one or more of the following: solvent temperature, drying temperature, mechanical action, and moisture in the system. Determining which precautions are needed depends on examining the article and interpreting the fibre content label correctly. This is one reason why articles sold in the UK are required to have a correct fibre content label.

Acrylic and modacrylic fibres are very temperature sensitive and in the case of modacrylic, this means that the drying temperature must be reduced to 40°C air off the cage. This is not usually much of a problem because this type of fabric dries easily. Other fabrics need reduced mechanical action, not only in cleaning but also in pressing where careless handling can easily increase any small damage, especially on fine, delicate materials.

Incorrect labelling, wrong interpretation of the fibre content label or inadequate pre-cleaning inspection, or failure to take precautions that could have prevented or minimised damage can all lead to problems.

Stressed to tearing point

Problem: A ladies’ jacket woven from a fine viscose blend had a relatively low tear strength. But it was only when the owner collected it that she noticed a tear at the stress point above the right armhole seam.

Cause: This fabric has a relatively good burst strength but once a tear starts, it travels extremely easily, exhibiting a tear resistance not much better than a piece of newspaper. Damage of this type typically starts in use but extends during the solvent wash and tumble dry stages of the drycleaning process and will open up further when the garment passes through the normal sequence of lays on a free-steam press or professional ironing table.

Responsibility: The wearer is responsible for damage noted at the counter. If nothing was noted, then or at pre-cleaning inspection, it is difficult for the cleaner to avoid blame for opening up the tear during cleaning and pressing. However, the garment maker and ultimately the cloth producer should be taking responsibility for the low tear strength because the tear strength will not be reduced at this point by normal wear and it will not be affected by drycleaning procedures either.

Responsibility really hinges on how weak the fabric is and how easily it tears. Very weak fabric on a garment for everyday use calls its fitness for purpose into question and the argument is between the consumer and the retailer.

Rectification: None, the fabric is so fine.

Jacquard weave unravels

Problem: Following cleaning of cushion covers woven with heavy gauge brightly coloured threads, a small damaged area near an edge opened up, unravelling the weave and making the item unserviceable.

Cause: This type of fabric is susceptible to abrasion wear as well as loosening at the seams and requires very careful pre-cleaning inspection. The smallest initial damage will open up in the way seen here to give exactly this result.

Responsibility: Suite covers should be designed for normal drycleaning without restrictions on mechanical action because this type of process is necessary to remove many months of accumulated grime and atmospheric soiling. This fabric and construction can resist normal drycleaning quite easily; it is only when it is damaged that this type of problem arises. So some of the blame lies with the owner for causing the localised wear.

If the damage was at all visible prior to cleaning then the possible consequence should have been pointed out to the owner at the counter. The cleaner should then have taken precautions with damaged parts of the set by tacking together or by wrapping the item in a net bag with the damaged part innermost. If the damage was not visible prior to cleaning, there was little the cleaner could have done and he should not share the blame.

Rectification: This type of damage can often be rectified by careful, professional re-weaving – it is always worth obtaining a quote.

It should not be necessary to buy new covers.

Bed cover breaks up

Problem: This brightly printed, fire-retardant bed cover has cotton threads running one way and modacrylic threads the other. It is the latter which make it fire retardant.

Following washing, the material began to break down near the edges, as a result of failure of the modacrylic threads.

Cause: Modacrylic is temperature sensitive and is easily damaged by ironing with a metal temperature above 110°C. If this temperature is exceeded the embrittled threads will break up in the way seen here.

Responsibility: The care label on this cover correctly warned of the necessary precaution (by using a one dot iron). The blame lies with the launderer.

Rectification: Once heat damage of this type has occurred, it is not possible to put it right.