One of the subjects our expert contributors Richard Neale and Roger Cawood say they hear more complaints about than any other is that of care labels. Costly designer items are top of the list for problems in this area, with potential hefty financial losses for cleaners if things go wrong. Typical labelling problems include:

a. Poor presentation – very small totally inadequate labels

b. Poor durability – fading symbols and text

c. Contradictory cleaning information – diametrically opposed symbols and text.

d. Incorrect display of cleaning symbols – some manufacturers use incorrect Symbols

e. Inadequate information or inappropriate instructions

f. No care label information – or care labels removed

LCNi’s experts in a recent What Went Wrong wrote: “By law, all garments sold in the UK and the EU have to carry Fibre Content labels but this is not the case with Care Labelling. While the overwhelming number of garments are sold with a care label attached, the manufacturer has no obligation, other than moral, to provide any aftercare information for the cleaner. Regrettably, the standard and accuracy of information provided by many manufacturers, for one reason or another, can only be described as poor. This is particularly the case with some designer and high value garments where the cleaner may face disproportionate (and often unjustified) claims for compensation, if care label information is misleading or inaccurate.

BS (British Standards) and ISO (International Standards Organisation) are sometimes referred to with the prefix BS EN ISO (where EN is the European norm). These standards include pictorial symbols which they continue to update and amend, as defined in BS EN ISO 3758. These symbols are used to define cleaning processes (both drycleaning and wetcleaning) such as and the wash symbols such as that we are all familiar with. While the symbols are used to support aftercare information by the majority of garment manufacturers, this is not always the case; some just use an all-encompassing statement such as ‘Dry Clean Only’. The BS ISO standards (BS ISO 3175) that define test methods for drycleaning/ washing/wetcleaning ensure that garment types submitted by manufacturers for testing against the standards will respond well and reliably to cleaning in the specified solvent wet or dry. Testing to BS ISO standards has to be carried out by an Accredited Testing House, which will then issue a numbered test certificate confirming a satisfactory response to a specified process.

Testing against the standards is perceived as expensive and many manufacturers do not submit their products to an accredited testing House for BS/ISO testing; this is particularly the case with high value and designer garments where very short production runs with limited numbers are common. The majority of manufacturers employ some form of ‘in house’ testing, while others may send garment examples to a local cleaner in an attempt to confirm their response to a particular cleaning process! Regrettably, most manufacturers use the symbols even though they have not submitted garments for BS ISO testing. This is not illegal and explains the fact that it is not unusual for some garments that carry the symbols to fail or to not respond well in cleaning. However, it is important for the cleaner to understand that irrespective of whether or not the garment type has been BS ISO certified, if the symbols are used, then the garment must conform to the standard and provided that the cleaner has used the correct cleaning process, if the garment fails in cleaning it will generally be held to be the responsibility of the retailer/ manufacturer.


There is no doubt that designer items potentially present by far the greatest risk to the cleaner and particularly to wetcleaners, many of whom disregard specific aftercare instructions. We strongly recommend that the value is established with the customer during reception and a clear record made of the pre-clean condition. If you are not completely confident about cleaning and stain removal do not accept the item.

You should also be aware that over the years some care label symbols have represented different cleaning conditions; (solvents R113 and hydrocarbon should be used) being a good example (see ‘Contradictory information’); so if you are going to clean a very old garment check up to ensure you can process it safely. When faced with a claim, if the care label information is suspect and the retailer/ manufacturer denies responsibility, demand that they provide the name and address of the Testing House that did the testing and the test certificate number. If this information cannot be provided the garment type has probably not been tested against a BS ISO 3175 standard.