In this article and going forward, we will be identifying and offering solutions to some of the difficulties faced by those cleaners who wish to broaden their skill sets and confidently raise their turnover. 

Designer and high value fashion garments often have very short production runs, so they might not be tested against BS, ASTM, DIN or ISO standards to ensure a satisfactory response to cleaning processes, despite their high initial price. When things go wrong in cleaning, the retailer and maker can frequently blame the cleaner and shrug off any responsibility. The ongoing demands of fashion mean that many ranges have a very short shelf life before being cleaned and sold or passed to charity shops. However, the experienced cleaner can learn to recognise the warning signs; it is often obvious at counter inspection that cleaning and aftercare were the last things on the designer’s mind. The higher the value of the garment and the more exclusive the label, the more likely it is that major problems are just around the corner to trip up the unwary. This month we look at how to spot the hazards and react appropriately.

Initial assessment

The importance of the initial inspection with the customer, in person, at the counter cannot be over emphasised – it is a mistake to deal with ‘friends’ or ‘relatives’ of the customer. The managing director of one chain of drycleaning shops once instructed his managers to charge full price with no discounts to anyone who claimed to be his friend or relative looking for a quick, cheap clean. He lost a few friends but saved a lot of aggravation and compensation claims.

Check the item carefully all over and bring issues such as abrasion damage on silk, missing beads, wear damage and any problem that impacts on the safe cleaning of the item (such as loose dye) to the attention of the customer. At this point, the value of the item should be established. Details of the inspection and value should be recorded, and it is a good idea to photograph the garment. Tag the photo with the cleaning ticket number to aid location in the future.

Anything that impacts on the safe cleaning of the item should be risk assessed and where appropriate, an ‘owner’s risk’ form completed and signed by the customer. We shall be suggesting suitable designs for a user-friendly owner's risk form in a future issue of LCN.

Pre-spotting and stain removal

Brushing with pre-spotting detergents or pre-spotting with kit chemicals on high value and designer items and leaving these on the fabrics to be flushed out by the drycleaning process is not recommended. The effect of these on sensitive fabrics, finishes and trim cannot be predicted with any confidence, and it is simply not worth the risk. The safest option is to completely remove stains on the spotting table prior to cleaning, using standard stain-removal techniques. When working on the spotting table, the technician is in complete control and can continually check to ensure there are no adverse effects. This is not possible with procedures that leave the product on the garment because the cleaner will be unaware of any problem until the garment is taken from the machine (and it is too late to do anything about it). 

For high value and designer garments, either pure chemicals or kit spotters can be used for stain removal, provided each is tested before use, applied carefully and the area thoroughly flushed and dried before machine drycleaning. Pure chemical reagents are recommended, as they are very much safer and are easier to use and flush out. This is particularly the case when spotting silk and lightweight delicate fabrics. However, for some stains (a good example being old blood), a kit product can be more effective, provided great care is taken to ensure there is no loss of colour. This is particularly important if the treatment with protein remover does not eliminate the rust-coloured area which can remain. For this you need, finally, an iron remover or 6% solution of hydrogen fluoride (powerful chemicals which must be flushed out and neutralised with 5% ammonia).

Testing trims

Trims, buttons and beads are responsible for a great many of the problems associated with the cleaning of high value items. The rule here is never assume anything! For example, plastic designer logos have been responsible for many serious problems caused by the plastic partially dissolving in the solvent and locally staining the garment and other items in the load. These plastic tags should always be removed prior to cleaning. if the customer does not agree, don't accept the garment!

PVC and polyurethane trims are very much at risk if cleaned in perc. PVC becomes hard and brittle and polyurethane surface coatings are likely to become cracked or detached. Cleaning in hydrocarbon is safer but they are still at risk. Whenever possible, metal badges and diamante adornments should be removed but if this is not an option, covering them with lightweight cotton fabric will help protect the garment itself, and other items in the load, from damage. It reduces the risk considerably but does not eliminate it entirely. 

Buttons, beads and sequins are always suspect and must be checked to ensure they will not be affected by the solvent. It is important to look out for any changes in appearance or surface effects. The British Standard method for testing buttons (BS 4162) can be simulated for beads or any trim. Remove one bead and leave immersed in a small container of solvent for 30 minutes. Then remove it and press it within a folded piece of white cotton fabric. If it loses its colour or produces a sticky mess, then do not put the item into the drycleaning machine.

On vintage items remove a sequin of each colour and steam them. Gelatine sequins will shrivel in steam and will partially dissolve if wetcleaned. Once again, where possible, the safest option may be to remove trims and buttons before cleaning. Finally, consider the risks very carefully before accepting any time with stuck on effects such as glitter or beads or diamantes. Explain any foreseeable but unavoidable risks and ask the owner to sign to authorise these. Do not clean with other items and set the cleaning price appropriately.

  • If you have problems you would like the authors to examine please send with a good quality, high resolution (300dpi/1MB at least) pic of the item to

Sticky beads lead to financial claims

Item: The beads on this dress were plastic which was coated with a solvent resistant coating. The item was labelled and as the beads were an integral part of the garment the cleaner assumed (quite reasonably) that they would be covered by the care label.

Fault: The garment came out of the cleaning machine with red dye-marking and stiff pieces of plastic residue sticking to it. To the cleaner’s horror, there were sticky bits of plastic also adhering to several other expensive garments in the load!

Technical cause: During cleaning in Perc the imperfect coating allowed the solvent to penetrate and partially dissolve the red plastic which then stained the dress and other items in the load. It is also probable that solvent penetrated via the thread hole in the beads, bypassing the protective coating.

Responsibility: In this case the responsibility lies with the manufacturer; the garment is incorrectly labelled. However, the cleaner did accept the blame for damage to two other items in the load from which the fugitive dye and sticky red plastic could not be removed.

Tip for the future: Covering the beads with cotton material (or even better, a piece of Nylon 6 ‘dye-catcher’ fabric) would probably have prevented colour transfer to other items.

The basic steps you need to get right

  • Initial assessment and documentation at the counter.
  • Valuation of the garment, setting the cleaning price and agreeing the appropriate process time.
  • Checking and testing of trims or removal prior to cleaning.
  • Dye fastness checks where necessary.
  • Selection of an appropriate cleaning process.
  • Selection of appropriate stain removal techniques.
  • Choice of finishing method in relation to fabric type, temperature sensitivity and garment construction.

Loss of gold coating in pre-spotted area

Item: A polyester dress which came in with a patchy stain on the side, labelled for 30C washing with reduced spin.

Problem: After brushing on a pre-spotting solution and then putting this into the next wetcleaning load, the cleaner noted loss of surface finish in the treated area on removing it from the cleaning machine.

Technical cause: The time the pre-spotting solution remained on the fabric before cleaning and the susceptibility of the fabric finish to the solution used, have together caused the localised loss of finish which now spoils the garment.

Responsibility: The cleaner must accept the blame here. The coating should have been tested prior to treating the stain and if resistant, the stain should have been removed on the spotting table and the area flushed and dried.

Rectification: Unfortunately, none is possible.