Pattern problems don’t fade away

Fading colours and designs are still a problem for launderers and drycleaners. Printed patterned can be produced by a range of techniques and each requires different a method for successful cleaning.

Designing the prints properly for cleaning helps the situation considerably as does a care label that advises correctly on how to wash or dryclean them. Some manufacturers and retailers actually go as far as to check that, not only can the item be cleaned, but that it is also possible to apply stain removal reagents to simple red wine or blood spillages, so that an article is not ruined on its first wearing.

The law is very hazy when it comes to ‘fitness for purpose’, but in the view of most consumers, if a single spill ruins an expensive item then it could quite reasonably be deemed unfit for the purpose intended.

For the cleaner and launderer, the difficulty lies in recognising the techniques to avoid, so as to preserve the original bright, fresh colours. The common problems are: failure to control mechanical action, so that the colour is scraped off; using an unsuitable cleansing liquid, so that the dyes dissolve away; and washing a pastel or pale colour in a detergent containing an optical brightening agent.

Gold tiger gets bleached

Problem: This pair of jeans originally had a black and gold imitation tiger-skin design. During cleaning the gold areas were removed entirely, leaving a pure white surface where the gold had been.

Cause: This is a very unusual fault. This particular garment can be created by taking the basic black fabric and over-printing with a gold pigment resin containing a bleaching agent. The bleach takes out the black from the cloth surface to enhance the brightness of the gold.

Unfortunately, the pigment resin was not designed to resist drycleaning, so when this was flushed away by the cleaning fluid, it left behind the bleached pattern to the black surface and very little else.

Responsibility: The blame here should be taken by whoever care labelled this garment. It is a clever design idea and if more care had been taken at the manufacturing stage, a durable result should have been possible.

Rich ivory shade looks grey

Problem: After washing, a duvet cover with a self-stripe in the weave appeared to lose its rich ivory colour and seemed to be a dull and greyer shade.

Cause: Viewing under ultra violet light reveals the problem (see picture). The fabric glows with a considerable fluorescence. The fading and the greying have been caused by the optical brightening agent (OBA) from the detergent (which has now locked securely onto the surface of the cloth). The OBA effectively reacts to the ultra violet portion of natural daylight, turning this into brilliant white light, which dilutes and masks the original shade. Ivories and creams have a rich spectrum of colours and when these are masked in this way, look faded and grey.

Responsibility: The blame here lies with whoever washed this in the wrong detergent. This is not something the manufacturer could have avoided and it is not something which the manufacturer is expected to warn against on the care label.

Flower print becomes pale

Problem: When a dress with a bright floral print was drycleaned the dyes were released. As a result, the background became discoloured and the flowers faded.

Cause: The dyes have not been properly fixed onto the cloth in a way that will resist laundering and drycleaning.

Responsibility: All that is needed is a little care at the dye fixation stage of the printing line during cloth manufacture.

The blame here should be taken by the cloth printer. The item was labelled for normal cleaning and it is not reasonable to expect the cleaner to double check the correctness of the label on every item.

Pigment problem on print

Problem: Patterned curtains showed fading and white lines after washing.

Cause: The pigment print used to create the pattern will resist gentle processing, either in water or drycleaning and this particular example was care labelled correctly. However, processing on a normal cycle in a fully loaded cage will cause far more mechanical action than the gentle cycle signified by the labels, and the result is that seen here.

Responsibility: If a cleaner or launderer fails to heed the warning implied by the bar or broken bar beneath the care symbol, then the blame lies with them. It is not

difficult to process pigment prints successfully, provided correct

precautions are taken.