Drycleaners could greatly reduce the number of disputes with customers if they ensured that counter staff took great care when inspecting garments and had the right expertise. This applies to both the reception and collection. Expert, careful inspection will also help to protect cleaners against fraudulent claims.

If reception staff fail to notice a hole in the knee of a pair of trousers or that some of the buttons on a jacket are broken, then it is very difficult to dispute a claim for damage afterwards.

Many businesses will settle relatively small claims, such as £50 for a pair of trousers or £10 for a set of buttons, as they believe it is the best and cheapest option. This can be an expensive route that sets the background for ongoing small claims that become a regular drain on profits.

There are two main points to remember: First, allow enough time to inspect every item on reception, however unpopular this might prove. Second, adopt the Guild system for inspection and folding so that you see and feel every part of the item. When you find a hole or tear don’t just issue a verbal disclaimer, offer a repair. If the customer refuses this then write “no repair required” on the ticket.

Silks, linens and pale cottons with drink spills down them might suffer dye damage from the alcohol in the drink. This damage might only be visible after drycleaning because the process will flush out the damaged dyes. The receptionist should point out this possibility to the customer because the result cannot be foreseen with any certainty.

A task for the experts

Fault: The drycleaner agreed to clean this heavily-ruched dress but after pressing the ruched area was creased with hard folds, which were slightly out of position. It looked dreadful.

Cause: When this garment was made the ruching was laid-up onto a dummy and the soft folds were held in shape by the dummy’s three-dimensional form.

Responsibility: This garment is difficult to clean and finish. The cleaner should have known that it was beyond his skills but as he accepted it he is responsible for the poor result.

Rectification: The ruched area must be blown out and steam-ironed over “a bed of air” to remove the creases produced in wear and in drycleaning. Some cleaners find it easier to use a narrow dressmaker’s iron for this and they will work either on a former or on the bed of a professional finishing table equipped with air blow. Once all the creases have been removed and provided no fresh ones have been set, the ruching can be laid up by hand. Ideally this should be done by working with a shaped former. This is a long and expert job, which needs the skills taught in the Guild Advanced Level Finishing syllabus.

UV light shows sugar stains

Fault: This bridal gown had large orange-brown stains after cleaning although these marks could not be seen at reception. Re-cleaning did not improve the result and the cleaner faced a £2,000 claim.

Cause: The stains have been caused by sugars from a lemonade or champagne spill. The liquid dried without leaving visible marks but the solvent has not dissolved all the sugars. The residues have darkened during tumble drying leaving the developed stain.

Responsibility: The wearer is to blame for the drink spill but the cleaner is now responsible for reducing the stains. This is not easy, one reason why wedding dress cleaning is so expensive.

Rectification: Caramelised sugars are best removed either by water, if the dress is washable, or by steam if it is a silk. If it can be washed, unless the dress is pure ice white, use a colour detergent that does not have any optical brighteners. The dress should be drip dried with good air circulation to prevent further browning. The best cleaners inspect wedding dresses in the presence of the customer and use a UV lamp. The customer can then try to identify the stains so they can be pre-treated to minimise the risk of developed stains.

Solvent dissolves beads

Fault: This evening dress was labelled “dryclean only” and did not have any symbols so it was cleaned in perc. During the process about half the beads lost their shine and a few softened and formed hard, messy residues on the fabric so that the dress was ruined.

Cause: Polystyrene beads will soften and sometimes dissolve in perc but they are still widely used on wedding and evening gowns. Here the manufacturer had applied a protective coating. This will not work if the beads are sewn onto the garment as the solvent enters through the stitch hole and dissolves the bead, leaving a shell that will then collapse.

Responsibility: The “dryclean only” label is substandard. British and International Standard 3758 calls for the use of proper symbols to identify permissible solvents. The blame here lies with the garment maker because the care label does not specify any solvents to be avoided. There is no simple, reliable test by which the cleaner can predict which beads will be affected.

Rectification: If the plastic has melted onto the cloth then none is possible.

Red wine damages dye

Fault: This pale green top had a red wine stain. The drycleaner tested the tannin remover on a hidden seam, left it for ten minutes then flushed and feathered it dry. This did not leave a mark so he treated the stain in the same way but this produced pale areas exactly the same size and shape as the original stains.

Cause: The cleaner’s test only gauges the effect of the tannin remover but the red wine stain also contains alcohol and presumably this dried on the cloth after the spill. The alcohol has damaged the dye-to-fibre bond, even though there was no immediate colour damage. It is only when the damaged dyes are flushed out after treating the stain that the problem is revealed.

Responsibility: Drycleaners are normally held responsible for dye damage caused by stain removal. In this case the drycleaner had tested and used the reagent correctly so this has not caused the colour loss. The pale area is exactly the size of the original stain (not the size of the area wetted by the cleaner) confirming that the alcohol in the stain has caused the damage. The drycleaner should show the customer the test area and explain the cause.

Rectification: Air-brush re-colouring might produce a wearable garment but a quote should be obtained first.

A delay in reporting the fault

Fault: A customer collected his trousers then returned them a week later and complained that there was now a hole near the back pocket that had not been there before cleaning. The hole was quite small with neat edges.

Cause: If cleaning or pre-spotting caused the hole the machine would have fluffed out the fibre ends and the edges would not look neat. This hole occurred either during pressing and batching-up or during the week between collection and return. The drycleaner tried to simulate an accidental tear when the waistband was pressed around the nose of the finishing table but found that even a strong yank would not stretch the damaged area. The business used plastic hangers so the hole had not resulted from a snag on a hanger hook.

Responsibility: The drycleaner refused responsibility, because of the delay in reporting the fault and because he could not work out how it could have been caused accidentally during pressing.

Rectification: As a goodwill gesture, the drycleaner offered a re-weave at cost price if the customer agreed to drop the unwarranted claim. The business now routinely offers to check finished work in the customer’s presence when it is collected as faults cannot be accepted or rectified once the garment has been taken away and used.