Assessing the standard of finishing on a garment is not easy. Most cleaners believe they achieve a good standard of both cleaning and finishing, but quite often a brief inspection reveals that the finish has not met expectations.

The main cause for this failure to meet desired standards is that garments are not being inspected carefully and systematically.

While most cleaners do inspect garments, they often carry out the inspection when the garment is on the polyrobe machine. This is not sufficient and invariably results in fairly obvious faults being missed.

If the final inspection is to be really effective it needs to be carried out with the garment on a rotating hook or chain or even a piece of string. This allows the garment to be rotated and inspected in complete freedom without the need to keep lifting and turning the coat hanger.

The lighting level at the inspection point is critical and should be at least 500lux.

Staff carrying out inspection must be trained to examine work in a detailed and systematic manner and they need to develop a good appreciation of the appearance of a well-finished garment. They must also know the standard that their employer expects them to achieve.

The inspection process is not as straightforward as it seems.

Examining the end-result for cleanliness and stain removal is easy – a garment is clean and stain-free or it is not, and the inspector can pass or reject items accordingly.

However, even new garments have imperfections in the finish, so it is not realistic to demand perfection in this respect.

Therefore, when checking the quality of finish, the inspector must continually make value judgments and decide whether a flaw is a minor one or whether it is serious enough for the inspector to send the item back to the finisher.

Final inspection requires a very high level of concentration to avoid missing obvious faults, or even those small errors that still need correcting.

A new business, where the owners have no previous experience in the industry, must give careful consideration to the type of finishing equipment it needs, before investing in the installation.

The main choice is whether to use professional ironing tables or scissor presses.

My advice is to choose ironing equipment that can be operated from either side and is equipped with a sleeve arm, ironing surface steam, and an air blower/vacuum.

I would also recommend buying an iron that is steam-heated, rather than a steam/electric iron as there is less chance of an inexperienced operator damaging the fabric with a steam-heated model.

Good ironing technique

Beginners will find it much easier to learn good ironing techniques than to acquire the skills needed to work on a press. Those with a reasonable aptitude for the work can develop the basic ironing skills in a relatively short time.

A quick learner can probably acquire the skills to finish a range of items to a good standard and at an acceptable production rate, in around three weeks .

In contrast, learning to operate a scissor press to a similar standard and at a similar production rate can take four to six months.

This is the main reason why the UK industry (with the possible exception of drycleaners in London), started to move over to ironing systems in the mid to late 1980s.

Achieving good production rates on a press requires a high skill level, accurate lays and the ability to operate the equipment precisely. Skilled Hoffman pressers have, for the most part, tended to be disparaging about ironing systems and often claim that sharp creases are not possible on ironing tables.

However well-trained staff working on an ironing table can produce the same standards as a presser.

Professional training is also essential for pressers but will take much longer.

Each type of equipment does have its own advantages and disadvantages. Ironing equipment is much better suited to the finishing of wedding dresses and ball gowns, but items such as heavyweight coats are much easier to finish to a high standard on a manual press. Most larger factory-based cleaners, will use both types of equipment.


Some cleaners will rely solely on a press or ironing table for finishing all types of work. This places much greater demands on the finisher and can extend the time for a garment by around 50%.*

An automated steam/air finisher is therefore essential for most cleaners.

For the small unit shop cleaner a rotor cabinet is without doubt the best option. If finances allow, choose one with superheated steam as this will produce a significant improvement in the standard.

I would recommend larger businesses that want to replace a garment former to consider installing a multi-finisher.

These produce superb standards of finish and as the shoulder supports are height adjustable they can be used to pre-finish items such as wedding dresses and ball gowns.

To get the best results from automated equipment, the cleaner must set steam/air times most suited to the garment being handled.

As a general guide, for medium weight fabrics, good average settings would be: steam time:15seconds; humidification: 5seconds; and air time 20seconds.

Some timers are not very accurate so the settings should always be checked against a stopwatch.

The pressure at which steam is supplied to either pressing or ironing equipment is critical.

If high standards of finish are to be achieved, steam must be supplied at between 55 – 70psi.

If the pressure is below 55psi, the steam becomes too wet and steam response times increase.

A pressure above 70psi produces steam that is too dry to allow the best results.

Pressing matters

Steam times are very important when operating a press. On well-maintained equipment with steam at the correct pressure, most medium to robust fabrics will need a steam time of 2.5 seconds.

A second is a lot longer than most people appreciate and on several occasions I have observed expert pressers using as little as 0.5seconds steam time.

In most cases using steam incorrectly does not have a noticeable adverse affect, but half a second is much too short a time and will have a noticeable ill effect.

If the press is used with the head locked in the closed position, the operator should only use top steam. Operators do not always realise this and using top and bottom steam together in this situation is perhaps one of the most common pressing faults.

Vacuum should never be applied at the same time as top steam as this can produce circular steam patterns on some fabrics.

This can happen when inexperienced pressers do not control the steam/vacuum functions as precisely as they should. To correct the problem, apply bottom steam and brush the affected area.

Most professional steam irons deliver the steam through a small triangle of holes at the point of the iron. Therefore the iron must be used with great precision on critical parts of the garment such as jacket lapels and trouser creases.

For example, when ironing trouser creases, the finisher must start with the point of the iron right at the bottom of the crease, and not above the bottom or turn up.

The point of the iron must then follow the crease precisely to the top. It is important to make sure that it does not wander from its path.

Regulate the volume

On most steam irons it is possible to regulate the volume of steam and if so, the volume should be adjusted to avoid the risk of fabric damage on lightweight materials. An excessive amount of steam can also prove uncomfortable for the operator.

In my experience one of the most common faults when ironing is failure to apply steam in a continuous flow.

Intermittent bursts of steam caused by pressing the button or lever on and off will produce serious finishing faults when ironing the main creases on trousers.

The creases will be sharp in parts and soft in others.

If a steam-heated iron is used at a typical pressure of 65psi, the maximum iron temperature will be 155C and the fabric temperature when ironing quickly is unlikely to be higher than 100C.

Staff need to be aware of this and avoid moving the iron too quickly over the cloth so they can produce a good result.

Finishing standards in the UK drycleaning vary considerably.

This is understandable as the finish can be difficult to assess, and in some instances cleaners strongly disagree about the definition of the correct standard.

The finish is particularly important on jackets and trousers, as together, these two items form around 70% of a cleaner’s workload.

The finishing of jacket lapels provides an example of how standards can vary.

The lapels on a lounge suit should be smooth, wrinkle-free and rolled, terminating at, or marginally above, the top button.

Yet some cleaners are quite adamant that they should be pressed or finished flat. They even argue that their customers prefer them that way.

However, looking at the jacket display in a gentleman’s outfitters window will confirm that the lapels should be finished as I have described. Lapels are a focal point of the garment and if they are not correctly finished, this will detract from the whole appearance of the garment. Sharp, correctly positioned creases are a focal point of trouser finishing.

Many finishers just follow the old creases without any regard to correct positioning.

I believe this reflects badly on industry. Creases that are in the wrong place should be repositioned provided this can be done without leaving a double crease.

If a car is taken to a garage for a service and the headlights are not correctly adjusted, the owner would, quite rightly, expect the fault to be corrected.

Unfortunately some of the current ironing methods ignore the centre leg lay, which is a critical lay in ironing just as it is in pressing.

Forgetting this lay will lead to creases being ironed when they may not be in the correct position relative to the opposite crease on the same leg.

As a result, the creases are often unbalanced and the trousers will not lie correctly across the hanger guard.

Always check the zip on trousers before polyrobing.

The garment may be spotlessly clean and well finished but if the zip is stuck, it is totally useless.

The linen problem

Linen is well known to be problematic in terms of finishing. A visit to a few high street stores will confirm that many linen fabrics have a distressed appearance with random wrinkles and creasing.

When accepting linen items, the counter staff should discuss the standard of finish with the customer and cleaners should not promise to achieve a standard of finish that is higher than the garment had when it was new.

The recommended finishing temperature for linen and other cellulosics is 200C. However,

steam-heated irons and garment presses are unlikely to achieve finishing temperatures of more than 120C.

So it may not be possible for the cleaner to meet customer expectations that are unrealistic.

Electric steam irons can of course reach the appropriate temperature but great care needs to be taken to avoid shine and seam impressions.

Where appropriate, misting with water may help. If there are still problems try the following method.

Finish the item to the best standard on the press or ironing table.

Steam in the rotor cabinet for approximately 9seconds.

Remove from the cabinet and mist lightly all over with a top quality spray starch.

Allow the item to condition for around 0.5 minutes.

Place the item in the cabinet and operate the normal automatic cycle. This should be around 15 seconds steam and 20 seconds air blowing. Finally, touch up the garment with the iron as necessary

When finishing a linen garment on an ironing table, it is worth remembering that when you use steam and vacuum you are heating and cooling the fabric simultaneously and therefore fabric temperatures will be lower and creases that have been set in particular may not respond.

If this happens, try ironing without vacuum to bring up the temperature and then apply vacuum to set the finish.