Laundry customers still display a great reluctance to pay the true cost of producing a professional result on laundered items. Yet those same customers will expect the laundry to solve every problem and even to pay compensation when things go wrong.

Customer complaints continue to be dominated by four main problem areas – namely stains, holes, bubbling and colour change.

It is usually possible to work out what has happened when a fault arises, but it is essential to examine the article with an open mind and to look for all of the clues.

A cursory glance followed by a hasty off-the-cuff opinion is never enough.

You need to examine the damage under magnification and under ultraviolet light. In addition, you should carry out a few basic chemical tests.

From these it is very often possible to prove quite conclusively what has happened. Only then should you attempt to assign responsibility.

Check dosing to avoid discolouration
Fault: This laundry was getting frequent intermittent yellow patchy discolouration on washed towels. Although re-washing removed the yellow marks, the re-wash levels were high and not all the yellow marks were seen when folding, leading to customer complaints.

Cause: Examination under ultraviolet light showed the marks more clearly – and pH testing (to measure the acidity/alkalinity of the textile) confirmed very high acid levels (pH1- pH2) on the yellow areas. Inspection of the tunnel washer process identified very low water levels and sour (formic acid) being dosed into the last compartment. The sour was not dispersing throughout the wash liquor and concentrated areas of sour were being left on the towels, resulting in the yellow marks now seen.

Remedy: Check/adjust the sour dosing (timing and injection) and improve the water flow by the installation of a press re-cycling pump to the final tunnel washer bath.

Responsibility: The responsibility here was found to lie with the detergent supplier who had set up the flow rates and dosing regime.

Antiseptic causes staining on duvet
Fault: This double duvet cover had some beige marks, which first became evident after laundering – but the marks could only be found on the top face of the duvet cover and on the left side. Subsequent chemical testing confirmed that the marks were caused by chlorhexadine.

This is a popular antiseptic which is used in a number of topical skin preparations, skin lotions and also in sun tan preparations.

Cause: The laundry was using a low level of sodium hypochlorite bleach on all its bed-linen processes with the result now seen here.

Sodium hypochlorite reacts chemically with chlorhexadine to create a brown stain which then cannot be removed, even with a very strong bleach solution.

Responsibility: The user of the duvet.

Remedy: On this duvet cover the only remedy would be to take a pair of scissors to cut the stain out.

However, the launderer can minimise the risk in future by the use of hydrogen peroxide for bleaching, as this will not cause a problem.

OBA detergent caused sheet to change colour
Fault: After five washes, the blue sheet pictured here started to look pale and washed out, leading to complaints from the critical customer.

Cause: An examination using an ultraviolet filter revealed all.

With the ultraviolet filter in place, the colours of the new and washed sheet became virtually identical.

Without the filter, the washed sheet looked almost bleached.

The problem here has been caused by the use of a very good detergent formulated for white cotton which contains plenty of optical brightening agent (OBA).

This has bonded to the surface of the blue cotton yarns to raise the surface fluorescence so that in natural daylight (which contains plenty of ultraviolet light) the sheet fluoresces white.

This white light is diluting the original blue colour to give the drab appearance now seen.

Responsibility: The blame here lies with the launderer or the detergent supplier for failing to supply or to use an OBA free product. This is the main difference between a colour care product and a general purpose detergent.

Remedy: It is possible to buy an OBA quench (try Chromatech, for example), which is an inexpensive way of restoring the original shade in a single washer-extractor operation.

Training will prevent further tears on towels
Fault: A laundered towel was returned by a hotel that complained of the slit/tear on the towel body, right against the hem. This was one of several towels where tears were appearing on different parts. The hotel believed the towels were getting damaged by the laundry.

Cause: Examination of one of the most recent of the slits under 15x magnification revealed damage to several warp yarns and cutting damage across the weft yarns. The damage had been caused by a sharp blade and not by rough handling. The towel material was strong and could only be torn with difficulty, even when the tear had been initiated, so chemical damage had not made any contribution here. The cuts could be from clumsy laundry employees opening the bags of soiled textiles at the laundry or clumsy hotel staff opening bundles of clean textiles at the hotel.

Remedy: Staff training at both the laundry and the customer.

Responsibility: The laundry and the user.

Bubbling to designer shirt’s collar and cuffs
Fault: This tailor-made designer shirt was washed on a cool (40C) process in a domestic washing machine using a household domestic detergent – with the resultant bubbling now seen here.

There was no care label or washing instructions on the shirt – just the designer name.

Cause: The interface lining adhesive was clearly water soluble and this fault could not have been foreseen by either the owner or the launderer.

Responsibility: The garment manufacturer. Hand-made shirts need a much higher specification for the interlining adhesive than those made using a commercial fusing press.

Remedy: Replace the collar and cuffs.