LCN recently received an enquiry from a member of the public in relation to a quality shooting jacket and matching trousers that did not come back from the cleaner in a good state.

The customer’s description of events

The high value suit in question consists of two garments – a jacket costing £630 and trousers (breeks) costing £350. The customer stated that these garments had been previously cleaned quite satisfactorily by the same cleaner on many occasions. On arriving at a recent shoot (following the cleaning) her husband removed the polyrobe, only to find (much to the amusement of his friends and colleagues) that both garments had shrunk considerably, to the extent that the jacket would no longer fit and the blue silk lining was hanging below the hem, the cuffs and the trouser bottoms. The jacket was unwearable.

When the Jacket was deposited for cleaning in early October the customer was aware of the 30C wash label and specifically requested that it should be drycleaned, as her husband had previously stated that he did not want it washed. On returning the jacket to the cleaner, it was acknowledged that the garment had shrunk, and they said they would forward it to get the fibres analysed and for an explanation as to why the garments had shrunk this time.

Relevant extracts from the cleaner’s analysis report

The Cleaners Analysis Report stated that information received from the cleaner indicated that the jacket had been washed at 30C as instructed on the care label and was then hung to dry. The report made reference to British Standard 6330, which defines the conditions for a 30C domestic wash. These are 2-minute wash cycle with only gentle agitation and no agitation during the heating stage. There was no indication (other than temperature) of the wash process structure that had actually been used.

The report concludes that the jacket has shrunk because it has been subjected to a wash process where the combined effects of water and mechanical action on a moisture sensitive wool garment have caused the wool fibres to interlock and ratchet up with each other, creating the felted appearance that can now be seen.

The report expressed the opinion that the coat should not be labelled for washing, even on the most delicate hand wash programme as there is a risk that it would impart far too much mechanical action on the garment during the wash and spin cycle; and even if a specific wool care detergent was used there would still be no guarantee that the coat would not shrink. It was further stated that if the manufacturer required the garment to be washed rather than dry cleaned then we would suggest that it should only be washed by hand using a specific wool care detergent.

The report concluded by stating that the cleaner had only followed the instructions on the care label and recommended that the garment be returned to the retailer, for the attention of the manufacturer, for their comments, as only they can test the garment range to ensure that it withstands the effects of the cleaning process indicated on the care label.

Information on the garment

The garment appears to be a standard Scottish tweed of traditional quality made from 100% wool. The ‘By Appointment’ label is impressive but not necessarily any guarantee of cleanability. It is labelled ‘Wash at 30°C’. This type of expensive tweed garment made specifically for shooting is frequently labelled for gentle, cool washing, because most of the contamination it is likely to pick up in use is water soluble. Also, gentle washing is less likely to remove the yarn oils from the wool, so preserving any water-shedding property when subjected to Autumn weather. Specifying a gentle, cool wash process also enables the manufacturer to check the washability in a domestic washing machine on-site, rather than incurring lab costs and delays associated with drycleanability testing. This type of Scottish tweed has generally been found to respond well to wetcleaning in expert hands, and could be expected to respond equally well to the gentle, cool wash process implied by the care label.

So why has it now shrunk to the extent seen?

The following comments are based solely on information we have been sent, which includes photographs and the cleaner’s report.

  1. The conclusion drawn by the writer of the cleaner’s report, that the shrinkage has been caused by the effects of more mechanical action on the garment (in the presence of moisture) than it was able to withstand, is almost certainly correct.
  2. This can be the result of one of three possibilities:
    1. The garment was drycleaned, but the cleaner failed to dry it thoroughly before it went into the cleaning machine. This garment would have been very sensitive to moisture gathered from a humid workroom (or the October wet weather) and it would have needed careful airing in a warm dry place (putting it in a boiler room for a couple of hours would have been ideal). A wool tweed can carry up to 28% of its own weight of moisture before it becomes noticeably damp. The mechanical action in drycleaning is considerable and can produce felting shrinkage, even at moisture levels little above it’s normal regain of 16%, so thorough airing is essential.
    2. The most likely scenario here is that the garment was washed, but on a normal wash cycle with the temperature set down to 30°C. Normal mechanical action (and cycle time) in washing would be quite capable of producing the felting shrinkage now described. Gentle action means reduced agitation, with a dwell time between rotations as well as slow cage rotation. Simply reducing the temperature would be insufficient.
    3. The garment was washed correctly, but the cleaner put it into a tumble dryer. Even on a low heat setting, the mechanical action on the wet garment could have caused exactly the result now seen. Indeed, it would have taken longer to dry on a low setting, raising the risk of felting shrinkage even further.
  3. When receiving a garment which is obviously expensive and which carries aftercare instructions which are sparse and not defined by the relevant British standard, then a good cleaner would be expected to warn the customer and seek authorisation for the obvious risks. This clearly did not happen here.
  4. The owner reports asking for it to be drycleaned, which the cleaner might well have preferred to do, because it would have avoided the need to dry and air it (following a water-based process) and it would have made finishing simpler.
  5. Those with experience of cleaning Scottish tweed items of this construction would probably have processed this garment successfully. It would have needed either careful drying and airing before drycleaning on a reduced cycle or wetcleaning/washing with the correct temperature, process time, mechanical action and detergent system.
  6. Failure to maintain the correct cleaning conditions or failure to issue an adequate warning regarding the risks of cleaning this clearly expensive garment places the cleaner in a difficult position. The garment has been accepted apparently without question and it is now difficult to claim that the cleaner has displayed adequate professional competence in this regard.


All cleaners at some time will have had garments fail during cleaning, either through a manufacturing fault, a mistake they have made or through damage due to normal wear and tear; but whatever the reason, when things go wrong, they have a duty to the customer before, or at least when the garment is collected, to explain the situation sympathetically and if necessary provide any assistance they may need to resolve a claim against a retailer or manufacturer. Good customer service demands nothing less and in fact some businesses go so far as to follow up claims on behalf of their customers.

Regrettably this appears to have been a catalogue of disaster from beginning to end and it is difficult to imagine a better way of losing an established customer and inevitably tarnishing the reputation of the business with the customer and their circle of friends. It will be seen from the photographs that the staff could not have been unaware of the distressed and shrunken condition of both parts of the garment after processing and it is safe to assume that the order was packed off in full knowledge of its condition; it would also appear there was no visible attempt at finishing. It was then delivered to the customer without comment, perhaps in the vain hope that the customer would not return with a complaint! Clearly the cleaner has manifestly failed in his duty of care to the customer here.

At the very least this customer deserves an abject apology from the business for what can only be described as truly shambolic customer service! This garment would probably have been worn on only a few occasions each year and should therefore have had many years of service left.