Natural products can pose the greatest problems for drycleaners because they are unique to the particular animal or bird from which the item came – but with just a little thought and skill, superb results can be obtained.

The animal’s base skin contains oil and grease/fat. Fur, fleece or down also has high oil content. When the fur is converted or the leather tanned, the natural oils are often replaced with the tanner’s equivalent, which can be selected to make the skins either washable or drycleanable.

Drycleaning in a strong solvent such as perc removes some or all of the oils and these must be replaced by the cleaner, usually by adding oil to the final bath. Milder solvents such as hydrocarbon remove much less oil and very mild solvents such as cyclosiloxane remove hardly any, so re-oiling is rarely necessary and the tanner’s oils are preserved.

Both the base skins and the fur or fleece may also be affected by mechanical action, heat and moisture. Care is needed with steam to prevent hardening and embrittlement, especially if the article is to be dried at high temperature.

Down needs careful drying

Fault: After laundering and tumble drying, a duvet filled with duck down had hard clumps. It was also flat and very smelly.

Cause: After washing it is important to break up clumps of wet feathers during the tumble dry process, otherwise they become hard.

The resulting damp lumps encourage bacteria to breed on the oils and protein in the down itself. It is the bacterial excrement which is so smelly.

Responsibility: It is the cleaner’s responsibility to process duck down correctly. If duvets do not tumble with enough mechanical action to break up the clumps (perhaps because the tumble dryer is not large enough to give a good “lift and drop” action) then this should be accelerated by putting a pair of clean tennis shoes or similar into the tumbler.

Rectification: The duvet should be re-washed and dried correctly.

Goatskin suffers under-oiling

Fault: The owner of this goatskin coat reported that the garment had shrunk by one size after cleaning and the base skins had become “crispy”.

Cause: These skins needed more oil in the final bath than they received. As a consequence, the skins feel hard and brittle and they have also tightened temporarily.

Responsibility: British Standard 7269 part 1 provides a set of special care symbols for a leather product. These symbols include a star rating to indicate the level of oil needed in the final bath to replace the tanner’s oils that have been lost in cleaning.

The label in this garment states: “Entrust only to specialist cleaners”. The instruction is sub-standard when set against the BS requirements and responsibility for this lies with the garment maker and the garment retailer.

However, the cleaner should recognise the symptoms of under-oiling and be able to correct this and so should share the blame here.

Rectification: The garment should be re-processed in a single bath dosed with about 3ml/litre of leather oil.

Fox fur can yellow with age

Fault: This coat was described as a silver fox fur, and the owner noted that the fur was turning yellow after drycleaning in perc.

Cause: This coat is not a silver fox (which would make it very expensive) but a platina or marble fox fur. It is important to check these details when estimating value. Yellowing has certainly occurred (the picture shows the colour of a new pelt alongside the yellowed coat panel) but the cause of this was not incorrect drycleaning but simply age and exposure to light and the atmosphere. It is over ten years old and the fox would have grown a new coat every year; it was never intended to last this long. Drycleaning does not cause atmospheric yellowing of the type seen here.

Responsibility: It seems rather unfair to blame the fox, but no one else is at fault.

Rectification: None is possible.