The April Which? report on drycleaning is largely unfavourable. Textile Services Association chief executive Murray Simpson said that the industry has two choices as to how it responds.

It can be defensive, by pointing out that the 48 garments cleaned in the sample should be seen against 100million garments cleaned each year; or it can recognise that the results do underline the need to improve skills.

The report’s language was highly emotive at times. Murray Simpson disagreed strongly with a reference to “ consumers effectively being defrauded” (as does LCN – see Comment p5). But the industry should use the report as a whole as an opportunity to take positive action as TSA would do. Christine Antrobus, vice president of the Guild of Cleaners and Launderers, recommended seeing this as “a wake-up call”.

This year’s conference marked strengthened links between The Guild and TSA, with the Guild Secretariat work transferring to TSA offices last year, a step which pleased Ivan Kerry (TSA president) as he has always advocated a closer relationship. However, the two remain separate organisations with different aims – training in the case of the Guild, and for TSA, lobbying on legislation.

In the first presentation, Christine Antrobus, representing Satra, examined common causes of complaints about drycleaning: delamination: shrinkage; marks, fading, tears, holes, bruising and trim damage. In each case she considered types and possible causes of damage, responsibility and, where relevant, action that might at least reduce the fault.

Antrobus pointed out that it was not always easy to decide whether an item had shrunk. Cleaners should measure and record the length and width of curtains when they came in and also garments made from sensitive fabrics. Wool will always shrink in cleaning if it is not completely dry when it goes into the machine. Airing before cleaning is essential if there is the slightest possibility of moisture – cleaners should remember that if wool is cold, it is also damp.

Staining and marks that occur in use are always the wearer’s responsibility but any damage caused by removal is the cleaner’s fault.

Good practice rules to reduce complaints include thorough counter inspection, testing possible treatments on a hidden area and warning the customer of any specific risks before going ahead.

If a customer makes a complaint, it must be handled professionally, quickly and fairly. Help the customer with well-written letters of explanation, be reasonable, and follow the Guild or TSA Code of practice. Handling a complaint correctly can turn an angry customer into a loyal one.

Robert Adams, director of franchising at White Knight, explained why the company had set up a franchise operation for its domestic laundry and drycleaning and so had turned round a declining section of its operation.

For around 18 months, public relations consultant Parker Hobart has been conducting a campaign to raise awareness of the TSA and drycleaning. That campaign is now having positive effects. In the last year, TSA had been mentioned in 50 articles and is now being seen as a source of specialist advice by publications, as diverse as Ideal Home, Good Housekeeping, The Times, Red and GQ.

The Guild and the TSA gave a joint presentation on their achievements. Adrian Redgate, Guild chairman, explained that networking was a core function. Its regional centres held regular meetings and could offer its members help and advice. Training is a main role as shown by the logo “The Guild for a better qualification”

He welcomed feedback and comments can be posted in the members area of the website.

Murray Simpson said the TSA offers “a basket of services” but its core role is to lobby government on the industry’s behalf to make sure legislation is representative, sensible and fair. The SED is a good example, as is its recent lobbying against the solvent framework directive. (LCN website 14 January)

The solvent debate proved a valuable centrepiece to the conference. Chris Tebbs, chairing the event gave an excellent introduction. “Although the SED is now firmly in place and drycleaners are now compliant, the UK can’t afford to be complacent about the future of perc.” Legislators and campaigners are more active than drycleaners, as the USA has seen. California already has a timetable for an eventual ban and this includes a ban on machines 15 years older or more – so for many this could impact in just seven or eight years. New Jersey is already proposing a ban and he has heard that Maryland is now seeking a ban (see news P5). Developing alternatives is important.

Martin Lewis of Lewis & Wayne described his involvement with hydrocarbon including its development as an alternative when CFC113 was banned.

His business has successfully cleaned thousands of expensive garments in hydrocarbon. The only problems have been with padded garments and leather. These must be dried thoroughly to avoid the risks of using a flammable solvent.

It does clean, but don’t expect the same results as you get with perc, he said, classification is essential.

Is it easy to use? You must follow the rules as you would with perc – avoid excessive water, make regular checks, be careful with chemicals that contain other solvents. Bear its flammability in mind. It is kinder to the environment, but won’t make you an eco warrior in itself.

Andre Oban of the European Chlorinated Solvents Association put the perc case. Its use needs little introduction, but he countered some of the anti-perc arguments.

Studies suggested there was no link to cancer and had also found no real effect on fertility. He also claimed that environmental effects were minimal. Advancing technology has greatly lowered solvent consumption. Fifth generation machines reduce solvent consumption tenfold compared with early machines.

Ian Battle, head of technical support services for Johnson Cleaners was the spokesman for GreenEarth. The Johnson Group has been involved with this solvent since 2001. It currently has GreenEarth machines in 253 branches and now only installs GreenEarth machines. Battle is well aware of the perc arguments and has worked with it in his career, but GreenEarth is odour free, gives a softer feel and has less colour loss.

It is kinder to the environment. It will clean virtually anything but does require the help of detergents. It also needs different spotting techniques and other differences include the need for nitrogen injection and vacuum distillation. You will need 25% extra machine capacity compared with perc to get the same throughput, but the average loading is 80% compared with 65% for perc.

Kay Jones of Electrolux explained the advantages of the Lagoon specialised wetcleaning system. This professional method has been developed hand-in-hand with the Woolmark Company. It involves specific chemicals but uses water as a natural solvent. Lagoon is a gentle and controlled system that suits 98% of garments. The washers include the company’s residual moisture control and the equipment includes dryers and a range of finishing machines.

R R Street’s Solvair is a relatively recent system combining a proprietary solvent for the cleaning cycle and liquid CO2 for rinsing and drying as the solvent does not evaporate quickly. A video showed pre-stained swatches being cleaned in a load and stressed that it needed neither pre-treatment nor pre-sorting. Claimed advantages included both lack of dye bleed and of shrinkage. It will handle beads, sequins and leather trims safely.

Peter Hunt, from Wastecare detailed the regulations governing the handling and disposal of hazardous waste, and advice on compliance. Good environmental management could, he stressed, improve the bottom line. His company worked with drycleaners to help manage waste effectively. It was compiling an information pack.

The impact of the immigration laws on a company was explained by Gareth Draper of Royal Jersey laundry. The Ilford plant has a workforce predominantly of Asian origin and most of whom have British passports. When, in 2005, a neighbouring laundry was raided by the authorities, he felt it wise to seek advice. The Home Office seemed helpful, but asked for a list of employees. Three weeks later he found he was part of a covert operation. They wanted to interview six employees on benefit and immigration matters and gave him the date they would call.

On the day he set up a cover story for the interviews and the suspect six went in for their “security training”. It was a harrowing experience, the place was swamped with police, the local press tried to get a scoop.

Some of the suspects were later cleared, but one man he had promoted as enterprising and hardworking had a large number of forged passports. The experience shattered the trust built up with his team. In the end this was rebuilt, even with those unjustly suspected.

Robin Rhodes, employment consultant for the TSA backed up this personal account with information and sources of help. He stressed that the UK economy has gained enormously from immigrant labour but the problems of illegal immigration overlap with those of benefit fraud and people trafficking. The regulations are difficult and detailed and the HR employment helpline (01628 487 007) will give advice. The Border and Immigration Authority website provides helpful information.

Health and Safety inspector Geoff Brown advised “Keep it simple”. A business is responsible for ensuring the health and safety of employees. The results matter more than the methods. Risk assessment means considering potential causes of danger and deciding if there are sufficient precautions in place. The law expects risk to be reduced rather than eliminated. There are 5 steps: identify the hazards; decide who might be harmed and how; evaluate and decide precautions; record findings and implement them; review and update information.

Implementation is the important step. Paperwork never saved anyone.