Case studies: Shrinkage

31 July 2019

Stacey King of DTC looks at what can be done about shrinkage and outlines some precautions

Spot the tell-tale signs

One of the most common complaints we see here at DTC is that of shrinkage. Different fabrics undergo different types of shrinkage; for example, wool can felt, acrylic might melt or polyurethane can be degraded by solvent. The most common type of shrinkage is relaxation shrinkage. This is an issue which can affect all fabrics as it is a result of tension being inadvertently ‘set’ into the fabric during the manufacturing process. Depending on the properties of the textile, relaxation can range from a few millimetres to centimetres.

Some relaxation is considered unavoidable. Because of this, manufacturers are allowed a relaxation of up to 3%; this can seem like a considerable amount on items such as floor length curtains. All of these types of shrinkage have characteristic features that can help us identify the fault and to estimate by how much an item has shrunk. These tell-tale signs can include excess lining fabric, puckering of seams, distortion of patterns or wavy hems, zips and trims.

It is usually assumed that the cleaner must take responsibility for any shrinkage that occurs during processing. Where shrinkage has occurred due to inherent fabric properties or incorrect care labelling, this is not always the case. Cleaners should always take appropriate action to avoid processing errors such as reducing the drying temperatures for acrylic/modacrylic or ensuring wool garments are sufficiently aired before drycleaning. Be wary of plasticised trims as these are often not covered by the care label and might not withstand the process advised. It is advisable for a cleaner to be aware of the different causes of shrinkage so that their customers can be given realistic expectations upon submittal.

For example, curtains often have construction features to allow for rectification. These include extra length in the hem for adjustment or Rufflette® headers to allow for stepwise height adjustment in hanging.

British and International Standards outline a method that manufacturers can use to assess the dry cleanability of a range, including its potential for shrinkage.

Unfortunately, this is rarely carried out. The standard also states that it may take up to five cleans for the full extent of dimensional change to manifest so customers are often left baffled that a suit which has been previously cleaned has now shrunk.


Tiny tablewear

Fault: These linen napkins were of identical size prior to cleaning. Severe shrinkage has now occurred on those of the set which have been washed; the unwashed item retains its original size.

Cause: The napkins were washed as opposed to drycleaned. Linen and cotton are particularly susceptible to shrinkage during their first clean, particularly in water. This shrinkage can be 3-10% and is worsened by heat. The cleaner has also used a detergent which contains optical brightening agents which have altered the colour of the napkin.

Responsibility: The cleaner must take responsibility here for the decision to wash as the napkins carried a care label which stated dryclean only. Linen could theoretically be washed using cold water and low mechanical action. Sets should always be cleaned together to ensure they match in colour after processing.

Rectification: None is possible.


Lacklustre leather

Fault: The owner of this leather jacket was complaining of severe shrinkage, colour loss and that the jacket had lost its handle.

Cause: Leather is a natural material, when processed in perchloroethylene, this can strip natural oils from the fabric leaving it brittle, dry and dishevelled. In this instance it was the solvency power of perc that has resulted in the poor handle of the jacket. The jacket carried a substandard care label which did not have the correct leather rating to indicate the recommended dose of leather oil to use for processing. Colour loss was attributed to a combination of loss of oils and sunlight damage. The shrinkage manifests in severe puckering of all horizontal seams.

Responsibility: The manufacturer should take responsibility for the substandard care label as this is not good practice. Had the garment carried the correct star rating, the outcome might not have been so severe.

Rectification: The cleaner should be able to recognise symptoms of under oiling and re-clean the garment with a suitable dose of leather oil. This might restore some depth of colour and should go a long way to soften the exterior. Depending on the extent of shrinkage, the extra oil will help loosen the jacket but probably not restore it to its original dimensions.


Skin shrinks with no moisture

Fault: This real fur coat suffered severe shrinkage during cleaning. The coat was originally knee length but now sits around the owner’s hips with the sleeves resting in the mid forearm area.

Cause: The coat carried no care and information label. While this is considered poor practice it is not a legal requirement for a garment to carry a care recommendation. The coat was drycleaned on a normal process which has resulted in severe drying of the skin and, subsequently, shrinkage.

Responsibility: The manufacturer should take responsibility for the absence of a care label, however, in the absence of a care recommendation it is up to the cleaner to select a process that will not be detrimental to the overall appearance of the garment. This wasn’t the case here therefore the cleaner should take responsibility.

Rectification: Due to the extent of the shrinkage noted it is unlikely that the coat will ever be made to meet its original dimensions.


Woe for wool sweater

Fault: A woollen sweater was removed from the process several sizes smaller than when it went in.

Cause: The sweater has undergone severe felting shrinkage. The weave of the fabric is no longer visible and the yarns make an audible crackling sound when placed under tension. These are both characteristic signs of felting. The moisture level in the drycleaning machine was not controlled to an appropriate low level which has allowed the scales of the wool to rise and interlock. It is this interlocking caused by the unavoidable mechanical action of the process which has caused the matting and felting. The moisture could have been introduced from free droplets in the solvent or by humidity in the jumper itself. Wool is able to hold up to 15% of its own body weight in moisture without feeling damp.

Responsibility: The cleaner should take responsibility here. It is critical to ensure woollen garments are sufficiently air dried prior to cleaning and that no residual water droplets contaminate the solvent.

Rectification: None is possible.


Backing lets zip down

Fault: The owner complained the zips on this jacket no longer fastened smoothly due to a wavy appearance.

Cause: It is not the zip itself which has become wavy. The backing which was attaching the zip to the garment had shrunk resulting in too much tension down the length. The fault, caused by relaxation, did not result in damage to any panels but gave the garment an aged appearance.

Responsibility: The cleaner is not to blame here. Ultimately relaxation shrinkage is the responsibility of the manufacturer. The level seen here was minimal and within that allowed by British and International standard.

Rectification: The cleaner was able to successfully set the zips by ironing under gentle hand pressure to the reverse. This is an acceptable method of rectification but it is only temporary and will be reversed by recleaning.


Cashmere damage is deeply felt

Fault: Differential shrinkage occurred on a cashmere scarf.

Cause: When submitted for cleaning this scarf had coffee splashes around the centre. The cleaner pre-treated the coffee stains and was successful in removing them. The scarf was then insufficiently dried before cleaning. The presence of excess moisture in the area of pre-treatment resulted in felting shrinkage in a localised area. The overall uniformity was ruined and the affected area lost its handle/texture completely.

Responsibility: The cleaner must take responsibility here, although stains were successfully removed the scarf is ruined due to their oversight. Natural fibres like this are very sensitive to moisture when exposed to mechanical action and should always be free of dampness before cleaning to prevent felting.

Rectification: None is possible.


No cheers for three tiers

Fault: When removed from the drycleaning machine this skirt exhibited a tiered effect.

Cause: This garment fell victim to differential relaxation shrinkage. The three layers of the garment were of different compositions and as a result had been woven at varying tensions. The drycleaning process released said tension giving the appearance of tiers.

Responsibility: The garment has not shrunk by a large enough amount that it would firmly place the blame with the manufacturer. There is no rule against using different fabrics in a garment; however, it is considered poor practice not to match relaxation potentials in a way that will not spoil the appearance of a garment. The cleaner holds no responsibility here, the fault could not have been foreseen or prevented.

Rectification: The layers might be stretched back and set with steam and vacuum in an attempt to even the


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