Case Study: Shrinkage

23 May 2016

DTC’s Stacey King explains how drycleaners can avoid some common shrinkage problems

Shrink shrinkage, cut back on complaints
One of the most common complaints a drycleaner might receive is about shrinkage. Different fabrics undergo different types of shrinkage; for example, wool can felt, acrylic might melt and polyurethane can be degraded by solvent. Alternatively, relaxation shrinkage is an issue that can affect all fabrics. The manufacturers are allowed a relaxation of up to 3%; this can seem like an awful lot on items such as curtains.
All of these type of shrinkage have characteristic features that can help us identify the fault and to estimate to what degree a garment 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 but, 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 and 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 which would be expected to shrink, 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 "drycleanability" 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.

Napkin run ruined by wet-washing
These linen napkins were of identical size prior to cleaning. Drastic shrinkage has now occurred on those of the set which have been washed.
Cause: The napkins were wet-washed as opposed to drycleaned. Linen and cotton are particularly susceptible to shrinkage upon their first clean. This shrinkage can be 3% to 10% and is worsened by heat. The cleaner has also used a detergent which contains optical brightening agent which has altered the colour of the napkin.
Responsibility: The cleaner must take responsibility here for their decision to wet-wash as the napkins carried a care label that stated dryclean only. Linen could theoretically be wet-washed using cold water and low mechanical action. Sets should always be cleaned together to ensure they match after processing.
Rectification: None is possible.

Damp wool led to felting
Differential shrinkage occurred on this 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 aired before cleaning and the presence of excess moisture in the area of pre-treatment then resulted in the felting in a localised area. The overall uniformity was ruined and the affected area lost its handle 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.

When relaxation is stressful to zips
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 attaching the zip to the garment had shrunk resulting in too much tension down the length. The fault was caused by relaxation and 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 Standards.
Rectification: The cleaner successfully set the zips by ironing under gentle hand pressure to the reverse. This is not a suitable rectification for all garments and would be reversed by re-cleaning.

Substandard care label spells disaster
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 and 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 softening 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.

Tension release has skirt in tiers
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 them out, however it would be a difficult task.

Manufacturer's label to blame for shortened dress
After cleaning, the gold fabric of this dress had significantly shrunk which pulled the inner cream lining fabric upwards making it visible.
Cause: The dress was labelled to be 100% polyester so the cleaner used his craft skill and experience to deduce that wet-cleaning would be much better suited to a garment of this type. Polyester usually washes very well and a wedding dress is likely to have drinks splashes or food stains and general floor dirt that will be much better removed in a wet process. Drycleaning would likely caramelise any sugars present in drinks splashes leaving unsightly brown marks. After cleaning the gold outer had severely shrunk. Investigation revealed that the under skirt contained silk which was not able to withstand the process used.
Responsibility: The responsibility here firmly lies with the manufacturer for the incorrect care label in the dress. Had the label stated that the composition included silk and the cleaner had proceeded to wet-clean the dress, the responsibility would have laid with the cleaner.
Rectification: Replacement of the underskirt is an option but rectification of the existing fabric is not possible.

Water in solvent destroys woollen jumper
A woollen sweater was removed from the machine several sizes smaller than 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.

Water in solvent
Care label
Skirt in tiers
Shortened dress

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