Summer sorrows

4 November 2019

Summer brings its own set of problems for cleaners as Stacey King of DTC finds out

Moths, poor dyeing practice and cheap fabrics cast a shadow

Many weddings take place in the summer and lots of people take the opportunity to have their winter wear cleaned before putting it into storage. Unfortunately, this can mean a rise in the number of expensive claims that reach the cleaner. Many customer claims originate in the mistaken belief that if an item is damaged when it comes back from the cleaner then the damage must be caused by negligence or undue care on the part of the cleaner.

It is important for the cleaner to be able to recognise the symptoms of some of the more common faults caused in use or due to poor manufacturer and to be able to explain these to the customer. Even better so if potential faults can be recognised prior to cleaning to manage the customer’s expectations. This can require considerable skill and cleaners may want to follow the Guild training course to gain its certificate in order to help their understanding.

Some faults may not be visible when the item is handed in but appear during cleaning through no fault of the cleaner. For example, holes created by the larvae of the clothes moth and the carpet beetle when it is necessary to explain how the grub tends to burrow down into the fabric so that when the item comes in for cleaning it has what looks like a bit of fluff on it. It is only when the action of the solvent flushes out the debris that the hole or holes are revealed.

Poor dye-fastness is ever a common issue, from sunlight fading to poor dye fixing, the cleaner will likely see many issues of dye bleed over their career particularly on contrasting items or items which carry leather/suede trims.

With the quest for ever cheaper fabrics by buyers for retail chains, abrasion damage on low-cost fabrics can be an issue and the cleaner must be able to explain why areas of white discolouration which appear after drycleaning are caused by the cleaning action of the solvent lifting the abraded fibres from the fabric surface and not by cleaner accident.


Faded glory

Fault: Several areas of discolouration were noted on the suit jacket, particularly to the exposed areas of the lapels. The owner accused the cleaner of bleaching the lapels.

Cause: This is easy to misinterpret as dye loss. Inspection and testing by DTC revealed the garment was colourfast to dry cleaning solvents. The discolouration pattern seen was consistent with prolonged exposure to direct sunlight for an extended period or a short period through glass. Strong lighting such as studio lights may also result in a fault such as this. Direct sunlight can break the dye to fibre bonds if the fabric is not lightfast. The resultant loose dye is removed during cleaning to give rise to the ugly fault now seen.

Responsibility: The manufacturer is responsible for ensuring the light fastness of a garment. The pattern here was typical of the effects of sunlight having been exaggerated for example by hanging a garment in an area of excessive sunlight such as in the back of a car or similar.

Rectification: None is possible.


Flexing proves vexing

Fault: After cleaning the owner noted several linear crease marks on the same area on both inner arms of the jacket at the inner elbow area.

Cause: The padded jacket had a stiff outer material. During wear, the repetitive flexing movement of both arms has resulted in deep creasing in the inner elbow area. This repeated movement had resulted in localised abrasion. The abraded fibres have been lifted during dry cleaning and now mask the original colour of the fabric leaving the pale lines seen here.

Responsibility: The responsibility for the pale lines should lie with the owner as the creases are a result of conditions of wear. If the jacket is not very old this could be taken up with the manufacturer as it might indicate that the fabric has poor abrasion resistance.

Rectification: None is possible.


Vintage mould from storage

Fault: When removed from storage this vintage velvet dress had sporadic dark marks over multiple areas of the fabric.

Cause: When tested, the discoloured areas were to yield a positive test result for mould. The discolouration noted was a result of staining from the growth of mould in those areas. Although the dress had been stored in a wardrobe it is typical in the UK that, due to the climate and weather conditions, many homes have some degree of damp/humidity. Even small, barely detectable amounts of moisture can be enough to trigger mould growth.

Responsibility: It would be unfair to blame the cleaner for unsuccessful removal here as the damage stems from conditions of storage.

Rectification: Sunlight and fresh air is very good at remedying issues related to mildew, however, due to the staining which has occurred here, treatment with a mild peroxide might be necessary. Due to the delicate nature of velvet this would be a difficult task and should only be attempted by a skilled cleaner with authorisation from the owner before commencing.


Compromised by sunlight

Fault: This roller blind was returned from the cleaner with bubbled lining and linear bands of discolouration, predominantly to the lower panels.

Cause: Sunlight strikes again! The lining here has been compromised by sunlight which has caused it to bubble and warp.  In addition, the sunlight has also ‘bleached’ the colour of the curtain in exposed areas. Those areas which were protected when rolled/open remain a cream colour. However the areas which are exposed are now a much paler in colour.

Responsibility: Ultimately it is the manufacturers responsibility to test for light fastness of textiles such as this, however age and location can also play a significant role and must also be taken into consideration.

Rectification: None is possible


Moths’ feast leaves holes

Fault: A cluster of small round holes was found across the shoulder of a men’s woollen suit jacket after cleaning. The customer believed that no damage was present prior to drycleaning.

Cause: Examination of the holes under magnification revealed truncated fibre ends. This is typical of damage caused where moth larvae nibble through the proteinaceous fibres. Formation of clusters is common due to the manner in which larvae will tend to graze. In this particular instance, not only were the fibre ends characteristic of moth damage but a piece of the insect’s shell was also found.

Responsibility: The damage has stemmed from conditions of wear, therefore the blame cannot be laid with the cleaner or the manufacturer.

Rectification: The holes are unlikely to be remedied. Any moth larvae present on the garment will have been killed during the process. Taking steps to ensure that the wardrobe in which the suit, and likely other suits, are stored is free from insects would be a sensible act.


Potent perfume is a dye destroyer

Fault: The cuffs of this women’s jacket were found to be bleached and torn after drycleaning.

Cause: The tensile strength of the lining fabric had been significantly reduced; this, as well as the bleached appearance, is a key characteristic of chemical damage. A strong of odour of perfume could still be detected on the fabric which indicated that the ‘chemical’ in question here was perfume. The alcohols and natural oils present in perfumes can result in weakening of the dye to fibre bond; the weakened dyes are then susceptible to being flushed away during the drycleaning process. Prolonged contact can even result in weakening of the textile itself depending on the fibre composition.

Responsibility: The responsibility lies with the wearer. Care should be taken when using topical skin application, be that perfume or skin care, as these can have detrimental effects to certain dyes and textiles.

Rectification: The lining could be replaced but the hole cannot be repaired without a tell-tale mark.


Curtain catastrophe

Fault: Post-drycleaning, a set of cream curtains now exhibits an overall pink hue due to colour run from the red printed details into the cream fabric.

Cause: The curtains here were not labelled. The retailer advised that the fabric should be drycleaned however the manufacturer states that the fabric should be hand-washed. Although this seems like a tall order for such a large item, the fabric was tested for its resistance to both water and drycleaning solvent; it was not colourfast to either medium.

Responsibility: The responsibility for the dye bleed should be taken by the manufacturer. The fabric cannot be cleaned in water nor solvent without detriment to its overall appearance.

Rectification: None is possible.



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