Janna Aidar writes:

My father owns a drycleaners in Almaty, Kazakhstan, and he asked me to find out what the rules are on compensation of clients by drycleaners, after damaging of the clothes in the process of cleaning (through the fault of the cleaners or clients, in the case of unauthentic labels, and so on).

Is there a publication or website that you can recommend that lists the regular practices of cleaners in UK or Europe in this regard?

Richard Neale answers:

The problems which Janna raises are commonly encountered by UK cleaners and the following general principles apply, although the law in this area is hazy and sometimes unhelpful: There is no legal requirement in the UK for a garment to carry a care label but if a label is inserted, then, under UK law, it must be correct.

The meaning of “correct” is not not well defined. Most garments change colour slightly in cleaning and they also change size a little (if only because of relaxation of manufacturing strains in the original fabrics). So deciding on whether a label is correct or not has to be based on a subjective view of the amount of shrinkage (taking into account the cut of the garment) and how obvious the colour change is.

The only garment type of which we are aware that is covered by a formal specification for drycleanability in British Standards is a leather garment. BS 7269 Part I defines quite precisely the test drycleaning technique and the amount of change permitted for shrinkage, difference in colour, adhesive migration, loss of finish and so on.

If a garment is handed in for cleaning with no label there is an additional onus on the cleaner to devise a suitable cleansing technique and to stand by the result. Where there are foreseeable but unavoidable risks, it is quite reasonable for a cleaner to seek owner authorisation for these, but if this is not done then the risk is usually assumed to remain with the cleaner.

If the label is seriously incorrect, so that the garment is unarguably ruined, even when the cleaner follows the care label absolutely correctly, then the responsibility lies fairly and squarely with the garment maker and, under UK law, it is our understanding that the consumer usually has a very strong claim against the retailer.

Despite this, many retail ranges in the UK are incorrectly labelled and give rise to serious discontent when they fail in cleaning. Frequently the retailer blames the cleaner (and vice versa)and only when the retailer genuinely fears the risk of legal action, or actually receives a court summons, is a refund or exchange given.

As far as compensation is concerned, by far the best set of rules and guidelines are those prepared for their members by the Textile Services Association. These not only set out the correct procedures to follow in the event of a dispute, but they also provide typical assumed lifetimes for each type of garment, together with recommended compensation levels, depending on age and condition.

Compensation in every case is based on a percentage of the current replacement cost and not on original purchase price.

I am not aware of any website information but the Textile Services Association publishes guidelines for members and can be contacted by email at tsa@tsa-uk.org.