Mrs Lyn Mynott Cert. E.S. (TESOL) of Clacton on Sea,

Essex writes:

Dear sir

My son took a puffa jacket to Safeway Cleaners that was in perfect condition but after he collected it he found a hole in the front of the jacket. Safeways is insistent that there was no damage prior or after cleaning.

We sent to jacket to Textile and Clothing Investigation for analysis because Safeways intimated that it was a cigarette burn, although none of our family smokes. TCI confirmed that it was not a burn but that the damage was caused by an alkaline substance being heated in a dryer.

We are adamant that the coat did not come into contact with such a chemical whilst in our possession.

TCI said that the damage would have been present immediately it came out of the drying process, which Safeways deny. This puts us in a predicament.

I have now written to Safeways to find out exactly what chemicals are used in the store. I have heard that they also deal with laundry and must therefore have other chemicals on the premises which could possibly have caused the damage. I have also heard that they should not really be able to deal with laundry because the chemicals can float out into the food area. Can you confirm this?

Dr. Richard Neale of the

Drycleaning Technology Centre replies:

Thank you for your letter regarding the holes in the puffa jacket and although I have not seen the garment I think I can work out what may have happened.

If the TCI report states that the damage was caused by alkaline substance being heated in a dryer then presumably they have detected excess alkalinity in the vicinity of the hole which means the garment has been drycleaned rather than wetcleaned.

This would suggest that the hole has been caused either by sodium hydroxide from a substance such as oven cleaner or by domestic bleach (which is usually made alkaline by the manufacturer to reduce its activity). Either of these substances would damage cotton and the sodium hydroxide would also damage polyester.

I would not expect to find either of these chemicals in the Safeways drycleaning area, or indeed in

the processing area of any professional cleaner. A claim based

on this report is going to be difficult to justify and could well

not succeed.

As regards the point at which the damage became visible, we too would expect severe damage caused by an alkali to be visible when the garment was taken out of the machine because the last machine process is tumble drying in warm air and the mechanical action would be sufficient to

dislodge any rotted fibres.

There is no problem in carrying out laundry processing or drycleaning within a supermarket structure provided the ventilation air flows are properly designed. All of the main supermarket chains arrange for drycleaning ventilation to vent externally and the ventilation controls are generally interlocked to the drycleaning machine start controls as an additional safeguard. In our experience supermarkets generally exhibit a very high standard of housekeeping and safety compliance.