It’s no party cleaning designer garments

20 December 2022

The party season is well under way with some very expensive little numbers adorning partygoers across the nation. Richard Neale and Roger Cawood have advice for dealing with these often problematic items

Unfortunately, despite the eye-wateringly high prices of many designer garments, the technical design and construction sometimes fail to match either the wearers’ expectations or the requirements of even the most expert cleaners. This month we flag up some of the major shortcomings of designer garments, with some useful suggestions on how you might minimise the risk of a substantial claim for which the cleaner is not to blame.

Recognising a potential problem before it becomes a claim is half the battle, so look for the maker’s label and set to one side those with labels which might have given you some problems in the past. Today, many cleaners when accepting wedding gowns vary their charge in relation to the amount of work involved. In the case of designer garments, it has been suggested that cleaners could base their cleaning charge on the value of the garment, to accommodate the increased risk and time involved in cleaning and finishing. After all, if you owned a Rolls Royce you would not expect to pay the same price for servicing as the owner of a Skoda.

A charge of 10% of the value could be considered. Basing the cleaning charge on the stated value also makes it very difficult for the customer to inflate the actual value in the unfortunate event of a claim. When you inspect and discuss the cleaning of the garment with the customer, ask when and where they bought it (and make a note of these points). If it was bought in a street market in a popular holiday destination, you may have a problem deciding whether it is a genuinely expensive designer item or a very good fake.

Experience will have taught you which items are most fraught with risk, and you may decide to offer to ‘hand-clean’ these at ‘owner’s risk’ rather than chance a machine process. This might involve stain removal, together with a very careful sponge and press. The use of either pure chemicals (preferably) or post-spotting kit chemicals would enable any stains and treatment to be easily flushed out, without machine processing.

The price charged here would probably need to be assessed in relation to the amount of additional time involved, and you would also be in a position throughout to control the risk and terminate your efforts if you see things are not working out as expected.

Poor print dye-fastness

Fault: The contrasting print to this attractive outfit shed dye when drycleaned in accordance with the care label, contaminating the pale areas and generally ruining the appearance.

Technical cause: When specifying colourfastness for a print or appliqué which is a dark contrast to the background shade, it is necessary to demand a much higher level of colourfastness to drycleaning than for a plain dark garment. The designer/manufacturer for this range appears to have failed to stipulate the degree of colour fastness required.

Responsibility: The blame here lies with the garment maker. Once the cleaner decided to dryclean the garment in accordance with the instructions on the care label (Dry Clean Only), the result was inevitable. The cleaner could not have avoided this by wetcleaning, because the care label is quite specific and excludes a water-based process, and even had they done so the colour test showed the dye came away with either perc or water.

Rectification: Unfortunately, none was possible.

Fraying trim

Fault: After cleaning this evening dress in a net bag on a ‘delicates’ cycle in perc, the cleaner noted extensive fraying of the lace trim, which created a very tatty and disappointing appearance.

Technical cause: The problem here is that the lace component of the dress has not been designed to withstand the mechanical action of the drycleaning process on the care label (which in this case was ?). This is not correct for this garment. The garment maker is responsible for correct care labelling and as this dress was obviously extremely delicate it should have been labelled  . Mislabelling such as this suggests that the maker is unreliable, and a very careful assessment of the item may be needed. This is still a fairly common problem with some designer garments and underlines the need to exercise extreme caution at the counter. If in doubt, decline to accept the item. With designer items, it is much better to be safe than sorry.

Responsibility: One of the main components used here could not withstand the process on the label and the blame lies with the garment maker. Neither the owner nor the cleaner should be sharing the blame.

Rectification: Trim damage of this type cannot usually be rectified satisfactorily, although it may be possible just to trim off the frayed edges from the lace to at least create a wearable garment.

Sprouting elastomer

Fault: Following drycleaning there appeared a large number of loose, pale brown, rubbery ends on both sides of the main side seams to this dress. They also occurred over some of the flower patterns in the lace.

Technical cause: This elastomeric fabric has been produced by incorporating into the weave an elastic fibre under high tension, to give the fabric a bi-stretch characteristic. The fault has occurred because the insertion tension was too high. It has survived normal wear but the drycleaning solvent has caused the usual further tightening - and the elastomeric yarns have snapped. The ends have then worked their way out of the cloth during the tumble dry stage to create the unsightly appearance now seen here. The designer has not allowed for the tightening which occurs when this type of construction is drycleaned.

Responsibility: The fault here lies with the cloth maker who should have followed the excellent advice given by all reputable suppliers of elastomeric yarns and used the level of pre-tension which avoids this fault.

Rectification: Unfortunately, none is possible.

Failure of trim adhesive

Fault: The attractively beaded, lace trim appliqué to this designer dress was originally glued to the fabric surface to create a smooth and stunning appearance. On removal from the perc drycleaning machine, the adhesive had been removed and the lace was being held in place only by the light tacking stitches used in its construction, creating a rough and rippled look.

Technical cause: The adhesive used here has not been selected to withstand perc, the most common drycleaning solvent, despite being labelled with a ?.

Responsibility: The blame here should be taken by the garment maker. This is a very simple, but surprisingly common mistake, even in some very expensive garment ranges.

Rectification: In theory, this dress could be rectified by a skilled dressmaker removing the trim, one area at a time, and re-fixing it with the correct adhesive. In practice, the cleaner was unable to find a dressmaker willing to undertake this.

Trim strength not fit for purpose

Fault: The fastening to an elegant designer jacket featured a heavily decorated two-part clasp, culminating in a small hook and eye. After dry cleaning in a net bag on a ‘delicates’ cycle in perc, one part of the clasp was found to have broken into three pieces.

Technical cause: The body of each part of this ornamental clasp was found to be a soft metal casting or forging. It had been correctly designed to resist impact with the rotating metal cage of the drycleaning machine, so it had not shattered because the cleaner omitted to protect it. Examination of the broken ends revealed the problem. The claps had sustained a soldered repair which is inherently brittle. Testing the malleability of the unbroken half of the clasp revealed a susceptibility to being bent in use and this was found to be sufficient to break it very easily. This was not a drycleaning failure, but a weak construction which broke in normal use. It was the subsequent brittle repair which failed in drycleaning.

Rectification: None is possible. A new clasp is needed, but a perfect match for this designer fitting is unlikely to be possible.

RUB TEST: Simple rub tests revealed that this print was not fast to either water or perc
FRAYED LACE: Fraying of the lace trim produced a very unsightly appearance after cleaning
PROBLEM SPROUTS: These sprouting elastic fibres appeared after drycleaning in perc
DISAPPEARING ACT: The adhesive which originally secured this lace appliqué disappeared in cleaning
CLASP FAILED: This clasp failed because it was not strong enough to do the job and not because of incorrect cleaning

Privacy Policy
We have updated our privacy policy. In the latest update it explains what cookies are and how we use them on our site. To learn more about cookies and their benefits, please view our privacy policy. Please be aware that parts of this site will not function correctly if you disable cookies. By continuing to use this site, you consent to our use of cookies in accordance with our privacy policy unless you have disabled them.