Have you ever the heard the commonly used business phrase, “The Customer is Always Right”? For the past several months, I have been working at a dry cleaner, doing counter service, and interacting daily with customers. It is a wonderful place to work, especially when we are able to hand back clean, pressed clothes to the customer. Occasionally clothing or blankets are not handed back looking as perfect as the customer had hoped, and if they aren’t angry, they may be dissatisfied with the service. I believe that because of the adage, “the customer is always right,” many customers are disappointed when the dry cleaning business doesn’t necessarily meet their demands, especially in terms of reimbursement. Through my experience, I believe most of these people don’t understand the individualized process of garment cleaning at a dry cleaner. There are some basic elements of drycleaning and fabric care that are imperative for drycleaning customers to understand in order to avoid potential problems.
I’ve had quite a few people ask me real generally, “What is drycleaning anyway?” Maybe you don’t want to know step-by-step how your food is made at McDonald’s, but it is wise to know how your own clothes are being treated when you drop them off at a cleaners. Dry cleaning is similar to laundering in that they both achieve the goal of cleaning fabrics. In more detail, dry cleaning takes out dirt and spots from cloth using liquid solvents. In a way the process contradicts its name, as the cleaning procedure is not really a ‘dry’ one, but the term ‘dry’ is used because garments are cleaned using small amounts of water (“Dry” 368). Drycleaning solvents clean what water has a difficult time cleaning, such as grease and oils. Although cleaners are unique in their methods, they generally follow basic steps in fabric cleaning. The following paragraph will outline the typical procedure followed at a dry cleaner.
First, when a drycleaner receives clothes for cleaning, the items are tagged individually and any noticed stains are marked. Furthermore, additional details are taken into consideration such as the fragility of buttons or ornaments, and of any rips in the fabric (Lyle, Focus on Fabrics 1). Next, the clothes are sent back to the spotter whose primary responsibility is to use specialized solvents, chemicals, or necessary methods to remove stains. This job involves a lot of skill, as the spotter must be educated on the multiple types of stains and the usefulness of certain chemicals on not only the stain, but on the fabric and it’s build as well (Lyle, Performance of Textiles 262). Following the spotting, the clothes are grouped by color and put into a dry cleaning machine which outward appearance looks similar to a large home washing machine. Liquid solvents immerse the clothing as the machine tumbles the clothes, which extracts greasy spots and excess soils from the garments, after which the clothes are dried with high heat of about 120-150 degrees Fahrenheit (IARC 36). When the wash cycle is completed, the clothes are inspected further for remaining stains, and retreated if needed. Finally, the garments are sent to be steam pressed to remove wrinkles and if necessary go through a process of finishing to return the garment to its original shape and feel before handing it back to the customer (Lyle, Performance of Textiles 334).
The process appears to be structured and faultless, and with all the specialized attention to garments a customer may simply expect to receive his or her garments back with a “like new” appearance. Although this may be the case with many clothes, not all will fall into this category. Customers must take into consideration the wearing life of their garment. Even a really good cleaner can’t prevent unwarranted shrinking, or dyes from bleeding and fading. They especially can’t turn around worn or torn parts on clothes (International, “Straight”). Jules Labarthe, Senior Fellow at the Kaufman Fellowship at the Mellon Institute has been studying fabric behavior cases for years. He says that when consumers are dissatisfied with the serviceability of their fabrics they should ask themselves some questions such as, how long did I expect my fabric to last? And/or do I mishandle or mistreat it? (Lyle, Focus on Fabrics 347). This allows the customer to take some responsibility for the age and previous use of the garment. However, if the cleaners are liable for the fabric damage, they can make amends most likely based on the life expectancy, age, condition, and replacement costs of the garments (International, “Who’s Responsible”).
Read about Care Label Laws and Fabric Care Here
“Dry Cleaning” The World Book Encyclopedia. Volume 5. 1988.
IARC Working Group on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans. Dry
Cleaning, Some Chlorinated Solvents and Other Industrial Chemicals. Lyon, France: IARC, 1995.
International Fabricare Institute. Care Labels. Maryland: IFI, 1988.
—. Straight Talk About Drycleaning. Maryland: IFI, 1990.
—. Who’s Responsible. Maryland: IFI, 1992.
Lyle, Dorothy Siegert. Focus on Fabrics. Silver Spring: National Institute of
—. Performance of Textiles. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1977.