Dry Cleaning: Care Labels and Fabrics

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When a consumer has a question on cleaning procedures for a particular garment, they should be able to refer to the care label. A care label is a tag attached to clothing stating care instructions.  Because of the rules made by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), manufacturers must make sure that the labels give complete instructions for at least one proper cleaning method needed for the normal, practical use of the garment.  Furthermore, they are required to caution consumers and cleaners against care treatments that may be assumed reasonably okay for the garment, but which could actually hurt the garment or other garments being cleaned at the same time (Mendelson 24). Additionally, the label’s instructions must safely apply to the entire garment, including any attached trims, beads, and buttons (International, “Care”). Cheryl Mendelson also emphasizes that manufacturers are only required to list one appropriate care method.  Consumers should not suppose that the manufacturer is providing the cheapest, all of the appropriate, or even the finest of the care options available, nor do care labels need to state the reasons why the care method attached was chosen. This is understandable, considering most labels only have a one square inch of room on it.  Additionally, she informs consumers that the FTC rules state that the manufacturer is only required to state the hurtful possibilities of the recommended treatment listed on the label.  So if a care label recommends a laundering treatment, it doesn’t need to tell the consumer if dry cleaning is or isn’t okay for the fabric as well (Mendelson 28-29).

Mendelson instructs her readers to be aware of the warning words that may be written on the care labels specifically heeding these three words: No, Only, and Do Not.  For example, the word “only” in the commonly printed phrase “Dry Clean Only” is counsel against laundering the garment (Mendelson 28).  Likewise, a customer should take laundering into consideration if the label warns against dry cleaning, or specific solvents coming into contact with the garment.  Customer awareness of the care labels instruction, and obedience to them, will help eliminate the possibility of a damaged garment, so for protection they should always read the care labels on their clothes before taking them into a drycleaners.  However, when in doubt about the proper care of a fabric or removal of a stain, taking your clothes into the cleaners is not a bad choice.  They are experts that have the chemicals and the tools, and can offer the advice and experience in handling your clothes (Aslett, “The Cleaning Encyclopedia” 119).  However, if you request the garment is cleaned in a different way than suggested on the care label, the drycleaner may have you sign a consent form which proves that risks have been talked about (International, “Care Labels”).

Unfortunately, there is still a chance of a garment being ruined even when the care label instructions were explicitly followed, whether cleaned by a drycleaner or the consumer his or herself.  If this happens, it is advised by the FTC that you return the garment to the retailer whom it was bought from.  If they don’t help fix the problem, request the name and address of the manufacturer and tell them about the specific garment, and the problem that resulted from the suggested cleaning (Mendelson 33).

Nevertheless, some consumers may not wish to follow the exact guidelines printed on a care label.  Those who choose to do otherwise will find there is safety from wearisome washing mistakes in understanding fabrics and fibers (Mendelson 29).  The two common washing techniques include drycleaning and laundering; the first, which we already described using liquid solvents that contain little water, and the latter which is an water-based cleaning.  When fibers are introduced to water cleaners, they expand and their proportions change (IARC 34).  To better illustrate this concept, imagine that you are in a water fight in which you find that your clothes are heavier and harder to keep on after you get wet.  Your shirt may look droopy as well, and doesn’t fit your body the same as it did when it was dry.  Some specific fabrics, namely linen, wool, and silk don’t handle water very well.  Certain blends of these fabrics expand much more than intended when put in water.  This is because of the chemical bonding between the molecules in the water and those in the fibers, which can result in the garment being disfigured.   However, the solvents used in dry cleaning don’t warp the fibers like water can (“All”).  Most care labels for wool and silk suggest dry cleaning.

Learn more about wool and silk properties

Works Cited

“All About Home Dry Cleaning.” Homefurnish.com. 16 Nov 2007.

Aslett, Don. Don Aslett’s Stain Buster’s Bible. Pocatello: Marsh Creek Press, 2002.

—. The Cleaning Encyclopedia; Your A to Z Illustrated Guide to Cleaning Like the Pros.

New York: Dell Publishing, 1993.

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.

Mendelson, Cheryl. Laundry; the Home Comforts Book of Caring for Clothes and Linen.

New York: Scribner, 2005.


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