How to choose a drycleaner: Part One

Most people have little idea how involved the dry-cleaning process is and, really, why should they care? I believe you need to know enough to ensure you have control over your clothing investment.

The process of dropping your clothing at the drycleaner is not as simple as it first appears. It is the drycleaners job to make it look simple. It starts with a skilled and caring customer service person. Quality will depends on the skilled and diligent production workers. Caring for textiles is a labor intensive, people intensive business. Proper care for your clothing requires continuing education and awareness on not only the cleaner’s part – but on your part, as well.

With that in mind, here is a brief outline of what happens when your clothes go to the cleaners and what you should be on the lookout for.

The Process:
From the moment you walk into your drycleaner or give your items to your personal drycleaner (at your home or office), the process begins.

At the counter: You want the customer service person to be responsive when you point out a stain or discuss a problem. They should inspect the clothing for a proper count of what you are leaving at the very least.

There are generally 2 methods for accepting items:

1) A detailed inspection and pricing in front of the customer of every piece. For a large order this may take considerable time (well over 15 minutes!). Very small, and often lower end or discount cleaners will often inspect and create the final invoice in your presence – I believe this is an indication of the lack of trust between the drycleaner and customer. I would take it as red flag. A company that must ensure their price upfront or that a hem was loose on arrival, will not be able to build the level of trust needed to provide delivery service, THE BIGGEST VALUE YOU CAN GET FROM A CLEANER! However, this is fairly common. If this is your drycleaner, be sure they are reading the care label, discuss any unusual aspects and alert you to any stains. They should also check all pockets and return any items found to you.

2) More common (and I believe preferable – time is money after all!) is a mini inspection with a mini ticket issued. The items are then inspected thoroughly after you have gone to do something else.

Marking or Detailing the Order:
Before cleaning, all items must have an identification affixed. Then a technician will do a second inspection and make some basic decisions: Whether the item can be cleaned in a drycleaning machine, which stains need to be pre-treated, the length of the cleaning cycle necessary to remove soil and stains; the length of the cycle with regard to fragility of the item; possible air drying to control shrinkage, and the type of solvent. There are currently 6 major solvent used. Most cleaners use at least 2, water and their solvent of choice. If chemicals are important to you, solvent may be a factor in your choice.

Finishing: This refers to both hand ironing and machine pressing. Pressing by machine results in a firm, often crisp finish (like a man’s shirt). Hand ironing results in a softer finish and is much more labor intensive. An experienced finisher knows which approach will improve unsightly shine, button impressions and hard wrinkles. The finisher must also make many decisions: Should an item be hard or soft pressed, should it be creased? Should the hem be pressed or rolled? Should the linen blouse be starched? These are all daily decision made by a finisher.

Final Inspection: When the garment has been cleaned and finished, final inspection takes place where all tags are removed and the clothes are deemed ready to wear. A plastic bag is put over the order to protect it during storage and on the way back to your closet. Many discount cleaners skip this last step, meaning you will act as the final inspector.

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