Avoiding Disputes At The Dry Cleaners

Finding a good dry cleaner can be a hit-and-miss affair. Even if you use one with a reliable track record, accidents can happen. But it can be difficult to establish who’s to blame and exactly what your rights are when your favourite jacket comes back to you with shrunken sleeves and tarnished buttons.

Some Preliminary Precautions

Prevention is better than cure when it comes to ensuring your garments survive a trip to the dry cleaners. Here are some tips to help you minimise the risk of damage:

  • Find an experienced dry cleaner – good fabric understanding comes from years of handling different types.
  • Use a specialist dry cleaner for beadings, sequins and other garment decorations, and take notes of the discussion about the best way to clean your garment.
  • Check the dry clean symbol on the care label.  A “P” or “F” indicates which solvent should or may be used.
  • Check your garments thoroughly before handing them over to your dry cleaner.
  • Remove belts and any other detachable adornments. Identify the nature and position of stains, loose stitching or fasteners.
  • Photograph expensive formal or designer wear and advise your dry cleaner. Many dry cleaners also have counter cameras to identify the number of garments handed back to the customer.
  • Point out concealed buttons, as a heat press may leave a shiny imprint on the fabric if they go unnoticed by the dry cleaner.
  • Find out if the dry cleaner is a member of the Professional Dry Cleaners Association Inc. If the dry cleaner you complain about is a member, the PDA will advise you of its investigations and your options.
  • Keep dry-cleaning dockets and original purchase receipts for your expensive garments and textiles as proof for any damages claim.

Who’s To Blame?

When a garment is destroyed, consumers usually blame the dry cleaner. The dry cleaner in turn may choose to compensate, or deny fault.

According to Australian Consumer Law, a dry cleaner is required to provide service with acceptable care, skill and technical knowledge and take all necessary steps to avoid loss or damage. But when things go wrong it may not always be their fault.

Incorrect care instructions could be the cause. If the instructions on the label have been followed and the garment has been damaged, you could spare the dry cleaner your angry rant and take the item back to the retailer you bought it from.

What’s tricky is figuring out who’s at fault. If the compensation claim is more than several hundred dollars and the dry cleaner refuses to accept responsibility, you can take it further by requesting a PDA Mediation Hearing.

Labelling Laws

There aremandatory standards for care labelling enforceable by the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC). In theory, fines of up to $1.1 million apply for companies that fail to comply. Under the laws, all clothing suppliers – manufacturers, importers, wholesalers, distributors and retailers – must ensure their care labelling is:

  • legible
  • accurate
  • permanently attached to the garment
  • written in English
  • accessible at the point of sale
  • appropriate and adequate for the care of the garment so that when followed the article is not damaged.

Without specific care instructions on what’s allowed and what should not be done to the garment, the risk of damage is high, especially for fabrics that contain elastane or plasticisers (typically used in garments to provide stretch and recovery characteristics).

Dry cleaning labels may wrongly specify that a particular chemical should be used to clean the garment.

  • P or “dry clean only” means the garment can be dry cleaned with the solvent perchloroethylene (perc), hydrocarbon solvents green earth and white spirit. Dry cleaning the wrong garment with perc can cause dyes to run and beads to melt, says Tonkin.
  • F means dry cleaning should only be carried out with hydrocarbon solvents green earth and white spirit (no perc).
  • W means item may be treated in water by a professional wet cleaning process.
  • Plain circle including a cross means do not dry clean.

Dry Cleaning FAQs

What redress do I have if my clothes are damaged and the dry cleaner said they followed the care instructions on the label?

You can try one or several of the following options:

  • Ask the dry cleaner for compensation if the care instructions were not followed.
  • Take the damaged garment back to the retailer you bought it from and demand a refund under your statutory rights outlined in Australian Consumer Law.
  • If compensation is not forthcoming, you can request a PDA mediation hearing.
  • If you are still unhappy with the outcome of these courses of action, you can take your complaints to a consumer or small claims court in your state, or .lodge a complaint with the ACCC

Can I make a claim for damage if I bought my garments or textiles second-hand?

  • Yes. Second-hand garments and textiles are excluded from the mandatory care labelling standard, but you may be able to make a claim for the damage to your garment. However you may need to produce a receipt – which is not always possible when buying second-hand items.

Why doesn't the dry cleaner return my garments after I've been compensated for the damage they caused?

It’s the dry cleaner’s responsibility to remove the damaged garment from circulation as it’s no longer serviceable.

Why is there such a wide range of pricing among dry cleaners?

Pricing depends on location, competition and quality of service. Shop rentals mean a shopping mall dry cleaner is likely to charge more than one located on the street. Your local chemist or tailor may also double as a commissioned agent for dry cleaners.

Why are men's clothes cheaper than women's to dry clean?

Men’s shirts are all quite similar in size and fabric composition and new shirt-pressing equipment has been designed for them. Women’s shirts – often smaller and with more detailing – are not suitable for high-volume shirt presses.

Are dry cleaning chemicals environmentally friendly?

  • When released into the air, perchloroethylene (perc) can contribute to smog when it reacts with other volatile organic compounds (VOC). In Australia, dry cleaners must use an approved transporter to remove perc waste and take it to an Environment Protection Agency-licensed facility.
  • Hydrocarbon solvents are less aggressive than perc, but also contain VOCs that contribute to smog.
  • Liquid silicone – the same base ingredient found in everyday shampoos, soaps and lotions – is more environmentally friendly than perc and other hydrocarbons, and is odourless and non-toxic. GreenEarth, which is a patented silicone-based dry cleaning solution and not a VOC, degrades within days to silica and trace amounts of water and carbon dioxide.