True Quality CleaningStraight talk about caring for fine garments & household textiles from an expert who calls it like it is. In plain English.

Ask Stu: Your questions answered


Ask StuI love wearing black but I recently dropped off some new black cotton slacks and blouses at my regular cleaner and they came back faded. I think they washed them. The cleaner says it's the manufacturer's fault, and that the dyes are bad. They are all well-known brands. What do you think?

Dallas, Texas


Faded black clothingHi, Eileen:

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but ...

At worst, your cotton and linen garments have been "washed." At best, they've been " wet cleaned." But, in all likelihood, they haven't been dry cleaned as you specified or as specified by the care label.

Here's how ordinary cleaners typically handle your cotton and linen garments...

They give your cottons and linens a quick "look over" for oil-based stains, such as body oil, creams and salad dressing. If there are no visible oil-based stains, and they determine that your cottons and linens can be washed or wet cleaned, they're sent directly to the washer (often regardless of whether the care label says "dry clean" or "machine washable"). If there are visible oil-based stains and if it's your lucky day, your cottons and linens are first tossed into a dry cleaning machine to dissolve the oils before being sent to the washer to be washed or wet cleaned.

After machine washing or wet cleaning, your cotton and linen garments are machine dried, machine pressed and bagged.

Now you know why

  • your colors fade
  • your garments feel stiff
  • your garments have that fragranced, laundered smell.

So why do ordinary cleaners subject your cotton and linen garments to this treatment?

Corbis flaskPrimarily because of the fear of odors and dinginess resulting from the use of perchloroethylene and synthetic petroleum solvents -- the dry cleaning solvents used by 97% of all cleaners.

You see, cottons and linens are natural fibers. And, just like sponges, natural fibers absorb even the slightest odors and dinginess from dry cleaning solvent or fluid. So even if the cleaner uses (or claims to use) "pure solvent" or "pure fluid", your cotton and linen garments might still smell and look dingy when they come out of the dry cleaning machine.

By contrast, what should a cleaner do to your "machine washable" cotton and linen garments?

Use wet cleaning and other restoration techniques to remove water-based stains (instead of machine washing). Hang or flat dry the garments (instead of machine drying). And, finally, dry clean the garments to remove oil-based stains, enhance the intensity of the color and restore the "soft as butter" texture to the garment.

And ANY dry cleaner should be able to do all this while simultaneously producing an odor-free and intensely bright garment.

Which, of course, they can't. Which is why ordinary cleaners "wash" or "wet clean" as many of your cotton and linen garments as possible. Even if you dislike faded, stiff, fragranced garments. Even if you specified dry clean only. Even if the care label says "dry clean only".

There's an interesting contradiction here: Many ordinary cleaners will tell you that they use "pure" dry cleaning solvent or fluid. This way they can claim their dry cleaned garments are always "odor-free" and "bright". Yet they won't risk dry cleaning your cotton and linen garments because they're afraid they'll smell and look dingy. How can the dry cleaning solvent or fluid be "pure" if their dry cleaning produces cotton and linen garments that are smelly and dingy?

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