The shocking world of ordinary dry cleaning and shirt laundry

There are over 26,000 cleaners in the USA. And the overwhelming majority believe that “cleaning” is a relatively simple operation ...

Ordinary dry cleaning

What's the nature of ordinary dry cleaning?

Take 40 to 50 “dry clean” garments. Sort them into two loads: “lights” and “darks”.

Next, load them into a 60 pound dry cleaning machine with little or no pre-spotting (stain removal prior to dry cleaning). Add detergent (the cheapest one, if you’re lucky), moisture (to “deal” with any water-based stains), fragrance (to disguise the smell of the “foreign substances” in the solvent) and sizing (to stiffen your garments and render them quicker to press).

Next, toss them about in a relatively aggressive, dye-stripping, toxic solvent (perchloroethylene, synthetic petroleum or formaldehyde dibutyl acetal) for 10 minutes or less. Extract at a high RPM and dry at a high temperature for about 30 minutes to further minimize the total wash/extract/dry cycle time.

Then, machine press the garments at a rate of 20 to 40 garments per hour per presser. And, of course, don’t forget to “squirt” them with steam from a hand iron in an (often futile) attempt to conceal any evidence of machine pressing.

Finally, stuff the garments into narrow poly bags and cram them onto a holding rack or conveyor.

What’s more, many of your dry cleanable cottons and linens may, in fact, not have been dry cleaned at all. They’ve probably been washed or wet cleaned, tossed into a dryer, machine pressed, and then “squirted” with steam. Even if the care label says “dry clean only”. Even if you specifically requested “dry clean”.

You have dry cleaning rights. You should exercise those rights.

But wait, there’s more ...

Ordinary shirt laundry

What's the nature of ordinary shirt laundry?

Take 40 to 50 “laundry” shirts. Scrub the collars and cuffs with a hard-bristled brush. Sort them into two loads: “lights” and “darks”. Then subdivide each load into “starch” and “no starch”.

Next, stuff a load into a 60 pound shirt washer, adding hot (even boiling) water, harsh caustic industrial grade detergents and bleaches. Starch with cheap synthetic glue.

Remove the damp shirts from the washer and run them through a series of pressing machines that have all the subtlety and precision of a sledgehammer. At a rate of 40 to 50 shirts (or more) per hour per presser.

Then, using a hand iron, crease the sleeves in an (often futile) attempt to conceal any evidence of machine pressing and impart that distinctive I-pressed-this-shirt--myself-while-watching-TV look.

Finally, cram the shirts into narrow poly bags so that they’re returned looking only slightly better than the day they were dropped off or sent in. Or machine fold them for that desired “slept in” look.

Voila, they’re done! With almost no investment of time or skill.

They’re in by 9:00 and out by 5:00. Picked up on day 1 and delivered on day 3.

You have shirt laundry rights. You should exercise those rights.

Every cleaner is above average

Welcome to the world of “professional cleaning.”

Where every cleaner claims to be either a true quality cleaner or, at the very least, well above average.

Unfortunately, fine garment care – true quality cleaning – requires more than just a knowledge of loading and unloading a dry cleaning machine or a shirt washer. More than just banging those garments out on a press. And more than just an assembly-line cleaning and pressing operation, where every garment is barcoded and treated as interchangeable irrespective of brand and/or original cost.

Based on this definition, we could teach any supermarket stock room employee to be a dry cleaner or presser in 2 weeks (actually, in a few days).

And, if you don’t believe that, consider this quote from a July 21, 2015 article in the American Drycleaner, the dry cleaning industry’s premier trade magazine:

"Inspect for stains before cleaning. It should go without saying that a cleaner's task is to clean items, not just put them through a repetitive process. Even better, have the customer service representative (CSR) ask: "Are there any spots and stains that we need to be aware of?". Then place spots and stains in a unique location for further consideration. But, if your CSR knows more about stain removal than your cleaner, well, you have a problem, and you should switch their jobs."  

A truly mind blowing statement.

With advise such as this, is it any wonder why dry cleaners are so mediocre?

True quality cleaning demands much more

Truth is, true quality cleaning requires:

  • an extensive knowledge of and commitment to the art and science of textiles, garment construction, cleaning and hand ironing,
  • a never-ending commitment to process improvement (no matter how marginal),
  • a stubbornness to reject labor (and hence cost) saving technologies that negatively impacts true quality,
  • an unyielding commitment to invest in true quality rather than extract every last penny out of the cleaning, hand ironing, assembly and packaging process,
  • a sense of pride in one’s work,
  • a passion for perfection (to the extent that perfection is achievable),
  • the time necessary to “do the job right,” and, most importantly,
  • a personal philosophy that says that true quality has inherent meaning and value – for the organization, for the employees and for the clients.