Why your dry cleaned cottons and linens feel stiff and crusty

New clients often ask us why their cotton and linen garments feel stiff and crusty when they’re returned by a dry cleaner.

Here’s why ...

Your cottons and linens feel stiff and crusty for 2 reasons:

  • because cleaners love to add sizing to their dry cleaning solvent or fluid, or
  • because your cottons and linens have been “washed” or “wet cleaned”.

Dry cleaners love sizing

The first reason your cottons and linens feel stiff is that ordinary cleaners love sizing.

Sizing is to dry cleaning what starch is to shirt laundry.

So they add or inject sizing into their dry cleaning machines during the dry cleaning “wash” cycle. In much the same way that you add detergent or softener to your home wash.

And why do they add sizing? According to one Arizona cleaner’s literature, to “keep each garment feeling new and crisp” and to “retain your garment’s original shape, weight and feel” (and, no, we didn't make that up!).

That’s what ordinary cleaners tell you.

Truth is, there’s only reason they add sizing: because it’s quicker and easier for their employees to bang out your garments on a press.

What gets sized? Everything in the load. Cottons. Linens. Silks. Rayons. Wools such as alpaca, angora, camelhair, cashmere, escorial, marino, mohair and vicuna. Super 100s, 120s, 150s and 160s.

Sizing all garments in a load of dry cleaning is equivalent to drenching your food in a fine restaurant with ketchup.

Dry cleaners love washing or wet cleaning

The second reason your cottons and linens feel stiff and crusty is that they were either “washed” or “wet cleaned”.

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 what ordinary cleaners typically do to your cotton and linen garments...

They give your cottons and linens a quick “look over” for oil-based stains, such as food oils, food fats, body oil, creams and lotions.

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 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 tossed into a dryer, machine pressed and bagged.

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

Primarily because of the fear of odors and dinginess resulting from the use of perchloroethylene, synthetic petroleum and formaldehyde dibutyl acetal solvents - the dry cleaning solvents used by 95% of all cleaners.

You see, cottons and linens are natural fibers. And, just like sponges, natural fibers absorb even the slightest odors and emulsified fats and oils 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 will still smell and look dingy when they come out of the dry cleaning machine.

There’s an interesting contradiction here: Many ordinary cleaners will claim 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?

What should a dry cleaner do?

So what should a cleaner do to your “machine washable” cotton and linen garments? They should:

  • Use wet cleaning and other restoration techniques to remove water-based stains (instead of machine washing).
  • Hang or flat dry the garments (instead of tossing them into a dryer).
  • 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 what should they be doing with your “dry clean only” cotton and linen garments? They should:

  • Pre-spot all garments to remove water-based stains.
  • Hang dry the garments.
  • Dry clean all garments to remove oil-based stains, enhance the intensity of the color and restore the “soft as butter” texture to the garment.

And any ordinary 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”.

A true quality cleaner will take a completely different approach to ensure that your fine cottons and linens are not returned stiff and crusty:

  • Sizing will never be applied to an entire load of dry cleaning. Sizing will only be applied to cottons and linens only – by a skilled finisher – during the finishing stage only. And only according to your stated personal preference.
  • Your cottons and linens will be dry cleaned even if they were soaked and/or wet cleaned during a prior stage of the cleaning process.