Five More Things Your Dry Cleaner Won’t Tell You

We asked dry cleaners to spill all their secrets and tips about the care of your most important garments.

Things Your Dry Cleaner Won’t Tell You

1. We lose stuff … so what?
In 2006, the last year for which complete data is available, the Better Business Bureau received 4,455 complaints against dry cleaners, most concerning lost or damaged items. Only half of those complaints are listed as “settled.” We’re watching you. Occasionally, clothes get picked up by the wrong person, and sometimes dry cleaners get blamed for “missing” garments that were never even dropped off. To protect customers—and themselves—more and more cleaners are installing digital video cameras to record customer drop offs and pickups.

2. Don’t get too excited about so-called ‘organic’ cleaning.
“The cleaning industry has a habit of stretching the ‘green thing,’ and the tags ‘Environmentally Friendly’ and ‘Organic,’ so you have to watch for that,” says Steve Boorstein, a former dry cleaner who dispenses clothing care advice on his website, and in a new DVD, Clothing Care: The Clothing Doctor’s Secrets to Taking Control. Among the most common perc replacements is the petroleum-based solvent DF-2000, made by ExxonMobil. Because it’s hydrocarbon-based, to a chemist—and almost no one else—it’s considered an “organic” compound. The EPA cites risk of neurological damage and skin and eye irritation in workers using it, and since it doesn’t clean as well as perc on its own, dry cleaners often end up adding pretreatment chemicals.

3. Clean your leather before you need it.
Better to bring it in during the spring or summer. Leather cleaning specialists do about half their business in three months in the fall so jobs brought in then will typically not get the same attention, or may take longer to return.

4. Onsite Cleaning
If a dry cleaner claims “all work done onsite,” they’re either lying or incompetent. Only 10-15 percent of dry cleaners have the equipment and expertise necessary to handle everything that comes in for cleaning. Smaller dry cleaners often outsource work on leather and handbags, and sometimes wedding gown and upholstered items, to specialists. Or at least they should, says Chuck Horst, president of Margaret’s Cleaners in La Jolla, California.

“If you only do 50 handbags a year, you will never learn how to do it properly.” He recommends looking for a cleaner that at least does dry cleaning and shirt laundering onsite or at a facility they own, rather than sending it off to a wholesaler. That way, Horst says, “They owns the whole process and can’t lay blame on someone else.”

5. Certifications aren’t everything.
The DLI offers certifications for dry cleaners who pass an official examination, including Certified Professional Dry Cleaner (CPD), Certified Professional Wetcleaner (CPW), and Certified Environmental Dry Cleaner (CED). Those that meet even more stringent requirement may also attain DLI’s “Award of Excellence.” While some kind of certification is better than none, says Boorstein, “it’s not the ultimate arbiter of skill or knowledge.”

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest