Quick Fixes to Common Drycleaning Problems (Part 1)



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Jean Teller |

Expert advice on how to handle wrinkling, broken buttons, shrunken wools and more

NEW ORLEANS — Two experts from the Drycleaning and Laundry Institute (DLI) recently offered a number of tips to solve common problems faced by dry cleaners everywhere.

Brian Johnson, director of education and analysis, with the help of Jim Kirby, DLI’s chief analyst, presented slides showing common issues, such as wrinkled collar points, steam wrinkles, collar fabric showing on a jacket, broken buttons and other trim problems, and shrunken wools.

“Most of these are relatively inexpensive or even free ways of correcting problems,” Johnson told a Clean Show audience of textile care professionals while addressing the causes of these problems and more.


Wrinkles or improper finishing were the first problems addressed. Regarding wrinkles in collar tips, Johnson says the cause is an interfacing that has shrunk, which leaves excess fabric without interfacing. Since most ironers go from one end of a collar to the other, the movement pushes the extra fabric to one end, leaving a wrinkle.

The solution is to iron from each end of the collar toward the center, which leaves the excess fabric at the back.

Steam wrinkles, particularly in thin, lightweight fabrics, can be a major source of frustration. Johnson says the cause is usually the use of bottom steam on the garment; he suggests using only top steam on lightweight garments.

If the felt fabric is showing at the back of a suit coat, the probable cause is improper finishing. If the collar is placed flat on the press, the felt will be revealed since suit coat collars are rounded. When the collar is pressed flat, the curve vanishes and the collar won’t lay flat, raising up to expose the felt. Johnson offers the solution: Fold the collar down the way it should go and turn it face up, put it at the small end of the press, and a couple blasts of steam should do the trick. You could also lay the collar face down as well.

A similar problem arises with shirt collars: the collar doesn’t fold on the shirt seam and it rides up. Again, the usual cause is improper finishing. If the collar is curved up, like a smiley face, and then pressed, it will not lay evenly. Curve it down, with a 1/4-inch downward arch, and then press. It’s a similar principle as the suit jackets; it has to curve downward to fold and wrap around the person’s neck.


When buttons break, sequins or beads are lost, or other trim is damaged or goes missing, there might not be an obvious cause, Johnson says. The problem usually occurs when such a garment is cleaned by itself. “Cleaning delicate items by themselves is the worst thing,” he says. “The button that breaks is the one you can’t replace.”

The garment, if cleaned alone, smacks against the machine as it dries, and that impact causes the buttons to break or sequins to fall off. His solution? Put in a few other garments with the delicate item, and shorten the drying cycle. Don’t use a full load, just about half of the machine’s rating is his recommendation. The garment will tumble more softly and the buttons won’t break.

An audience member asked about triple-stack, mother-of-pearl buttons. Johnson and Kirby both say the only solution to prevent breakage is to remove the buttons before cleaning. Covering buttons with foil might help when ironing, as will plastic cups covering the button, but it will not stop the impact during cleaning or drying cycles.


If wool garments are shrinking during the drycleaning process, Johnson says, the problem is probably excess amounts of water in the system. If the cleaning cycle is too long, there is a greater chance of more water being absorbed by a garment. When placed in the dryer, the tumbling action combined with the heat and water makes for the perfect environment for shrinkage.

The solution is to use shorter cycles, no longer than 5 minutes in a perc system, Johnson says, as well as checking the machines for excess moisture.

Both Johnson and Kirby emphasize that free moisture can and will cause many problems in the machines.


If a stain cannot be removed, it could be because the dry cleaner is not following proper technique or that the staff member is just working too fast. Some stains may take more work and longer processing times, so slow the process to help break down the stain, and slow down when pre-spotting. Johnson cautions that no one can remove 100% of stains.

When a drycleaning machine is not taking out the stain, check the cleaning cycle time – it may be too short. “It takes time to remove soil in a drycleaning process,” Johnson says. “Using a 15-minute cycle in perc machines, or a 20-minute cycle for hydrocarbon machines, is necessary. Those times were not just made up.” Check the cycle time for each particular solvent.

Remember that detergent is necessary for removing stains. “Check the cycle times, load size, the rate the pump is moving solvent through the system,” Johnson says. Use a detergent and use the proper amount. It won’t take out certain stains, such as coffee or red wine, but the process will remove a lot of the sugar in the stain so when it goes to the spotting board, the stain will come out more easily.

Concerning underarm stains, Johnson and Kirby indicate that the problem is most likely linked to use of antiperspirants. A person’s body chemistry will work with the chemicals in antiperspirants (which are different than those in deodorants) and cause degradation of fabrics. There isn’t a solution for this problem, though an audience member says a new product from Shout seems to work well on such stains.

Suntan lotion was another problem area for audience members. If a garment is washed, the fabric turns yellow from the lotion, and nothing can remove it. Kirby says such stains can be difficult to remove, and it will be impossible if the garment hits hot water first.

“If you suspect such a product is behind the stain, dry clean it first to remove the oils,” Kirby says, “then run it through a cold-water rinse, with no chemicals, at least once or twice to flush out the oils. That flushing will give you a better chance of getting out the stain before it sets.”

He says once the lotion hits the alkaline chemistry of detergent or bleach, or it hits hot water, it will be almost impossible to remove, and it will just keep getting worse with every cleaning.

If your facility offers only wet cleaning, give it a couple of cold-water rinses before putting any chemical on the garment.

When wetcleaning carbon-based stains, the only way to work with them is to flush using mechanical action and then use a lubricant, Kirby says. It may take a soap paste and a lot of scrubbing, in addition to the mechanical action, to lift the stain from the fibers. Then flush it, and you will be partially successful in removing inert soils.

Check back Wednesday for the conclusion!

About the author

Jean Teller

Contributing Editor, American Trade Magazines

Jean Teller is contributing editor at American Trade Magazines. She can be contacted at [email protected].


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