Sweaters Bring Extra Cash, but Be Cautious

Martin L. Young Jr. |

CONCORD, N.C. — Fall weather means cooler temperatures, and cooler temperatures mean adding outerwear to the mix of incoming garments to be cleaned. That means sweaters, and sweaters mean additional revenue. Sweaters also mean caution for the cleaner/spotter.

Sweaters come to the counter in many configurations. The fiber can range from cotton to cashmere, the weight can range from ultra-light to bulky, and the choices in trim can range from sophisticated to downright tacky. It is the cleaner’s responsibility to: “First, do no harm.”

Sweaters bring with them a variety of considerations while in the care and control of the cleaner. The most obvious is the lack of dimensional stability. It should be policy to turn sweaters inside-out and then clean and tumble them in a net bag; this is true for both dry cleaning and wet cleaning. Let me make my case before you dismiss this practice as too time-consuming.

The knit construction can lead to stretching, shrinkage, pulls, picks and pills. This is before we take into consideration the fabric, the weight, or the trim. Any stress placed on the garment during cleaning and drying can “knock it out of shape,” by stretching the unstable loop construction.

While shrinking protein fabric (felting) is a result of poor training, a more common problem is relaxation shrinkage. This is where the garment’s original shape has been altered to “fit” the customer’s unique body contours while being worn, but returns to original dimensions when agitated during cleaning and tumbling. This is a characteristic that the cleaner must be aware of, even if it is not one the cleaner can control.

During cleaning and tumbling, the hook at the top of a zipper can cause a great deal of damage to an unprotected knit; that is an avoidable claim. Any low-twist yarn is subject to pilling when rubbed against itself or other garments. Reducing mechanical action can greatly reduce this pilling. You can reduce mechanical action on a sweater by turning the garment inside-out and placing it in a net bag for cleaning and tumbling.

Always take into consideration the basic fabric in the sweater you are cleaning. When the sweater is a blend of fibers, treat the most fragile fiber in the sweater. When the sweater is 20% silk, for example, it must be treated as if it is 100% silk.

A silk sweater could be damaged by untreated water or the alkali in a detergent or protein spotter. A wool sweater could be damaged by these same conditions, but is more commonly damaged by shrinkage (felting) when exposed to water, alkaline detergent, and drying with heat and mechanical action. Sweaters constructed of synthetic fibers are extremely sensitive to heat, to the point that I would recommend folding an acrylic sweater over a hanger after drying, not sending it to the finishing department.

Cotton sweaters are the most durable. There is a high probability that a cotton sweater will do well in wet cleaning, with the color/dye being the major consideration. Most cotton sweaters can be successfully soaked in a solution of 1 ounce of NSD per gallon of water, if you have not joined the growing number of cleaners that are wet cleaning on a regular basis.

I remember a customer that initially refused a garment as not her sweater. The CSR listed the sweater as tan when it was marked in at the counter, but the garment was bright yellow after having been soaked in wetcleaning detergent and rinsed. The customer had worn the sweater for so long, without having it cleaned (because of its trim), that she had forgotten its original color.

When spotting a sweater, you must remember that you are working on a construction that has extremely limited dimensional stability. I have made it a habit to “pin down” an area of the knit garment between my thumb and forefinger and working only on the area between my fingers, to protect the area from spreading when using steam and air under pressure.

When you are spotting on the wet side, you must also increase the minimum distance of the spotting gun from the surface of the garment from 4 inches to 6 inches. To further protect the garment during wet-side spotting, you should invest in a “padded” spotting brush (excellent for silk and satin) or at least wrap your current brush in some type of cloth before tamping the sweater.

Always test chemical tools on an unexposed seam before applying them to the garment for effect. It is common for the care label to identify a percentage of fibers in a sweater as “Other Fibers.” There are times when you cannot be sure of the exact fiber content in the garment or how those unidentified “Other Fibers” will react to your chemical tools.

I have this “thing” about acrylic sweaters. Experience has convinced me that less is, in fact, more. Acrylic is a monofilament thermo polymer, which means that it is a single thread of synthetic fiber and sensitive to heat. Be extremely careful with an acrylic sweater, as it is dimensionally unstable by construction and highly sensitive to distortion from any form of heat. A spotting gun or buck steam can cause irreversible damage, and there is no remedy. Cold-water wet cleaning is preferable if the care label, dye and trim will allow this procedure.

Sweaters will fill in many of the gaps in cash flow that are present during the warm months, so do them right and keep them coming.

About the author

Martin L. Young Jr.

Industry Consultant and Trainer

Martin L. Young Jr. has been an industry consultant and trainer for 20 years, and a member of various stakeholder groups on environmental issues. He is a past president of the North Carolina Association of Launderers & Cleaners (NCALC). He grew up in his parents’ plant in Concord, N.C., Young Cleaners, which he operates to this day. Contact him by phone at 704-786-3011, or via e-mail at mayoung@vnet.net.


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