A Pressing Problem: Are Dry Cleaners A Waste Of Time & Money?

How often do you take your clothes to the dry-cleaners? Often, sometimes, never? Many consumers, it seems, have decided that the expense can no longer be justified. According to “smallbiztrends.com”, this is partly due to the fact that it’s now more acceptable to be casually dressed in your place of work. However, as the Daily Mail has pointed out, they’ve also discovered during these difficult economic times that they “can save a fortune” by putting many garments with “dry-clean only” labels into their washing-machine and that they will emerge undamaged.

This contrasts with what the Guardian journalist, Rosie Swash, has described as the “gamble” of paying to have the item dry-cleaned, during which “buttons go missing, old stains fail to be removed and new stains appear”. She quoted a friend of hers who considers this entire industry to be “a racket which involves your clothes getting taken behind the curtain, left in a pile for a week and then handed back to you in a plastic wrapper without ever going near an actual cleaning machine”.

Though a survey by the “Which” organization didn’t suggest this is what really happens, it did conclude (reported Sean Poulter in the Daily Mail) that “either staff are not being properly trained or simply don’t care whether they are doing a good job”. The researchers stained identical wool-mix women’s jackets with double cream, red wine & vinaigrette and took them to “several outlets of the three largest national dry-cleaning chains – Johnsons, Morrisons & Timpson – plus a selection of independent dry cleaners”. They rated seventeen of these as “poor or very poor” for stain removal, twelve of them “appear to have ignored the care label and left marks on the jackets caused by too much heat and pressure in ironing”, and out of a total of 48 shops in the study “only four returned stained garments in spotless condition without stretching, shrinking or otherwise damaging them”.

The Daily Mail has queried the wisdom of having your clothes “drenched in perchloroethylene (perc)”, the solvent traditionally used in the dry-cleaning process, then taking them home where they “will slowly contaminate the air in your bedroom”.  In the opinion of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), perc is a toxic chemical which can cause “dizziness, fatigue, headaches and sweating”. France has banned its use in the country’s laundry facilities and this is likely to be implemented in the UK by 2020.

The Daily Mail has consequently advocated “eliminating dry-cleaning almost entirely from your life” by acquiring a steam iron and a good clothes brush”.These, they say, “will help keep your clothes fresh, your bedroom unpolluted and your dry-cleaning bill to the very minimum”.

The dry-cleaning sector, unsurprisingly, takes a rather different view. The UK Fashion & Textile Association (UKft) insists on its website that, although many stains “can be removed quickly with steam, others require a high level of professional skill and expertise from the cleaner”. UKft refutes claims that dry cleaning causes creasing or distortion and emphasizes that “even the most professional cleaner is not able to remove years of ingrained dirt or grime, recover worn or torn areas, prevent holes or correct the effect of poor home stain removal, such as excessive rubbing”.

The market research company, IBISWorld, has acknowledged that the industry has been going through a “challenging period”. This is reflected in the decision by Johnsons (BBC News 6th January) to close 109 of its 307 stores in the UK – but simultaneously announcing “it would be opening 46 more stores in Waitrose supermarkets where it already has 78 shops”.

IBISWorld has estimated that the initial expense of opening a dry-cleaning establishment is between £60,000 – £100,000, mainly for the purchase of the machinery and chemicals. This has to be recouped by the fees for customers, which vary considerably depending on the size of the business. For example: Tower Bridge Dry Cleaners charge £3 for trousers, £5 for a jacket & £7 for a dress. Limehouse Cleaners in the Docklands:£3.80, £6.40 and £7.60; Waitrose Wandsworth: £8.40, £10.30 & £9.20. There’s often an additional cost for “same day service”. The London Dry Cleaning Company’s website offers “an exclusive personal service, reliable pick-up & delivery with an impeccable finish” and describes itself as “one of the best direct dry cleaning companies in the UK”  It doesn’t. however, specify its prices.

Filed under: Healthcare, Society | Posted on October 9th, 2015 by Colin D Gordon

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