The cleaners ate my pants, so now what?!?

Posted by: John Rothrock
Posted: Feb 24, 2015

Who hasn’t heard or said the phrase, “I got taken to the cleaners”?  When something goes wrong, our industry is notorious for having poor communication; leaving customers feeling duped. 

To be honest, resolving customer disputes can be very tricky.  That’s why it’s important to know your dry cleaner’s claims policy.  Will they redo a garment at no cost?   If a garment is lost, will they take responsibility?  If an item is damaged, how do they determine who is at fault, the garment’s value and how much they will pay?

Problems can arise in many different ways and can be caused by the dry cleaner, manufacturer or even the customer.  There are so many variables involved that it can seem overwhelming to even the most experienced operator; not to mention the customer.  It doesn’t matter what the problem is or who caused it, customers just want their issue resolved.  Exceptional dry cleaners know this and will work quickly to make things right. 

When handling a customer service issue, most dry cleaners will start by collecting information to begin their investigation.  Some or all of this information may be asked, depending on the issue at hand:

  1. Gather information about the problem from the customer.
  2. Item description (Brand, Size, Fabric Type and Color/Pattern)
  3. Drop Off Date
  4. Purchase Date
  5. Place of Purchase
  6. Replacement or Purchase Price

Next, the dry cleaner will need some time to either find a misplaced garment or to correct any mistakes.  Expect 1-4 days if a garment is being reprocessed or fixed by a seamstress.  If the item has been misplaced, it was most likely given to the wrong customer because of human error.  Cleaners will ask for up to 2 weeks to locate the item.  If this is the problem, please be patient and give the dry cleaner an opportunity to locate the garment.  In most cases, items are quickly returned to the store and reputable dry cleaners will often give you free cleaning or a store credit for this inconvenience. 

In the event the garment has been lost or damaged beyond repair, the next step is to determine who is at fault:

  • Manufacturer - Defect/Care Label Problem
  • Dry Cleaner - Human Error/Improper Processing/Lost
  • Customer Issue – Item’s Age/Condition/Environmental Factors

An experienced dry cleaner will look for the cause of the problem. These are some of the questions he or she must answer:  

  • Was the item properly manufactured?
  • Does it have incorrect care label instructions?
  • Was the item cleaned properly?
  • Was the spotter overly aggressive in their attempt to remove a stain?
  • Was the garment damaged by environmental factors like insects, smoke or other chemicals?
  • How old or serviceable is the garment?

Professional Dry Cleaners read monthly reports called Textile Analysis Bulletin Service (T.A.B.S.) which are published by The Dry Cleaning and Laundry Institute.  These reports describe the most common garment problems.  They also detail who is at fault, how to properly handle the garment and if the item can be restored.  Most dry cleaners will reference T.A.B.S when working through a customer dispute. (Example T.A.B.S: #299, #340, #356, #427, and #430).

Manufacturer’s Fault
The Federal Trade Commission requires all garments sold in the U.S. to have a cleaning care label attached.  If the item is cleaned according to the care label and subsequently damaged, then the FTC mandates that the manufacturer assume responsibility.  The customer should return the item to the place of purchase for a full refund. 

Customer’s Fault
If the damage was caused by the customer, then neither the dry cleaner or the manufacturer is at fault, and thus not responsible to pay a claim.  However, as a measure of good will, some dry cleaners will still offer some type of compensation in an effort to keep a customer’s future business. 

Dry Cleaner’s Fault
If the dry cleaner is at fault for damaging or losing an item, then the customer should be compensated for the fair market value of that item. 

If the cause of the problem is still in question, garments can be sent to an independent laboratory for testing.  The Dry Cleaning and Laundry Institute offers this service for around $40.  Garment Analysis Reports are then sent to both the dry cleaner and the consumer. 

Garment Valuation
“How much are my pants worth?”

Dry cleaners and customers often disagree on a garment’s valuation.  Customers want to be “made whole” and dry cleaners want to limit their liability.  This helps the dry cleaners to keep costs low and provide their service at a reasonable price. 

The dry cleaning industry as a whole uses “The Fair Claims Adjustment Guide” to establish a garments’ value.  In short, “The Guide” is a simple formula that calculates a garments depreciated value.  This is based off of the garment’s age, condition, replacement price and expected useful life.  This guide is used by several industries and is the independent standard used by courts all over the world for settling textile disputes.  The guide can even be used to calculate a tax deduction when donating items to charity.  (I will discuss the Fair Claims Guide and how Yale Cleaners uses it in a future blog post.)

Once the garment’s value is established, the dry cleaner and customer should work together on a final settlement.  Every dry cleaner has a different policy on how much they are willing to pay for a damaged or lost item. 

For example, most dry cleaners in our area charge around $6.00 to dry clean a pair of pants.  Suppose a pair of XYZ brand pants costs around $800.00 to purchase.  If something does go wrong, $800 is a huge risk the dry cleaner is assuming for a small cleaning fee of $6.00.  For this reason, a lot of dry cleaners post notices limiting their liability.  This is usually 8 to 10 times the dry cleaning price.  Yale Cleaners does not believe this practice is honest and would never impose it on our customers. 

Know your rights, keep your expectations reasonable and remember, both parties must work together to resolve any dispute.  It’s important you select a dry cleaner with a fair claims policy and a reputation of great customer service.  Otherwise, you just might leave there saying; “the cleaners ate my pants…so now what!?!”

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