Invisible issues12 April 2022
Roger Cawood looks at problems that arise when faults are not immediately obvious
When things go wrong in cleaning, as they do, cleaners often have to walk on eggshells to try and recover the situation. Among the most difficult issues to resolve arise from staining the customer was not aware of and that has not left any visible trace, and also very minor damage which has passed unnoticed by both customer and cleaner and has then been accentuated by cleaning.
Some liquids found in the domestic and working environment – good examples being bleach, nail polish remover, paint stripper and drain cleaner – can severely damage textile fibres. Crucially, chemical damage may not be visible until textiles are subjected to the stress and solvent action imposed during cleaning when damaged dye or fibres are flushed away and the full extent of the damage is revealed.
Lemonade, soft drinks and some alcoholic drinks may not leave a noticeable stain but the sugars that they contain can change, particularly during ironing or steam finishing leaving brownish marks most of which we can easily remove. Some, however, are more difficult and rarely, some stains of this nature, mainly due to the fabric type and condition, can be permanent.
The effect on textiles and dyes of the whole gamut of chemicals readily accessible today cannot be predicted but undoubtedly some will cause stains that cannot be removed and/or cause fabric damage.
Contact with a sharp or pointed object can easily result in an individual yarn being severed leaving little or no visible damage. However, in the case of lightweight delicate fabrics the mechanical action imposed during cleaning may result in a very noticeable ‘run’.
Moth damage often goes undetected as the debris can remain in the damaged area leaving little if any visual indication until it is flushed away during cleaning, once again revealing the full extent of the damage. Moth attack is normally confined to animal hair and silk textiles but they will also attack natural fibres such as cotton and linen and have even been known to damage polyester.
No matter how carefully items are checked during reception it is inevitable that from time to time all cleaners will fail to detect chemical or physical damage simply because it was not visible. If the item is then returned to the customer without comment (as some cleaners do) it will either result in the loss of the customer or, depending on their temperament, an acrimonious situation developing at the counter when they return it. Cases such as this can be very difficult to resolve and should always be addressed by the manager or a senior member of staff with good communication skills. There is no simple formula for dealing with these difficult situations but as a start the reason for the damage needs to be explained where possible avoiding technical terminology – which the customer may not understand. Empathise with your customer and try to put yourself in their position and then listen carefully to what they have to say and always keep calm and do not respond in the same way to any provocative statements they may make.
The really difficult situation is when damage to a garment is missed during final inspection and the item returned to the customer without comment. It may then be impossible to convince the customer that you are not responsible. Under these circumstances and to avoid damaging comments on social media the best solution might be to compensate ‘without prejudice’ the customer or refund the cleaning charge and pay for independent garment analysis.