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#341 Consumer Rights: Dry cleaning

mp3 #341 Dry Cleaning - Your Rights as a Customer (mp3 file)

Dry cleaning is a process which cleans your clothes by using a petroleum or synthetic dry cleaning solvent but no water. Generally, you use dry cleaning if your garment's care label specifically says to dry clean. However, unless the care label specifically says not to dry clean, any washable article can be dry cleaned.

Few people know what happens once their clothes pass beyond the counter at the cleaners. First, the clothes are marked with identification tags and sorted according to their characteristics. Items requiring special handling are separated from those cleaned by the regular process. Some dry cleaners also remove accessories which may get damaged in the cleaning process, and sew them back later, but they usually charge extra for this service. If your dry cleaner doesn't take this precaution, you may want to remove the accessories yourself.

After the clothes have been sorted, they are agitated in a dry cleaning washer, with dry cleaning solvent and special detergent or soaps. This process removes loose, oily, or greasy soil, but doesn't remove all stains. The clothes are then sent to the spotter to remove stains or spots. It will help the spotter if you can tell the dry cleaner what kind of stain is on your garment.

Sometimes, even though a garment has been dry cleaned and spotted, it may not be in a wearable condition. The dry cleaner may then use the wet-cleaning method which uses water and water soluble detergents. However, the dry cleaner will not use this method without your permission, because even if he takes precautions, some garments will shrink or discolor.

After a garment goes through each step in the process, it is dried. When it is finally free from spots and stains, it is sent to the finishing department where, if necessary, it is steamed and pressed to make it as "like new" as possible.

To find a good dry cleaner:

1. Ask friends and relatives what their garments looked like after they took them to the dry cleaner. A garment that has undergone a quality job of dry cleaning will be clean, and free of solvent odors, wrinkles, pocket and seam impressions, and shine. It also will have, if required, firm and even creases, ironed linings and be finished to retain its natural characteristics.

2. The dry cleaner must be registered with the California Bureau Of Home Furnishings or have an unexpired license issued by the former State Board Of Dry Cleaning And Fabric Care.

3. The dry cleaner, as part of his registration, shall maintain a $5,000 surety bond in favor of the People Of California for payment of liability of the dry cleaner for fraud and claims for damaged articles of clothing. The limit of liability is $250 per person and is recoverable out of the bond only after a final decision of a court.

Remember, that the dry cleaner is not responsible for damages due to the garment's faulty construction. In these cases, you have to return the garment to the store or manufacturer and try to get a refund or replacement. If you think that damages to a garment are caused by the dry cleaner, try to resolve the problem with your dry cleaner.

However, if you are unable to settle with either the dry cleaner, or the retailer or manufacturer, you may take your complaint to small claims court to try to recover your losses. According to the State Of California Fair Claims Guide For Determining Liability And The Appropriate Remedy In Textile Damage Claims, which the small claims court judge may use, the dry cleaner is responsible if your garment is lost or damaged through the cleaner's carelessness. But the cleaner is not liable for damages if it can be shown that the instructions on the care label were followed by the cleaner, or that the garment was cleaned in a manner consistent with those instructions.

Although it may sound easy for you to recover for damages or loss to your clothes, remember that this is only a guideline that judges may use. In reality, it is often difficult to prove that the dry cleaner is at fault.

In receiving compensation for damages, you may recover the actual economic value of your garment. If the dry cleaner pays you for the value of the article before the damage, he can keep the article. If you keep your garment, the court decides how much you should receive by deducting the damaged garment's value from its earlier value. If the dry cleaner is found responsible for losing or completely destroying your garment, you should recover its total value before it was lost or destroyed.

The dry cleaner is liable only for those articles that you give him if he receives one piece of a two piece matching outfit, he is responsible for damaging just that one piece. If you brought in the whole outfit, he is liable for 100% of the depreciated cost if a coat" jacket, trousers or skirt is damaged or lost, and a smaller percentage if a vest, or matching coat and dress outfit is damaged or lost. Coordinated separates are treated as individual articles.

If an accessory has been lost or damaged on an otherwise undamaged article, the dry cleaner may have to replace the part with a reasonably satisfactory substitute. However, if replacement isn't possible, the entire article should be considered damaged.

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