- This guidance is for England, Scotland & Wales
Most consumers will use the services of a dry cleaner at some point. Some of today's fabrics require specialist cleaning as they are not suitable for even gentle hand washing. There will always be that problem stain, which requires the attention of an expert.
When you take an item of clothing to be dry cleaned you are making a legally binding contract with the cleaner, which is covered by the Consumer Rights Act 2015. This law gives you rights and remedies against the cleaner if the dry-cleaning service you receive is below the standard you are entitled to expect.
What is dry cleaning?
Dry cleaning is a process that uses liquid chemical solvents to clean fabrics. The most commonly used liquid solvent consists mainly of percholoroethylene, which is used with a little or even no water, hence the description 'dry cleaning'. Stains or marks on the fabric are generally 'spot treated' before the item is cleaned in large dry-cleaning machines, where the solvents dissolve the dirt at low temperatures. The item will then be dried and pressed into shape. The solvents are recycled by being distilled and filtered.
Can the item of clothing be dry cleaned?
Textile manufacturers are legally required to attach fibre content labels to their products but they are not legally required to provide fabric care labels or information. However, manufacturers usually provide care labels to inform consumers about the best cleaning process to follow to maintain the shape and appearance of the clothing. Many manufacturers will follow the European care labelling standard BS EN ISO 3758: Textiles. Care labelling code using symbols. Most items of clothing, if they can only be dry cleaned, will indicate 'dry-clean only' on the label.
Most care labels will provide additional information for the buyer and the cleaner to indicate which dry-cleaning process is appropriate to use.
This circle symbol means the item of clothing is suitable for dry cleaning. If there is a letter inside the symbol, it is to instruct the cleaner as to which solvents to use. For example, a 'P' would indicate professional dry cleaning in percholoroethylene.
The crossed-through symbol means that the item of clothing must not be dry cleaned.
Find out more about clothing care labels on the Textile Services Association's (TSA) Dry Cleaning Advice website.
Choosing a cleaner
Check to see if the cleaner is a member of the TSA. Members are required to abide by a code of practice, which sets out, amongst other things, quality and service standards for handing consumers' items, the requirement to display a price list, to have the items cleaned in the timescale given to the consumer, to deal with complaints and to pay compensation when at fault. In addition, the TSA offers a customer advisory service to deal with disputes that arise between consumers and its members. Use the online form on the TSA's Dry Cleaning Advice website to get advice about your issue.
What should I tell the cleaner?
Give the cleaner as much information as you can about the item of clothing, including what caused a particular stain or mark. Tell the cleaner when and how the problem occurred and the action you have taken to remove any stains yourself. The cleaner should then check the item of clothing and the care label (if there is one). Where there is any doubt as to the suitability for dry cleaning, risk of damage or poor results, you should agree any action with the cleaner and ask for it to be written on your cleaning ticket. You may be asked to sign a risk acceptance form for certain types of fabrics or items of clothing but make sure you understand what you are agreeing to before you go ahead.
If there are any special arrangements - for example, if you need the item of clothing to be cleaned and returned by a particular date - make sure this is noted on your cleaning ticket. It may be difficult to prove a verbal agreement with the cleaner in the event of a dispute.
What if things go wrong?
When you take an item of clothing to be dry cleaned you are making a legally binding contract with the cleaner, which is covered by the Consumer Rights Act 2015. This law sets out what you are entitled to expect from every contract that involves the supply of a service, such as dry cleaning.
The key rights are:
- the service must be carried out with reasonable care and skill. A cleaner must carry out the dry-cleaning service to the same or similar standard to that which is considered acceptable within the dry-cleaning industry
- information about a trader or service is legally binding. Anything said or written down by a cleaner (or someone acting on their behalf) about themselves or the dry-cleaning service forms part of the contract if you take the information into consideration before you agree the contract or if you make a decision about the service after the contract is made
- reasonable price to be paid for a service. You are only required to pay a 'reasonable' price for the dry-cleaning service that a cleaner provides unless the price (or the way in which the price is worked out) is fixed as part of the contract. The cost is usually fixed in advance with dry cleaning
- the service must be carried out within a reasonable time. Sometimes the contract will fix the time that a dry-cleaning service must be completed within. If the time has not been fixed then the service must be completed 'within a reasonable time'
The key remedies are:
- right to repeat performance. If you are dissatisfied with the way your item of clothing has been cleaned because the service has not been carried out with reasonable care and skill or the cleaner failed to provide the service in line with information they gave you beforehand, then they must perform the service again - for example, re-clean the item. This should be carried out within a reasonable time, without significant inconvenience and at no cost to you.
- right to a price reduction. If a repeat performance of the dry-cleaning service fails to resolve the problem (perhaps it is impossible or it cannot be carried out within a reasonable time or without causing you significant inconvenience) then you are entitled to a price reduction, which can be as much as a full refund
If the cleaner has damaged your item of clothing and it can be repaired they should arrange the repair or pay for the cost of repair elsewhere. If your item of clothing has been damaged and cannot be repaired you may be entitled to claim the current value of the item of clothing from the cleaner. Generally, you are not entitled to claim the full replacement value of the item as it is unlikely to have been brand new at the time of cleaning; you would be claiming a refund, less any reasonable usage you have had from the item.
The 'Supply of services: your consumer rights' guide gives more information. The guide 'Supply of services: what to do if things go wrong' gives you tips to follow when you want to complain to a cleaner when the dry-cleaning service you receive is below standard.
If you enter into a contract because a cleaner misled you or because they used an aggressive commercial practice, the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 give you rights to redress: the right to unwind the contract, the right to a discount and the right to damages. The 'Misleading & aggressive practices: your right to redress' guide gives more information.
The cleaner says it's the manufacturer's fault
A cleaner may claim that the manufacturer provided incorrect information on the item's label as a reason why the item was not cleaned properly. In this event, you should ask them to put their comments in writing then contact the retailer that sold you the item (they would be responsible if the item was not correctly described because it had an incorrect label). The retailer may carry out their own checks with their supplier or the manufacturer. The 'Sale & supply of goods: your consumer rights' guide gives more information on your rights and remedies. The TSA may be able to assist through its customer advisory service and may arrange for an independent test and report, which would be paid for on a 'loser pays' basis.
If you believe a cleaner is attempting to avoid their responsibility to you by making a misleading statement - for example, blaming an incorrect label when the problem was caused by poor dry cleaning - they may be in breach of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. These Regulations prohibit traders from engaging in misleading or aggressive commercial practices that are unfair to consumers. If you have been misled, report your complaint to the Citizens Advice consumer service for referral to trading standards.
What if the cleaner is at fault?
Consider using alternative dispute resolution as a way to resolve your complaint without going to court.
TSA members should pay fair compensation, using the industry's fair compensation guidelines, for loss or damage caused by their failure to take reasonable care.
If a dispute goes to arbitration through TSA, members should abide by the findings of an independent report carried out by a test house and pay compensation accordingly.
If the cleaner is not a member of the TSA, you can consider arranging your own independent expert report from an organisation such as the Dry-cleaning Complaints Arbitration Service that specialises in analysing and reporting on clothing damaged during the dry-cleaning process.
As a last resort, you can take legal action against the cleaner in court. The 'Thinking of suing in court' guide gives further details.
- Key legislation
Last reviewed / updated: March 2018
- Please note
This information is intended for guidance; only the courts can give an authoritative interpretation of the law.
The guide's 'Key legislation' links may only show the original version of the legislation, although some amending legislation is linked to separately where it is directly related to the content of a guide. Information on amendments to UK legislation can be found on each link's 'More Resources' tab; amendments to EU legislation are usually incorporated into the text.
For further information please contact the Citizens Advice consumer service, which provides free, confidential and impartial advice on consumer issues. Visit the Citizens Advice website or call the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 040506.
©2018 itsa Ltd on behalf of the Trading Standards Institute.