How to Handle Disputes With Dry Cleaners

An employee and customer discussing a garment at the dry cleaners.
An employee and customer discussing a garment at the dry cleaners. (Image: Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Blend Images/Getty Images)

From the gaping hole in your favorite little black dress to a scorch mark on that new white button-down--when your clothes are ruined at the dry cleaners, it’s hard to reach a resolution without feeling frustrated. Whether the damage is the result of cleaner error or a manufacturing defect, if you know your options, you can handle the situation without getting too steamed.

Contact the cleaner right away. Ask to speak to the manager or owner and calmly bring the problem to their attention. Don’t waste time--you have the best chance of repairing stains and discolorations before they have set in.

Determine the cause of the damage. The FTC’s (Federal Trade Commission) Care Label Rule says that all apparel must have permanent tags with clear care instructions. If the cleaner followed these instructions to the letter, the manufacturer is responsible for the damage and may face stiff penalties. Use the Registration Number (RN) on the tag to look up the manufacturer on the FTC website, and send the garment, along with an explanation for the return, via registered mail.

Give the cleaner a chance to suggest an acceptable solution. Besides offering reimbursement, they can directly contact the manufacturer and order an identical replacement, or return the garment to the store for you, free of charge.

Reach out to experts for their opinions if you can't reach an agreement with the cleaner. If the cleaner is a member of the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute (DLI), you can send the garment to the International Textile Analysis Laboratory to determine the cause of the damage.

File a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, or bring a civil suit to small claims court. Most cleaners have a standard disclaimer, however, that limits their liability, so unless you can prove gross negligence, this should probably be a last resort.

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