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Getting a Fix on Dry-Cleaning Bill

April 22, 1993|GARY LIBMAN

Practical View recently found that the same plain wool winter coat cleaned at two Westside dry cleaners cost $8 at one and $16 at the other. Aren't there any guidelines for pricing and why don't most dry cleaners post prices?

Neither the state of California nor the city of Los Angeles require dry cleaners to post prices.

Larry Maizlish, owner of Orchid Cleaners, Long Beach: "The problem with listing prices is that prices are based on labor. It's not like McDonald's where you see 20 prices and they're all fixed. In the cleaners, a pair of pants could have 20 options. I have an open price book. It weighs almost two pounds.

"The public can always ask about prices. It's good to know what you'll pay to avoid surprises. We give itemized prices on each receipt. When somebody drops something off, they know exactly what they'll pay."

Jackie Smith, president of the Greater Los Angeles Dry Cleaners Assn. in Westminster: "We don't make recommendations to the dealer on prices. That's more or less an individual situation. We couldn't get into a price fixing situation. That wouldn't be legal.

"We have discussed that (posting prices) at meetings. Some cleaners do not want to divulge, mostly because they are afraid of competition. They don't want other cleaners knowing their prices.

"We, as an association, feel that eventually we will have to post our prices in some manner, because I think there are other states where laws have been passed that it's necessary to post prices.

"As a good practice, if a customer asks we would encourage the cleaner to give the information."

What exactly is dry cleaning?

Maizlish: Clothes are loaded into an empty wash drum or cylinder and locked in with a sealed door. Solvent, which in most cases is perchloroethylene, is automatically pumped into the cylinder. With agitation, soil and dirt is flushed out of the clothes and into a filter unit. The clothes are then extracted or spun out similar to a home washer, and dried.

Why do some garments cost more to dry clean than others?

Barry Bunte, executive director of the California Fabricare Institute, Cupertino, a trade group: "What drives up the price is the requirement for hand labor."

Jackie Smith: "Different types of fabric--silks and rayons, for example--are more difficult to work with than, say, wool. We charge more for pleats on a skirt. Our pressers have to press each pleat, so it takes more time.

"Beads are difficult. They melt or lose color. Even though the garment label says dry clean, we have to run tests before we can do it.

"We generally have to run a comforter by itself in the machine, whereas blouses and pants we sort in loads. The cost of comforters will be high because we handle them separately and let them run longer in our machines.

"You have what is called in the industry the dollar cleaners. Any garment for $1.50. Obviously if they clean a garment for $1.50 they can't do quality work and spend time and give the same care as the person charging $3."

Why do cleaners sometimes ruin clothing?

Alice Laban, spokeswoman for International Fabricare Institute laboratory in Maryland, which tests articles of clothing referred by consumer protection agencies: "Often that garment hasn't been adequately tested by the manufacturer. We see about 47,000 garments a year here where things have gone wrong. Sometimes the cleaner messed up . . . (but) about 60% are manufacturer problems. We tell the manufacturer you've got a problem--please correct it. We also alert the Federal Trade Commission to garments we see repeatedly."

Smith: "Some labels which say dry clean only are not accurate. Once in a while you'll think there shouldn't be anything wrong with dry cleaning a garment, but the dye will bleed onto other clothing.

"Most manufacturers are very good about it. They know when mistakes are made and are willing to take the item back."

Will dry cleaning shorten the life of a garment?

Bunte: If you dry clean a garment frequently, it will probably last longer. Take your wool worsted suit, for example. Dirt particles get between the threads. If it's just pressed, you will press the dirt into the fibers. That will damage the fibers over a period of time. So you're better off having it cleaned and pressed at the same time.

What's the best way to deal with spots before you can get the garment to a cleaner?

Barry Gershenson, owner, Sterling Cleaners, West Los Angeles: It depends upon the fabric and the stain. I would recommend calling a cleaner to talk about the problem. Usually people spill something at dinner and panic. That's when they get into trouble. You always want to blot the stain. Never rub. Rubbing sometimes will not only make the stain worse but remove the color from the garment."

Do women pay more than men to have shirts laundered?

Smith: "Under the law, and there have been court cases, it's illegal for us to charge more just because it's a female garment. Our association newsletter makes dealers aware that they can't do that. If there's a higher charge, it has to be because the shirt requires more work.

"Most of our (pressing) machines are designed for men's garments. Because of that, men's shirts require little hand finishing. Women's shirts may have extra ruffles or darts and require more. Generally, women's shirts size 8 and above and men's shirts 14 to 18 1/2 can be machine pressed.

"Overcharging probably goes on more than it should. We're probably looking at 10%-15% of cleaners that would charge a different price."

How should you choose a dry cleaner?

Smith: "Find out if a dry cleaner is a member of our association or some dry cleaners' group. If people belong to these organizations, they know what's going on in the industry."

Laban: "Ask a friend who they use and whether they're satisfied."

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