What if you pick up an item from the cleaners and it’s still stained or has a new blotch? Or the fabric in your favorite jacket is so puckered it looks like seersucker?

The fix depends on who is responsible. Drycleaning problems can be pinned on the drycleaner, the clothing manufacturer, or you. If a piece is damaged during cleaning according to the guidelines on its care label, it’s the manufacturer’s fault. If a stain or other damage you’ve caused can’t be reasonably expected to be fixed, then it’s on you, Sloppy Joe. If a garment is damaged because a drycleaner uses a cleaning process not authorized by the care label, or fails to take reasonable care (for instance, rips a shirt in the pressing process), it’s the shop’s fault.

If you believe your drycleaner is responsible for a problem, ask to have the work redone; a reputable outfit will do this for free. If the shop admits an error caused permanent damage, it should give you the price of the garment and waive cleaning charges.

Unfortunately, you can’t count on getting the replacement cost for your favorite dress. According to the “Fair Claims Guide” published by the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute (DLI) and widely used by drycleaners, consumers, and mediators, a drycleaner is obliged to cover the replacement cost of the garment only after adjustment for its condition and based on the unused portion of its life expectancy—for example, two years for a tie or three years for a women’s blouse.

If the drycleaner refuses to take responsibility for a ruined item, ask the shop to send it to DLI’s International Textile Analysis Laboratory to determine who is at fault. If the DLI determines that the garment is defective, or its care label is incorrect, the organization will advise you to take the item and its lab report to the store where you bought the garment and ask for a refund. The store can often, but not always, return the defective or mislabeled item to its manufacturer. If the DLI decides that the drycleaner is at fault, it will notify the drycleaner, which will usually cooperate with a DLI laboratory judgment and compensate customers according to its “Fair Claims Guide.”

Although the DLI process is often helpful, keep in mind that the cleaner won’t always be blamed for substandard work. For example, if your garment comes back with a stain that the shop caused to be permanently set, the DLI probably won’t know whether the shop could have done better. Furthermore, even if the stain could have been removed by the best procedure, the DLI may not say that your shop was negligent.

If you can’t reach agreement with a shop, complain to a local government consumer agency or the Better Business Bureau. If a shop refuses even to send a garment for analysis by the DLI, these offices will help you submit the garment.

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