From the gaping hole in your favourite 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 discolourations 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.
Still can't reach an agreement? Get an expert opinion. 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.
Choose a cleaner carefully. You wouldn't leave your children with a stranger, so don't leave your garments without doing some research. Ask around for recommendations to find a reliable dry cleaner who does quality work. Give the details when you drop off clothes. Make sure to point out particular concerns, like loose buttons, delicate fabric, or stains. Always save the ticket or claim stub. Besides reminding you to pick up your garments, it helps in case of a dispute. If you aren't offered one, ask for it.
Don't expect to get reimbursed full price for an item that is irreparably damaged or lost. The Better Business Bureau says you are only entitled to recover the value of the garment's remaining life expectancy, and according to the DLI's Fair Claims Guide, a shirt you bought last year would only be worth 40 per cent of the replacement cost.