Proper load classification

When it comes to high quality dry cleaning, it is crucial that the types of garments being cleaned are separated properly.  What I am talking about is load classification.  Along with having the proper solvent levels and temperatures, proper detergent usagegood filtrationproper wash timeload factorfabric finish and effective stain removal, you will need to separate garments into specific classifications.  These classifications will need to be processed in the corresponding drycleaning machine program. Using the proper garment classification will help to prevent those garments from having several types of problems such as dye transfer and redeposition, which lead to inconveniences and production slow-downs caused by excessive linting, streaks and swales, and even possible damage claims from the customer. 

There are many different types of fabrics, dyes and fibers.  The different components used in garment construction will not always withstand the same drycleaning process.  For example, some dyes will bleed, some lace and beads will not withstand the process that will give the maximum soil removal, unlike the hard wools and some blended fabrics which will allow for longer wash times and velvet types of fabric have an entirely different set of challenges.   Often you will find multiple types of components in a garment that will require you to classify the garment based on the most fragile component of the garment construction.  When it comes to classification, the consideration of each component used in the garment’s construction, needs to be considered.  Safety must always be the first consideration, while soil removal becomes secondary. 

Separating by fabric weight is important. 

The heavy weight fabrics are much more durable than the lighter weight fabrics and can usually withstand the wash times necessary to adequately remove soils. These heavier fabrics also tend too dry much slower, so when cleaned with the lightweight garments this often leads to streaks and swales. The result of the heavier-weight garments coming into contact with the lightweight garments during the drying process (lightweight fabrics may be almost dry as early as the end of extract) and re-wetting the lightweight fabric. This contact is usually the cause for the problem known as streaks and swales.  These streaks and swales will have to be corrected by re-cleaning of the lightweight garments with similar garments or by themselves in order to correct the problem and can often cause production delays, due to extra time needed for this re-cleaning. 

Separating by fabric color is a must.  

Sorting by color, meaning to keep the light color garments and white garments separate from the dark colored garments will help to avoid discoloration from the bleeding of dark dyes onto the lighter colored garments and greatly reduce the risk of garment claims from this type of redeposition. Quite often, this form of redeposition cannot be corrected. Another consideration is that dark fabrics tend to be dirtier as they are often worn longer and will require a longer wash cycle, a challenge if the garment is constructed with fabric, trim or dyes that can be damaged by longer cycles.

Separating the garments that may have dye migration (bleeding) is crucial.  

Dry cleaners today are cleaning more garments that will have dye fading and bleeding than we have ever experienced in the industry. Drycleaning machine designs can often lack sufficient amounts of carbon filtration, leading to more fugitive dyes being present in the solvent during the cleaning cycle.  These fugitive dyes will redeposit on light color garments if they are improperly classified and cleaned with dark colors. These fugitive dyes can redeposit on dark color as well.  You may find that the lighter color linings and waistbands of dark colored garments can be discolored because of this dye migration. These garments that have excessive dye migration are a major cause of garment damage and because of this, will need to be cleaned as this separate classification.  It is crucial that the drycleaner watch for these type garments, pre-testing the garment to see if they will bleed and then separate those garments that do bleed, so that they can be run in a bleeder type of program.  This program is when garments are cleaned off filter and the solvent used in this cycle is sent directly to the still at the end of this batch cleaning process.   This will help to prevent garment claims, reduce maintenance needed to keep solvent in good condition and extend the life of cartridge filters. 

These classifications mentioned above, are the very basics of garment classification.  This classification system can be greatly expanded on to include classifications based on solvent temperatures, drying temperatures as well as specific classifications for garments with fancy trim, beads, sequins or household items, restoration type work, heavily soiled garments/uniforms and the list can go on.  New drycleaning machines today have many features and will hold multiple programs that can help customize the cleaning cycle for the various classifications of cleaning that the drycleaner may encounter.

Machine programs to be used.

Most new drycleaning machines are now coming pre-programmed with a great selection of programs that will cover most of the basic type of machine programs needed by a dry cleaner when separating garments using basic load classifications. These programs usually allow the cleaner to separate garments by (regular or fragile), along with the choice of tank (dark or light).  There may often be other programs that will allow for bleeder type garments, down garments, very delicate (beads/sequins) and households (drapes and comforters).

What is used most often by the average size drycleaning plant are 5 different load classifications for garment cleaning. 

  • Heavy weight hard wools and blends of a dark color. 
  • Heavy weight hard wools and blends of a light color. 
  • Light weight silks and fragile garments of a dark color. 
  • Light weight silks and those fragile garments of a light color. 
  • Garments susceptible to excessive dye fading. (Bleeder) 

This is the most basic, simplified set of classifications that I would recommend be used. 

The challenges of proper garment classification.  

Classifying garments and cleaning with the appropriate machine program doesn’t come without a challenge.  The volume of dry cleaning that is being processed by the drycleaning plant can often dictate the practicality of using these load classifications.  High production plants will have a much easier time as they will have larger volumes of each classification than the smaller volume drycleaning plants that may only have a few pieces of the various classifications.  Because of this, how you classify garments will really depend on your work-flow and plant procedures, as well as machine size and volumes of clothes processed.  

Ultimately, the classification procedure you use should be one that will give you the greatest degree of garment type classifications while maintaining an efficient production rate.  However, the deciding factor for the garment classification and the cleaning procedure in dry cleaning must be based on those limitations of the most fragile component in the garments construction and the most fragile item in that specific classification of dry cleaning load to be cleaned.  This is a must to avoid garment damage and the subsequent claim.

Michael Miller

Michael Miller

The author is the senior vice president of R.R. Streets & Co. He can be reached at (770) 827-2342 or E-mail:

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *