Why do dry cleaners charge more for silk and linen

In the dry cleaning industry, the practice of charging more for certain fabrics is called “up charging”. When cleaners up charge, they are passing on an increased cost of production to their customers. Some fabrics are very difficult to work with and take significantly more time, labour and skill to process properly. For this reason, most cleaners up charge for clothes made from silk or linen. Both fabrics are made from natural fibres and present unique challenges for the cleaner.

Successful stain removal is a critical step in the production process for cleaners. Many stains are removed by the dry cleaning machine and require no additional resources from the cleaner. A group of stains, called stubborn stains, require the attention of a stain removal specialist. The art of removing stains is called “spotting” and the person doing the stain removal is called the “spotter”. The spotter is typically one of the highest paid employees in a dry cleaning plant. To remove them, stubborn stains often require a combination of stain removing solutions and
a significant amount of mechanical action.

Silk and linen are notoriously prone to stubborn stains. For silk in particular, because of its extremely delicate nature, when attempting to remove the stains, the spotter is limited in the types of stain removing solutions that can be used and the amount of mechanical action that can be applied. The risk of dye loss and fabric damage during stain removal is very high. It routinely takes multiple cycles of spotting, machine cleaning, and re-spotting to safely remove stains from silk and linen. This process requires a high degree of skill to avoid damaging the fabric.

Removing wrinkles is another critical step in the production process for cleaners. The removing of wrinkles is called “finishing”. Most garments require a combination of machine pressing and hand ironing to achieve the desired finish. The more hand ironing required, the more time and labour expense goes into finishing. Finishing silk and linen requires significantly more hand ironing than most fabrics. Linen in particular is very challenging. Some wrinkles in linen become so “set” that they are virtually impossible to safely remove. Linen holds wrinkles so well, that manufacturers sometimes intentionally give a wrinkled finish to their linen fabric. They intend for the garments never to be pressed.