The Dry Cleaning Process
Now, most people think that getting their clothes dry cleaned is a simple, easy, run-of-the-mill chore. It's usually something you do once a week and never really pay attention to. However, for those of us who work in a dry cleaning store and come from a dry cleaning family, the process is much more complicated. For us it is a daily experience that we go through in order to put food on our plates. Far from being simple, the process in an average (I can't speak for the huge operations) dry cleaning store is actually quite complex and is tailored to ensure that your clothes come back cleaner than they came in. The following is a list of steps that most dry cleaning plants carry out to clean a single order of clothes:
- The Write Up: This first step, besides having a name eerily akin to an E2 node, is one of only two in which the customer is involved in. The customer places his/her garments onto the front desk, and the counter person organizes these clothes into groups. For example, in my plant we ship out shirts, therefore shirts need to be separated from other types of clothes. The worker then composes a ticket (also called an order) which is written down or printed up on, you guessed it, a ticket. Prices are usually assessed at this point with the aid of a computer. Finally, the customer leaves with his/her ticket.
- Marking In: Marking in is the riskiest part of the dry cleaning process; most mistakes happen at this step. The order is read off its ticket to assure that it is correct. Pockets are also checked; you never know what people might have left in their pockets. Then, a colored tag is affixed to the ticket. The ticket contains a large number and a small number. The color signifies what day the order is to be ready for. For example, a pink tag means an order is to be ready for Monday in my plant. The big number tells the number of items in an order. In other words, if the customer brought in six items, then the big number would be a six. The little number informs the employees what order number the order holds and is the only way to reassemble the order after it's cleaned.
- Assorting: Assorting is, in this case, the process of separating the clothes marked in into colors, light or dark, and the days that clothes need to be ready by. A plant is therefore able to decide which clothes to clean first and prevent color bleeding.
- Spotting: Spotting, done at a spotting board, is where the most prominent and difficult stains are removed. Using a variety of dangerous chemicals and soaps, the spotter, usually the plant-owner, aggressively attacks the stains that won't come out in normal washing.
- Dry Cleaning: This, the climax of the whole process, is the point at which garments are actually cleaned. Clothes are placed in a huge machine known as a dry cleaning machine which uses perchlorethylene, though carbon dioxide and nitrogen are growing in popularity, to remove stains from the clients' fabric.
- Pressing: The clothes, though clean, are a horrible mess of rumpled, electrically charged fabric after their run through the cleaning machine. To make them look presentable, the clothes are now pressed. Pressing, the art form of dry cleaning (you can't really learn it, it's a natural talent) is when clothes are, you guessed it, pressed in a steam-powered machine. Steam is applied to the garments as they are being pressed to make them flatten out more easily and to remove wrinkles. Sports jackets, however, are not flat-pressed. Instead, they are placed on a Suzie to remove wrinkles. A Suzie, a big bag supported by a metal frame with a vaguely human shape, puffs a jacket up using compressed air, giving the garment its shape, and releases steam to remove wrinkles.
- Bagging: The newly clean and pressed clothes need to be reorganized into orders and protected from the dust in the air. Using the tags on each garment, workers reassemble orders and then place a protective plastic bag over them.
- Racking: Though the clothes are now ready for pick-up, unless their owners miraculously walk in at the moment they are bagged, the clothes need to be stored in a safe place. This is usually accomplished by placing the orders on revolving racks. The racks keep the clothes from falling and also allow employees to find clothes without having to search the entire plant.
- The Pick Up: At this final stage, the owner is finally united with his/her clothes. An employee, using the revolving racks, finds the customer's order and returns the clothes, now clean, to the owner. He/she then pays and walks out the door, completely unaware of the huge amount of effort that went into ensuring that his/her clothes were appropriately cleaned and ready on time.