The Search for a True Quality Cleaner

Recently, I had a rather enlightening talk with Stu Bloom, Founder and President of Rave Fabricare in Scottsdale, Arizona. We talked about subjects ranging from proper pressing by hand to using the right dry cleaning solution for the correct length of time. Rave has won many accolades in the industry for not doing things quickly, but the right way. Anyone who cares about clothing quality should be using them or someone equivalent. Especially if you own any MTM, bespoke, or otherwise high end clothing.

Just look at the amazing work they did on my fiancee's white blouses after I accidentally put a tie dye shirt in the wash with them. Always double check your laundry loads! The yellow-green dye stains were gently removed without using bleach or other, similarly harsh chemicals. The blouses were then carefully hand-pressed. You can see the individual attention they gave the ruffles and ruching detail on one of them. Top notch.

Stu Bloom
Earlier this week it occurred to me that I hadn't talked to Stu in a long while. I felt it was time for an impromptu call. After asking for Stu I was put on a short hold and then greeted by his friendly voice. After catching up a bit with each other, we got into a discussion about garment care. I'd told him a bit about my less-than-favourable experience at a supposed quality cleaner here in Albuquerque who didn't really offer what they claimed to.

Among the problems were:
  • Shine spots on wool tailored garments
  • French cuffs becoming prematurely frayed at the fold
  • Failure to remove stains and then cleaning the garment anyway
  • Overall poor customer service
The shiny spots, he said, were probably them not actually hand pressing anything, let alone using a press cloth. They likely use industrial machines that apply too much heat and pressure, causing the fibers to flatten down. Later, after bringing these problems to their attention, they attempted to "fix" it with no better results. One of my half-canvassed suits even came back with some bubbles in the fusing! (Contrary to popular belief, half-canvas literally just means the lapels use floating canvas for a better roll, everything else is fused per usual.) Even if they were hand pressing, one should use a press cloth or other aids on certain fabrics, such as boards made specifically for retaining the plush finish on velvet and velour. At home, I use a cheap white bandana bought for only $2 at the local Joann Fabrics. It does the job well, though a retired Italian tailor has also suggested getting a yard of cotton drill cloth at the the local fabric store. Additionally, most dry cleaners use perchloroethylene ("perc" for short) for a long cycle which will break down fibres over time due to its aggressive properties. Stu said perc can be used carefully if it's done on a short cycle. They never do, however. And he still would never recommend it when GreenEarth or comparable detergents are so much more reliable, gentle, and environmentally safe. The problem being that no one wants to invest in the proper equipment to use it. You can't use the same machines perc do with GreenEarth. On the plus side, he did say that perchloroethylene works really well as a degreaser! Regardless of what detergent is used, garments should be inspected carefully and spot cleaned first instead of just being dumped in the machine -- with several other garments -- and praying for the best. Which is what most so-called professional cleaners do. Even the ones that claim they give your garments individual attention.

French cuffs will inevitably have that brown line at the fold of the cuffs after a day of work, a combination of skin oils and pigmentation rubbing off on it along with contact on a desk. Not really much we can do about that any more than we can with a similar stain that happens around the collar. What cleaners typically do is take a nylon nail brush and scrub at it with some laundry soap until it's mostly out. This causes fraying to happen after a few cleanings. At first I thought this was a result of sending them mid-range, not-quite-high-end shirts with lesser fabric. Nope. It also happened to my Tom Ford shirt, which even bought secondhand for 1/10th of the retail price was in perfectly fine condition before sending it there. Hmmm! What quality cleaners like Rave do is soak the collar and cuffs in a detergent for 24 hours. No, that was not a typo. A full day. The reason being it will loosen the fibers so the stain can truly be released. Despite this one cleaner's vigorous scrubbing, I've noticed my cuffs still coming back with a faint brown line that isn't that noticeable, but not really acceptable either. And this was at their high end price point. What was even more puzzling was how they charged that price for a Brooks Brothers popover OCBD shirt, the reason given being, "With the placket we couldn't put it through our normal process." Say what? Evidently they only hand press shirts at a certain, higher tier price point. This probably means their normal laundry uses a "shirt balloon" type machine, which inflates the shirt with steam and they then touch it up with an iron where necessary. Hmph. That would explain why so many of my shirts with soft collars came back badly pressed at the points. But that even happened at the high end price point from time to time. If I can't tell the difference, why should anyone else?

Another interesting incident is when I sent them a pair of trousers owned by my fiancee which had a large red stain as a result of careless fake-blood-spilling from a friend. (It was a cosplay photo shoot.) I asked if they could remove it without affecting the blue hue of the custom-dyed fabric. The manager himself said he'd have to give it to one of his clothing technicians to see. I then asked if he could call me if it wasn't possible. He responded affirmatively. Well, lo and behold, the trousers came back... with one of those little "sorry, we did our best but couldn't remove certain stains" tags. And the red stain lightened barely a fraction of a shade. I asked why he didn't call me. He said they had to test the fabric before cleaning it. I would have been content to pay for those little tests... had they not gone ahead and "cleaned" the rest of the garment anyway. Isn't that just going to set the stain in further? I was offered no discount or removal of the charge, just an apology and shrug. So now we have pressed trousers that she still cannot wear.

On top of it, when I left a review recently sharing these issues, the owner decided it was okay to respond to me using some of my private info, including but not limited to my last visit there and the fact that I had applied to their company and not gotten the job. (The implication being that I held resentments from that. I didn't.) If their objective was to bully me into removing the review... they unfortunately succeeded. I didn't want that information online and letting people know about my experiences wasn't worth that. I also let them know in no uncertain terms that it was not okay. In person. While it made a statement to come there myself, I don't think they learned much from it. I didn't so much as get an apology. Some searching online revealed they had a history, like so many ordinary cleaners, of blaming the customer for things that went wrong.

After all that, well, I'd had enough! Stu went on to explain that this sounded like one of the "wannabe-quality" cleaners that packages up everything nicely with decent hangers and fills the sleeves with tissue, has a fancy logo, promises the world, has multiple quality levels, but still cannot deliver true quality cleaning because they are not willing to invest in the equipment and training necessary or take the time on every garment since they still want to appeal to the "in on Thursday, out on Tuesday" crowd. Even at allegedly premium price points. That sounded about right. They even have a local pickup and delivery service similar to Rave Fabricare. Unlike them, however, they don't replicate a fraction of the quality. It may take time, but Rave does things the right way as opposed to the quick and easy way. Which as we all know is the path to the dark side.

Sadly, Rave Fabricare only has one location. I wish I didn't have to ship my clothing a mere seven hours away (so close yet so far!) to get quality cleaning, but it's worth it.

Of course, if you want to read more about what they do and what sets them apart from most other cleaners, feel free to read Stu's blog on their website.

I will be sending away some of my own garments which have been improperly cared for before and will update this blog when I get them back. I'm even considering doing a video of the un-boxing so you know that my impressions are genuine. Would anyone be interested in this? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

  1. Who is this poor cleaner? We need to know!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This will be a little long-winded, apologies in advance...!

      I'd rather not say. Some friends of mine offered to call and give a tongue lashing for me, to which I adamantly told them not to. I do not wish to inadvertently set my readers on this business in a similar way by disclosing their identity. Suffice it to say they were not what they claimed to be, responded to my review in an unprofessional manner, and other reviews (on Google and Yelp) seem to point to a pattern of "blame the customer".

      I recommend everyone do extensive research before using any cleaner. Rave Fabricare's website is a good resource for this. Besides the blog, there are also several free e-books on the subject of quality cleaning. When it comes to upper middle to high end menswear, these are clothes worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Even if you got a particularly good deal on that Tom Ford suit from eBay, it should be cared for like you paid full retail. Ordinary cleaners can't do that.

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