FTC seeks opinions on care labels
Commission may reconsider professional wetcleaning label
The Federal Trade commission has initiated a review of its care label rule which could lead to revisions in the rule for the first time in more than 10 years.
At this point, the commission is only receiving comments on the current rule and is open to suggestions for changes. It is proposing no specific changes of its own at this time. Comments are being received until Sept. 6. Anyone with an interest in care labeling, which includes drycleaners, garment makers and retailers as well as consumers, may submit comments.
The care label rule, first adopted in 1971, requires manufacturers and importers to attach labels to all garments sold in the U.S. with instructions that describe a suitable cleaning method. Although primarily intended to advise consumers, the labels are also relied on by many drycleaners to determine how best to handle garments.
The FTC said the current initiative is part of a “systematic review of all current FTC rules and guides.”
The commission also wants to review the possibility of including “professional wetcleaning” among the possible cleaning methods that can be specified. Wetcleaning was a major topic when the FTC last reviewed care labeling. At that time, modern professional wetcleaning techniques were still fairly new in the professional garment care industry and the FTC concluded then that “there is not one, clearly defined process performed by those who do professional wetcleaning.”
A better definition of wetcleaning would be needed before garment makers could be asked to specify it as a cleaning process on a care label, the FTC said in rejecting a “professionally wetclean” instruction in 2000.
The commission said it is ready to reconsider that decision now that the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has developed standards for wetcleaning.
“These standards and other developments may warrant amendments to the rule regarding wetcleaning,” the FTC said in its Federal Register notice.
The last review came at a time when other new cleaning technologies, such as liquid carbon dioxide, were just being introduced. Some have become established while others have been introduced since then. Here is what the FTC said at that time about incorporating new technologies into the care labeling scheme:
The commission “will consider amending the rule to recognize a new technology for care label purposes when there is a standard definition of that technology, so that manufacturers can give an instruction of ‘Method X’ with assurance that the ‘Method X’ they are describing is the same ‘Method X’ that cleaners who attempt to clean their garment are using.”
The standardization of a new technology “must, to a large extent, occur within the industry that is offering the new technology to the public,” FTC added.
Comments on other topics related to care labeling, including whether there is even a need for the rule, are also being solicited by the commission for its review.
“What benefits has the rule provided to, or what significant costs has the rule imposed on, consumers?” The FTC is asking. “What modifications could be made to reduce its costs to consumers?”
The FTC also wants to know how the rule could be modified to increase its benefits or reduce its costs to small businesses. It also wants to know about unfair or deceptive practices concerning care labeling.
Whether the care label rule should be harmonized with international laws, regulations or standards will also be considered.
The Drycleaning & Laundry Institute and the National Cleaners Association said they plan to file joint comments on care labeling with the FTC.
“Despite the fact that we’ve all seen some crazy care labels in our careers, we can’t dismiss this requirement’s importance to the industry,” said Nora Nealis, executive director of NCA. “Care labeling is one federal rule that impacts every professional cleaner’s daily life, so our presenting a united and vocal front to regulators is critically important. NCA is delighted to be working closely with DLI in helping the industry achieve its care labeling rule goals.”
DLI’s Acting CEO Mary Scalco concurred, adding, “What would happen if care labels were no longer required? Our main concern is protecting the interests of drycleaners. Both NCA and DLI encourage all cleaners to join in the comment process. Together we can ensure that the Care Label Rule remains a benefit to the cleaning industry.”
Drycleaners have been doing just that. As of mid-August, more than half of the comments received by FTC had come from drycleaners. A sampling follows:
Dave Sabo of JayDee Cleaners in Ohio: “Care labels are meaningless if they are not enforced. I own a drycleaners and we do around 350,000 to 400,000 pieces a year. I have at least five to ten garments a week that are mislabeled and fail in the recommend cleaning process. I point consumers to the FTC care label pamphlet and they really don’t want to hear it. I used to get cooperation form the local point of sale vendor. I no longer get that. I used to get cooperation from the manufacturer; I don’t get that anymore or as much.… Make it the law where a garment that fails will be returned to place of purchase for a refund.”
Dan Gray of Minnesota: “As a drycleaner of 25-plus years, care labels for wetcleaning need to be considered along with proper temperature settings, dependent of the material content. Too often, care labels are incomplete in assisting the drycleaner with proper instruction. Since perc is being phased out in various areas, new alternative solvents should be identified as well for best results.”
Mike Sitz of Holiday Cleaners in Colorado: “Care labels on most better garments seem to be accurate but on a lot of low quality garments, the care labels are a joke. Running a sample of each design through the recommended process(es) would show the problems. Frequently the trim, such as beads, sequins, or printing, is an issue because they won’t withstand the recommended process. Another problem is dye bleed on garments made from several high contrast pieces of fabric. Adhesives used in the manufacture frequently cause issues by bleeding or releasing. The current labeling system seems to work if all manufacturers would use appropriate labels.”
Jose Santana of Santana & Associates in California: “I do believe that the wetclean care label symbol should be included. There are many drycleaning solvents/solutions coming to market and at least one safe process for each article of clothing should be listed as care for each label attached. Each article sold should have a small attachment of the international care label symbols in a small removable brochure or paper for consumer use or a online link address for such.”
Barry Bosshard of Off Broadway Cleaners in California: “The current care labeling requirements need to address the new process of professional wetcleaning. Like washing or solvent instructions, these need to specify accepted procedures and modifications in this category. Educating the consumer as to what the symbols mean would help to avoid mistreating their garment or item. A database for reporting insufficient or incorrect labeling problems should be established electronically so consumers can do research if a problem occurs. Some penalty for inaccurate contact information should be assessed as well as continual mislabeling problems.”
John Patterson of Complete Cleaners in Alabama: “I have been in the drycleaning industry for over 30 years now. I have seen the care label evolve from a useful tool for both the consumer and the drycleaner to a much less effective one which is often used by various manufacturers to avoid liability for garments which are not serviceable without damage. It is a difficult issue. Complete instructions for processing every item cannot be written on a small fabric tag. Some of the success or failure must by nature depend on the skill and knowledge of the drycleaner or the consumer if he processes an item at home.
“There are now at least four drycleaning solvents that are in common use. Professional wetcleaning has come a long way in the last few years and many (but not all) garments that would have traditionally been drycleaned can be wetcleaned with good results if the cleaner has proper processes and has proper training.…In my opinion, a care label that reflects one way that a garment can be cleaned that has been verified by testing should be sufficient.”
Consumers, retailers and government officials have been heard from, too.
Consumers favored keeping the labels and said they preferred instructions written in English.
“The current tags in clothing are becoming harder and harder to decipher,” wrote Susan Van Allen of Utah. “I continue to find clothing with various foreign languages in them. May I suggest you de-code the process? When has clothing become so complicated? Simplify!”
Robert Fletcher of the California Air Resources Board noted that his state is phasing out perchloroethylene in drycleaning and he encouraged the FTC to adopt a professional wet cleaning label. He said that more than 200 cleaners in California are now using professional wetcleaning methods.
“We support a move forward to develop a professional wetcleaning label,” he wrote. “We believe this will help further the push towards cleaner drycleaning technologies.”
One retailer, identified as Kambam from Ohio, was the lone voice against care labels among the 22 commenters. He argued that most consumers do not read or follow care labels and that eliminating them would help garment manufacturers and retailers by saving money on testing and labeling.