National Clothesline
Back in the mid-1990s as modern wetcleaning methods and machinery was gaining a toe-hold in the industry, the Federal Trade Commission was asked to include wetcleaning as a possible care instruction in its Care Label Rule.
The request, supported by wetcleaners as well as environmentalists and the federal Environmental Protection Agency, was turned down by the FTC which said there was no clearly defined wetcleaning process that garment manufacturers could rely on before placing a “wetclean” care label on a garment.
At the time, the commission left the door open to reconsidering the question in the future. That time has come. The FTC proposed last year to allow a wetcleaning care label and it appears almost certain now that a wetcleaning care instruction will soon be sanctioned by the FTC. But how that care instruction might be implemented is still up in the air.
In its current proposed amendments to the rule, the FTC said it would allow manufacturers and importers to include instructions for professional wetcleaning “if they choose.” In other words, it would be a care label option, but not a requirement.
That doesn’t go far enough for some who said the FTC should require a wetcleaning label on any garment that can be successfully wetcleaned. In particular, cleaners who process most or all of their garments in wetcleaning systems as well as manufacturers of wetcleaning systems and supplies, said a required wetcleaning label would raise public awareness of that option for cleaning and give them a level playing field as they compete against cleaners who mainly use solvent-based systems.
A different argument in favor of multiple care instructions was put forth by the Drycleaning and Laundry Institute.
“A dryclean label is interpreted to mean ‘do not wash’ by many, if not all, consumers,” wrote DLI CEO Mary Scalco in comments submitted to the FTC. “There is a subset of consumers that will not buy anything with a dryclean label.
“If all methods of care are required to be on the label this consumer might be willing to purchase the item. The cleaner would then have the option of selecting a care method to satisfy the consumer yet still safely refurbish the garment,” DLI said.
Whether to require a wetcleaning label was one of the key topics listed by FTC for discussion at a public roundtable to be held Oct. 1 in Washington, DC. The commission had received dozens of comments on its proposal and is still trying to decided how to proceed.
In the past, the FTC has resisted attempts to require that care labels show multiple care methods. During the last major revision of the rule, when a wetcleaning instruction was first considered, the FTC was asked to require that any garment that could be washed at home show such instruction on the care label. FTC rejected that change, too, staying with the requirement that only one acceptable method of care needed to be shown and left the choice of that method up to the manufacturers or importers responsible for the label.
In announcing its current proposal last year, the FTC did not appear inclined to change the single care method requirement.
“While the record supports permitting a professional wetcleaning instruction, it does not warrant requiring such an instruction,” the FTC said. “None of the comments provided evidence that the absence of a wetcleaning instruction for products that can be wetcleaned would result in deception or unfairness under the FTC Act. Nor did they provide evidence that the benefits of requiring a wetcleaning instruction would exceed the costs such a requirement would impose on manufacturers and importers.”
Proponents of a required wetcleaning label still have another shot at convincing the FTC.
Other issues related to a wetcleaning label also remain to be discussed and resolved, including the cost of substantiating wetcleaning instructions, the availability of wetcleaning, consumer awareness of wetcleaning and the content of labels providing a wetcleaning instruction.
Also on the table for discussion are the differences between American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) and both the 2005 and 2012 International Organization for Standardization (ISO) care symbols, whether labels should identify ISO symbols as such if used to comply with the rule, the change in the meaning of the circle P symbol in the ASTM system, and consumer understanding of symbols.
In addition, the FTC wants further discussion on the absence of care symbols for solvents other than perchloroethylene and petroleum and how to clarify what constitutes a reasonable basis for care instructions.
Comments can be filed with FTC through Oct. 15. On-line filing of comments and more information on the proposal is available through the FTC web site, www.ftc.gov/opa/2013/07/carelabelingrule.shtm.

Wetcleaning label a long time coming