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National Clothesline
FTC roundtable wrestles with
plans for wetcleaning label
The Federal Trade Commission is well down the road to including wetcleaning as an
acceptable care method under its Care Label Rule, but how far down that road it goes remains
to be seen.
Wetcleaning proponents hope to push the commission a little farther down the road than it
was planning to go.
At a March 28 public roundtable on FTC’s proposals to revise the rule, they said that making
“professionally wetclean” a label option, as the FTC has proposed, does not go far enough. Any
garment that can be wetcleaned should be required to say so on the care label, they said.
The public roundtable was another step in what has become a long process to revises the rule
which last received FTC attention in 1999. In 2011, the commission opened the floor by asking
for input on how it might revise the rule. A year later, after receiving more than 100 comments,
most of them from people in the garment care industry, the commission proposed to amend the
rule in four key areas. More comments were taken on that proposal before the FTC invited all
interested parties to a public roundtable. Originally scheduled for last October, the roundtable
was postponed due to the government shut down until this spring.
The entire morning session was devoted to discussing the wetcleaning proposal. Peter
Sinsheimer, executive director of the UCLA Sustainable Technology and Policy Program, led off
with a presentation in which he told the commission that “failure to list a professional
wetcleaning label on the garment labeled dryclean is very likely to mislead a reasonable
consumer.”
He said a survey of 2,000 consumers found that 44 percent thought a “dryclean” instruction
meant that garment had to be drycleaned; half thought it meant drycleaning is the
recommended method. Only six percent correctly understood it to mean that it is one reliable
method of cleaning.
If a label allowed either drycleaning or wetcleaning, more than half said they would choose
wetcleaning.
“Consumers would be less likely to professionally wetclean a garment if the words
‘professionally wetclean’ were not on the care label,” he said, adding, “And that is really what is
at stake, in terms of deceptive practice.”
Sinsheimer said 99 percent of garments that are labeled “dryclean” can be professionally
wetcleaned. Failure to list wetcleaning as an option is deceptive and unfair to consumers who
would prefer this method, he said.
Sinshiemer’s position was opposed by representatives of both the drycleaning and apparel
manufacturing industries.
“I understand that wetcleaning is an effective process,” said Marie D’Avignon, manager of
governmental relations for the Apparel & Footwear Association. “Wetcleaning should only be an
option. Don’t require companies to test for it.”
Mary Scalco of the Drycleaning and Laundry Institute agreed that wetcleaning should be only
an option.
“I don’t think that particular instruction should be required any more than any of the other
possible care methods should be required,” she said.
The rule requires only that a viable method of cleaning be stated. That does not preclude
using another method unless the label specifically says so.
Ann Hargrove, who managed the first 100-percent wetcleaning operation back in the 1990s
and is now special project manager for the National Cleaners Association, took issue with
Sinsheimer’s claim that 99 percent of garments with a “dryclean” label can also be wetcleaned.
“I do not agree at all,” she said of the 99 percent.
D’Avignon said she doesn’t think there is a problem with deception by listing only one care
method. “The manufacturer is recommending a care method based on how it wants to sell its
product. As long as it’s true, it’s OK,” she said
Dr. Charles Riggs, a professor at Texas Women’s University and the U.S. Representative on
the International Research Committee on Textile Care, said the entire care label rule could be
considered deceptive since only one method of care needs to be specified.
“You know, in a perfect world, I would like to see all labels required and then you have a full
range of consumer knowledge, but that's unreasonable from a cost of testing of garments
basis,” he said.
Frank Gorman of the FTC’s enforcement division, said that in the commission’s view, “the
label has to accurately convey and non-deceptively convey information to (the consumer). And
if there is testing that shows that the rule, as currently written, requires a label that deceives
consumers, that's a problem we need to address.”
That’s one of the issues the FTC will address as the process continues.
Gorman said there are two possible paths that the rulemaking could follow. One would be
publishing a staff report with a final recommendation with yet another opportunity for public
comment before a final recommendation is sent to the commission for adoption.
On the other hand, if the staff decides, based on comments it has received, to add something
that was not in the original proposal, then it would publish a new notice of proposed rulemaking
which would lead to further public input and possibly another hearing followed by another staff
report.
“It's a long process,” he said.
The afternoon portion of the roundtable explored other aspects of the FTC’s proposal relating
to the use of care symbols, clarifying the rule’s reasonable basis requirement, and updating the
definition of drycleaning.
Details are available on the FTC’s at www.ftc.gov/news-events/events-
calendar/2014/03/care-labeling-rule-ftc-roundtable.