Stew Cues: Check labels when sending out guest laundry

Aug 14, 2017 by Alene Keenan

Stew Cues: by Alene Keenan

When I join a boat, I want to see the china, crystal and silverware to help me anticipate the level of service I will be expected to deliver. Next, I look at what’s in the owner’s closet to see the labels of the clothing they wear. Laundry is a big part of our duties on board, and this helps me determine the level of care their clothing will require. If I’m not able to clean a garment on board, I will be sending it out to the dry cleaner.

Dry cleaning is a misnomer, because there is nothing dry about it. Clothes are wet with a solvent such as perchloroethylene instead of  water. (There are no such things as dry-cleaning rays, as some people may think.)  After cleaning, high-pressure steam is applied, and air is used to dry the steam and set the press. Details such as buttons are inspected, and garments are checked for lint and loose threads. I always check for broken buttons on clothing and duvet covers when picking up my items. The combination of high pressure and temperature can be too much. A reputable dry cleaner should replace broken or missing buttons.

It’s important to read the care label before dropping off items – the type of fabric, kind of stains and preferences of the customer determine which cleaning process is used. Most cottons are laundered, pressed on the machine, then hung up or folded. Some manufacturers suggest dry cleaning some cottons to avoid shrinkage and fading. Anything with a lining that is laundered could be ruined if the lining shrinks because it will never lay right again.

Wool, silk and synthetic garments are usually dry cleaned. Dry cleaning does not cause shrinkage, is a softer washing process and prolongs the life of fabrics. It should only be done when the garment is soiled. If it is crispness on clean garments you are after, have them pressed only or steam them yourself.

Using a laundry service can save time, especially at the end of a trip. They usually charge by the pound. Professionals identify and treat dirt or stains and wash items with water, detergent and softener according to the customer’s preference. Water has a better cleaning effect and freshens clothing. It is environmentally friendly, more energy efficient, less expensive and better for sensitive skin. Some items are dried in a dryer, ironed and folded. Others skip the dryer and go straight to the steam presses. Steam does not scorch, burn, or shrink fabrics.

Dry cleaning involves using a chemical solvent instead of water, but some stains will need to be lifted with water first. The fabric then can be treated with the solvent and tumbled, after which the solvent is removed, filtered and recycled, and articles are dried in the machine. These days there are more options for eco-friendly dry-cleaning solvents without the traditional strong odors, so clothes feel fresher and smell good. Woolens and suits are better off being dry cleaned.

Many fabrics can be either laundered or dry cleaned, and the determining factor in that case would be what kind of trim or buttons are on the garment. If in doubt, have it inspected by a professional. Just because a fabric care tag says dry clean only, it does not always mean it cannot be laundered. On the other hand, not all fabrics that are laundered can be dry cleaned. And not all fabrics that can be dry cleaned will survive being soaked in water.

Stains on clothing usually should be treated immediately. The dry cleaner should be told of anything that already has been used to treat the spot. They may have good advice on how to handle the problem, or prevent it, in the future. Have you ever heard of an invisible stain? You may pick up your clothes only to find a stain that was not there when you dropped them off. When clear liquids spill onto a fabric, the sugar and other ingredients begin to oxidize, and the stain doesn’t show up until after processing.

Common invisible stains are olive, coconut, peanut and other oils. There are also tannin stains from tea, coffee, soft drinks, liquor and many medicines. Animal-based protein stains such as perspiration, egg, blood, urine and milk may show up. Heat and age will make it worse.

If a garment comes back with a white spot, it might seem like the dry cleaner spilled bleach on it, although it’s unlikely that there is any bleach on the premises. There are many other things, however, that will bleach fabric, including toothpaste, deodorant and — the bane of my existence — cologne. In some cases, you can see a spray pattern on clothing, especially around the collar and neckline.

Most cleaners take in hundreds of items every day, and it would be impractical to do a separate load for each customer. With that in mind, it’s advisable to always check the items picked up against the inventory of items dropped off to make sure everything is there and nothing extra.

Once the garments have been brought back to the boat, the plastic covering should be removed to prevent moisture from being trapped inside the bag, allowing mold and bacteria to grow. The plastic covering also releases gases that can damage and discolor fabric.

Dry cleaning is not something that can be replicated by throwing a garment in the dryer with a Dryel sheet. Sending laundry out is a wonderful thing, as long as a detailed log is kept of items sent out. Reputable laundry and dry-cleaning services often provide shoe and purse service as well.

Quality knows quality. I was searching out a top notch dry cleaner in New York City for a high-profile charter guest. I consulted the couture department at Saks Fifth Avenue, and they told me where Beyoncé gets her gowns cleaned. Turns out that our guest had an apartment in the same building as her. It’s a small world, after all.

Alene Keenan is lead instructor of yacht interior courses at Maritime Professional Training in Ft. Lauderdale. She shares her experience from more than 20 years as a stew in her book, “The Yacht Guru’s Bible: The Service Manual for Every Yacht”, available at Comments are welcome below.


About Alene Keenan

Alene Keenan is a veteran chief stew, interior training instructor/consultant, and author of The Yacht Guru’s Bible: The Service Manual for Every Yacht.

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