Dry Cleaning Assistant/Manager

The Job and What's Involved

Dry cleaning assistants and managers use chemicals or steam to clean clothes and fabrics that are too delicate or not suited to being washed in water, as they may shrink or suffer other damage. These may include specialist fabrics or garments, such as suede or leather, bridal wear, beaded fabrics and heavily embroidered or antique items. Some small dry cleaning firms may send away some specialist items, such as leathers, to larger firms that have specialist cleaning products.

The work involves using a range of solvents, the most common of which is percholorethylene - known as 'perc'. All of the chemicals involved are potentially dangerous and need to be handled with care. Some dry cleaning firms are now using more environmentally friendly alternatives, but care must still be taken. Special training is usually necessary before staff are allowed to work with them.

Modern methods of dry cleaning are designed for safety. The majority of machines in use in the UK are now of the totally enclosed type, which use smaller amounts of solvents and do not expose staff to as many chemicals.

When a customer brings in an item for dry cleaning, the assistant:

  • Examines any stains and discusses what has caused them with the customer.
  • Looks for and makes a note of any defects (such as missing buttons, broken zips or holes).
  • Assesses any special trimmings that may have to be treated separately.
  • Works out a price and how long it will take to clean the item.
  • Tags the garment for identification, takes the customer's contact details and gives the customer a collection ticket.

In preparation for cleaning, the assistant sorts items by colour and material. The cleaning involves:

  • Removing individual stains by 'spotting' (directly applying chemicals or steam to localised areas).
  • Loading garments into a dry cleaning machine and selecting the correct programme.

When the items are clean, the assistant:

  • Presses the garments using either an industrial press or a hand iron.
  • Packs each item ready for collection.
  • Takes payments when customers come in to collect their cleaning.

In addition, assistants may carry out routine maintenance of machines, such as refilling them with solvent or removing fluff from filters.

A dry cleaning manager is likely to:

  • Organise the dry cleaning business so that it runs efficiently.
  • Hire and train staff.
  • Supervise the work of dry cleaning assistants.
  • Serve at the front counter if assistants are unavailable.
  • Deal with customer complaints.
  • Keep accounts and control the budget.
  • Organise shift rotas.
  • Complete paperwork on the use of solvents.
  • Organise any delivery services.
  • Lock up at night, open in the morning.

In a smaller business, a manager may also be involved in the daily dry cleaning duties of an assistant.

Some cleaners also provide other specialist services, such as alterations, dyeing, showerproofing and suede cleaning. Some also hire out carpet cleaning equipment.

Some high street dry cleaners treat garments on the premises. Others send some or all of the garments away to a central cleaning plant. Some run other businesses at the same location, such as self-service launderettes or photographic development services.

Dry cleaning assistants and managers normally work standard hours. Businesses are usually open from Monday to Saturday. Sunday and late evening work are increasingly common. Shift work is standard and part-time work is often available.

Most modern dry cleaning machines are enclosed, so there is little or no contact with fumes and hazardous chemicals. There is a slight risk of burns from the pressing machines. The work may not be suitable for people who suffer from certain skin complaints. Respiratory conditions may also be aggravated by fumes from the chemicals used.

The work can be quite physical as it involves a large amount of lifting and bending. Dry cleaning assistants are also on their feet for most of the day. A uniform is usually provided.

A dry cleaning assistant may start on around £11,600 a year.
An experienced cleaner may earn £13,000 a year, or more.

The salaries of managers vary considerably. They may earn from around £15,000 to £30,000 a year, and the amount is sometimes based on the store's performance.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Dry cleaning assistants and managers may work in high street dry cleaners or in industrial cleaning plants that deal with contracts from hotels, hospitals, factories or a network of high street outlets.

There are currently more vacancies than applicants, so employment prospects are good.

Jobs are often advertised in the local and national press, and in Jobcentre Plus offices

Education and Training

There are no formal entry qualifications, although applicants should be able to read and understand written instructions.

Training is usually provided on the job and employers look for young people who are reliable and willing to work to high standards. It may help to have practical skills or previous experience of working in a laundry, cleaning or dry cleaning environment.

Commercial dry cleaners may not allow employees less than 16 years old to operate certain types of machinery.

Dry cleaning managers are usually promoted from working as dry cleaning assistants.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Training usually takes place on the job, under the supervision of experienced colleagues. Many organisations offer in-house training and the opportunity to study for relevant NVQ qualifications, such as:

- NVQ Level 2 in dry cleaning operations
- NVQ Level 2 in dry cleaning service support
- NVQ Levels 2 and 3 in customer service

Two recent qualifications to become available in the area are:

- Level 2 Certificate in dry cleaning operations
- Level 2 Certificate in textile care services

The Guild of Cleaners and Launderers also offers a variety of Guild Certificates in practical laundry subjects and SATRA offers a number of short courses related to laundering.

The Skillsfirst QCF Awards at Levels 1-3 in retail skills are also relevant.

Since October 2007, all dry cleaners that use solvents have been registered and hold a permit. The new regulations involve filling in forms and keeping records to show how much solvent is used. Staff must be trained in operating and safety procedures.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A dry cleaning assistant should be:

  • Able to operate and maintain machinery.
  • Observant, with a good eye for detail.
  • Polite and efficient when dealing with customers.
  • Methodical and able to follow instructions.
  • Able to learn new skills as technology changes.
  • Normal colour vision may be a requirement.

A dry cleaning manager also needs the following skills:

  • Good organisational and management skills.
  • Assertiveness and ability to make decisions.
  • Good business skills and knowledge of procedures.
  • The ability to lead a team effectively.

Your Long Term Prospects

Promotion opportunities may be available for dry cleaning assistants with suitable skills, experience and enthusiasm. Dry cleaning assistants may progress to supervisory or managerial roles and eventually to the role of branch manager. External NVQ qualifications may be offered in order to gain the experience needed for promotion, including qualifications in areas such as team leading.

It may be possible for experienced dry cleaning assistants to become self-employed and set up their own businesses, but there may be competition from established branches.

Get Further Information

The Dry Cleaning and Laundry Technology Centre,
Unit 10A, Drill Hall Business Centre,
East Parade, Ilkley, West Yorkshire LS29 8EZ
Tel: 01943 816545
Website: www.dtcltc.com

The Guild of Cleaners and Launderers (GCL),
5 Portland Place, London W1B 1PW
Tel: 0845 600 1838
Website: www.gcl.org.uk

Rockingham Road, Kettering,
Northamptonshire NN16 9JH
Tel: 01536 410000
Website: www.satra.co.uk

Skillset, Focus Point,
21 Caledonian Road, London N1 9GB
Free careers helpline: 08080 300 900
Website: www.skillset.org/careers

Textile Services Association (TSA),
7 Churchill Court, 58 Station Road,
North Harrow, Middlesex HA2 7SA
Tel: 020 8863 7755
Website: www.tsa-uk.org

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