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Bleach: A Chemical Tool for Stain Removal (Conclusion)

More about the power of oxidizing bleaches

CONCORD, N.C. — Nothing scares a cleaner more than the word BLEACH. Nothing is more comforting to a good cleaner or spotter. Let’s see if we can take the fear out of using this chemical tool to your advantage.

Bleaches should be a last resort, but the proper bleach, applied properly, can be the difference in successful stain removal and another sorry tag. Contrary to popular belief, bleaches do not remove the stain, they only camouflage the stain by adding or taking away oxygen.

There are two kinds of bleaches commonly used in our industry. One type of bleach is referred to as oxidizing bleach because it adds oxygen to the stain. The common four bleaches in this category are: hydrogen peroxide, sodium perborate, sodium percarbonate, and sodium hypochlorite.

I have used sodium perborate at my spotting board my entire career. It is effective on the last traces of wine, mustard and blood, some of which came in with a sorry tag from a competitor. Keep a salt shaker of very fine gradual sodium perborate within arms reach at your spotting board. Flush the last traces of the stain with steam to wet and heat the area.

Shake the sodium perborate over the stain, then apply a drop or two of protein formula to keep the bleach in place. Press the steam pedal lightly so that only a “wisp” of steam is rolling off the nose of the spotting gun.

Over the solid portion of the spotting board I use this steam to melt the sodium perborate, so that it sinks into and through the stain. When the stain is no longer noticeable, I pull the stain over the vacuum nose of the board and flush the remaining bleach away.

Apply a few drops of acetic acid to neutralize the bleach completely, then flush the area and dry it completely. When using sodium perborate in a bath use a non-metallic container that will allow free movement of garments. The water in the bath should be at least 105 F and as hot as 125 F. If you can keep your hand immersed in the water, you should be okay.

If the water is too hot to allow you to work with the garment while it is submerged, add cool water to bring down the temperature. In most cases it will be okay to leave a garment submerged in the sodium perborate bath until you can get back, up to 24 hours. As the water temperature continues to drop, the bleach slows down and stops.

Sodium percarbonate can be used much like sodium perborate, but it has the potential to be much more aggressive. Sodium percarbonate becomes an active bleach at a lower temperature and continues to strengthen as temperature rises.

When using sodium percarbonate in a bath, be stingy with the amount of bleach and dissolve the powder in water below body temperature before warming the entire solution. Sodium percarbonate is more difficult to control than sodium perborate, and I reserve it for times when I want to try harder and the perborate doesn’t quite get the job done.

Sodium hypochlorite (chlorine bleach)  has a place in the cleaning department, but it is a small place. There are far too many options listed above to grab the chlorine bleach, unless you have a specific reason. I restrict my use of chlorine to white cellulose fibers (cotton, linen, ramie) and even think twice about using it on blends of synthetic.

Chlorine can react with synthetic fabric and leave a discolored area in the garment. Using either diluted sodium bisulfite or diluted sodium hydrosulfite can usually neutralize the chlorine. This information can be used by you to occasionally restore a customer’s well-intentioned mistake and can be used to restore a multi-layered area on a cellulose garment that has become discolored by multiple washings in a chlorine solution.

As an example, the collar, cuffs and front placket of a white shirt (internal bonded interfacing) can retain chlorine that builds up over time. (“It wasn’t like that when I brought it in.”)

Either of these two reducing bleaches will go a long way to reversing the discoloration. Reducing bleaches require an article for themselves so come back next time for More About Bleach!

Meanwhile, take these following professional garment care tips with you today: Extreme and personal customer service; intense inspection coming in and at assembly; and superior supplemental stain removal.

Make it happen.

To read Part 1, go HERE.

Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Dave Davis at [email protected].