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Bleach: A Chemical Tool for Stain Removal (Part 1)

Using bleach shouldn’t be scary; bleaches are comforting to a good spotter

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.

Another type of bleach is referred to as reducing bleach because it takes away oxygen from the stain. Reducing bleaches are regularly referred to as “dye strippers.”

Note about any bleach use: When you choose to use a bleach, you must first test on an inside seam to verify that the garment’s original color will withstand the process. Have a plan to neutralize at the first sign of trouble.

Work slowly and watch the garment closely until you are sure that any chance of you damaging the garment has passed.

Bleaches are subject to being used in an immersion “bath” and at the spotting board for spot bleaching. In both cases you must rinse the garment, or area spotted, being sure you have neutralized the bleach.

Hydrogen peroxide is available from the medicine aisle at a strength of about 3%, weak by most standards. Hydrogen peroxide has grown in popularity as a replacement for chlorine in the laundry in strengths of 40% and even 50% concentrations. To use in a bath, 32 ounces of 40% peroxide with 96 ounces of water is a 10% concentration and 64 ounces of 40% peroxide with 64 ounces of water is a 20% concentration.

Hydrogen peroxide is the only bleach that can be used routinely and safely on protein fibers like wool, silk, angora, and cashmere. Most beauty salon supply stores will stock 10%, 20%, and 30% concentrations of hydrogen peroxide in small quantities of 4-ounce or 6-ounce bottles.

To use these at the spotting board, all you need is an eye-dropper for application.

Check back Thursday for the conclusion.

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