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Cleaners Courageous! (Part 1)

In restoring patriotic family heirlooms, victory can be yours

CONCORD, N.C. — There has been much discussion about patriotism over the years. But that term has a special meaning to most of those that have worn a uniform for a branch of the armed services.

It can mean much more to family members who discover a uniform after the owner has passed away.

There is much emotion attached, therefore great care should be taken when that uniform is presented for restoration. Fortunately, uniforms from the armed services are of high-quality materials and durable construction.

In the absence of abuse and neglect by the owner, the cleaner will find that the restoration of the uniform requires only a limited amount of risk. The uniform should be inspected closely.

The customer will seldom remember the origin of stains or the amount of time the stain has been in the uniform. Insects will be attracted to decaying food; therefore, potential damage can come from various insects seeking a source of food, not just from moths.

Look closely for damaged threads that can break from the mechanical action of cleaning, or for areas where the surface appears to be bald. Both of these conditions are signs of potential damage.

Remove any insignias or ornamentation that can be removed, even buttons can be sewn back on after cleaning. It is worth the effort to remove and protect these items, rather than to try and locate replacements that are lost or damaged in cleaning.

When the removal is not an option on a jacket, you should fold the buttons over so that the inside of the placket is showing and use No. 3 safety pins to secure the placket area to the front of the jacket.

Trousers should be zipped to the top with a No. 3 safety pin through the zipper pull, securing it to the waistband of the trousers. Both the jacket and the trousers should be bagged individually to further reduce mechanical action during cleaning.

Wool is a durable fiber, and military uniforms are tightly woven in plain or twill construction. You should be prepared to restore the hand to the garment with a sizing/texturizer. Not only will the uniform be clean, the fiber will be brought back to life for a restoration the consumer can feel as well as see.


In the case of a white garment that is cellulose and/or synthetic, it can be brought back to life by a bleach bath. Many times, these items will have color variation from light exposure, appearing as dark streaks along folds.

In most cases, this will be remedied by a soak in sodium perborate or sodium percarbonate. Use water that is hot but still allows you to immerse your hand. Use a non-metallic container that is large enough to allow free movement of the garment. Dissolve the bleach in the water thoroughly.

Place the garment in the water and move it around for about 20 seconds to insure it is evenly saturated. These bleaches are commonly referred to as “safety bleaches,” as they become inert as the temperature drops.

Sodium perborate is considered milder since its effectiveness is greatly reduced as the water drops below 90 F, while sodium percarbonate has a broader operating range and offers stronger bleaching action at temperatures above 120 F. It is a judgment call.

As for me, I will repeat sodium perborate a second time, which offers a lower risk factor. Many times, I will allow a white or pastel garment to soak overnight in sodium perborate, knowing that the bleach “dies” as the water cools.

The next day, I have the choice on hand-rinsing or wet cleaning, depending on the delicate nature of the garment. After bleaching, rinse once in clear water followed by a rinse in water containing acetic acid, followed by a rinse in clear water. Roll the garment in a dry towel, allowing it to air dry.

Unfortunately, the best of intentions by a consumer can present a problem for the professional cleaner.

Check back Thursday for the conclusion.

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