Give Thanks for Holiday Stains

Martin L. Young Jr. |

I’ve always said that if people could hit their mouths, I would go broke. And as we approach the season of family gatherings around the table, I’d like to address the stains we see year after year during the holidays.
These stains can (and should) be removed in the normal course of caring for a garment. Most are “combination” stains. Approached with the proper sequences and spotting protocols, these stains can be removed quickly and with a minimum of risk to the garment’s integrity.RED VELVET TAKES THE CAKE
Lots of mothers like to dress their precious three-year-old girls in red acetate-velvet dresses for seasonal parties — usually something with a wide, white, cotton collar and red-and-green accents. Introduce that holiday dress to a candy cane, and you have a mess.
Acetate velvets don’t respond well to water. They are over-sized by manufacturers to give them an appealing look and feel in the store, and any combination of moisture and pressure will flatten the nap. It’s almost impossible to restore an acetate velvet once it’s been flattened, and the steam gun or spray spotters are the last choice.
Test for the trims’ colorfastness on the collar. If you’re careful not to overspray, collars can be prespotted on the wet side. Don’t touch any areas of an acetate velvet while they’re moist; you might leave fingerprints.
Start treatment of the dress on the dry side with a general spotter/leveling agent. Apply very mild mechanical action and let the garment hang for at least 15 minutes. Run the garment on a short drycleaning cycle and inspect it for remaining stains; repeat the procedure if necessary.
Finish the garment on the buck or Suzy with light steam and no pressure. To enhance the appearance of the velvet’s nap, brush it out lightly using a horsehair brush.LET IT GLOW
To look their best for holiday parties, people tend to wear bright colors that make them glow in festive lighting. But bright colors are subject to chafing if handled improperly; handle them with caution. An area chafed by aggressive mechanical action will result in a dissatisfied customer and likely a claim.
Test garments that appear new before spotting. Most are overdyed and may be prone to crocking and excessive bleeding. Rub an unexposed area lightly with a white towel moistened with VDS on the dry side or plain water on the wet side to quickly find out if the garment is going to bleed.SILVER AND GOLD
Metallic yarns are common in the construction of elegant holiday garments. Never use a rust remover on a metallic thread. Metallics should be cleaned and dried in a loose net bag to reduce mechanical action and avoid snags.
Metallics are also fragile, and should be handled gently. Stains won’t penetrate metallic fibers as quickly, however, and they can be removed using standard spotting procedures. Just back away when using the steam gun on the wet side for an added margin of safety.ON THE SAUCE
Hostesses like to show off by bringing out their favorite sauce and dip recipes for holiday parties. Since these sauces and dips collide with clothing in a wet or semi-wet state, use the standard wet-side protocol.
Flush with steam; apply neutral synthetic detergent (NSD) and mild mechanical action; flush with steam again. This breaks the surface tension of the stain and begins to work on the material itself. The material is then heated, and the NSD permits faster and deeper penetration of any spotters that may be required later. Residual oils and greases can be handled on the dry side, and the garment can be drycleaned as usual.STAMPED OUT
Some customers just can’t resist holiday-specific sweaters and accessories, which often have stamp prints that illustrate some aspect of the season. A stamp print is typically solvent-sensitive. If the solvent removes the chemicals that keep the paint soft and pliable (known as plasticizers), the paint will stiffen and crack.
A stamp print on a polyester or poly/cotton blend is a good candidate for wetcleaning. If wetcleaning isn’t the best solution, proceed slowly. Use a very short cycle to limit exposure to the solvent.WAXING POETIC
There are always candles at holiday events, and candles mean melted wax. Drycleaning will remove wax, sometimes with the help of a good paint, oil and grease (POG) remover.
When the candle leaves a dye stain, however, you’ll have to remove the dye after you remove the wax. At this point, you may consider spot-bleaching on the board; sodium perborate applied from a salt shaker works well.
Wet the area around the stain and shake on the sodium perborate. Wet the sodium perborate with a couple of drops of protein formula to keep it from being blown around by the steam. Now, “fog” the perborate so that it melts through the stain; flush the area with steam and repeat as necessary. Neutralize the perborate with acetic acid or tannin formula when finished.THE REVERSAL OF FORTUNE
Once-a-year or occasional partiers may experience unpleasant symptoms when blending shrimp and finger sandwiches with mixed drinks and nogs. The resulting gastric distress may lead to everything in the stomach coming back up. A mixture of alcohol and stomach acids on a garment can do a great deal of color damage quickly, and the extent of the damage is often only apparent after cleaning.
Lightly brush away any solid matter that may be left on the surface of the garment. Over the nose of the board with the vacuum on, wet out the area with tap water from a spotting bottle. Apply NSD and flush the area with tap water. Avoid steam — the lack of heat will reduce the chance that a color loss will occur. Keep using NSD and tap water until they no longer advance stain removal, then move on to standard spotting procedures.CELEBRITY ROAST
“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire” may sound like a cozy idea, but it often leads to soot. Soot is an insoluble stain that consists mainly of carbon. Use lubrication and mechanical action to remove insoluble stains.
I think it’s usually better to prespot insoluble stains on the dry side, with a good oily-type paint remover (OTPR) and tamping. Use the lubrication and mechanical action of drycleaning to remove the last traces of the stain in the wheel.
“Crisis”-level stain-removal skills will make you a hero and earn you many loyal, repeat customers. People spend lots of money on holiday outfits, and when you restore them, you protect their investment. They will notice and appreciate the effort. Isn’t that the best gift of all?

About the author

Martin L. Young Jr.

Industry Consultant and Trainer

Martin L. Young Jr. has been an industry consultant and trainer for 20 years, and a member of various stakeholder groups on environmental issues. He is a past president of the North Carolina Association of Launderers & Cleaners (NCALC). He grew up in his parents’ plant in Concord, N.C., Young Cleaners, which he operates to this day. Contact him by phone at 704-786-3011, or via e-mail at


Digital Edition

Latest Classifieds

Industry Chatter