Good Stain Removal Has Its Perks

Martin L. Young Jr. |

I’m thankful for specialty coffees and all the places that sell a vast number of brews to satisfy varied tastes in hot beverages. The combination of a paper cup and a dark beverage — what a gift to the garment-care professional!
But to keep this situation a gift, you must know the tools and protocols needed to deal with a combination (tannin and protein) stain. The stains in a typical latté include coffee, milk, and flavored or sugared additives.
This combination of materials can be problematic if you don’t approach them in the proper order. Start on the wet side, and never cut corners — proceed step-by-step.
Go for the coffee first. An application of tannin formula rarely sets a protein stain, but an application of protein formula to a tannin stain often complicates stain removal. Forethought can save you time and effort.
Over the board’s vacuum nose, depress the steam and vacuum pedals simultaneously and flush the area with steam. The materials were in a liquid state when they landed; rehydrate them.
Steam will also heat the area surrounding the stain, accelerating the action of the spotting agents. The pressure of the steam gun will begin to break down the stain and spread the fibers slightly, allowing quicker penetration of any additional spotters used.
Pull the stained area back over the solid portion of the board. Apply neutral synthetic detergent (NSD) to the stain, and use mild mechanical action to work it in. This will help further penetrate the stain while protecting the garment’s dyes from developing any pH-based color changes.
Pull the stain back over the vacuum nose and flush the area with steam again. If you have never used this wet-side protocol, you’ll be surprised at how much of the stain can be removed with little risk to the fabric and color. By now, you’ve removed at least one-third of the coffee, much of the sugar and some of the milk. You’re well on your way to removing the entire stain.
Move the stain back to the solid part of the board and select a mild tannin formula. Apply a few drops to the stained area, and apply mild mechanical action. Return the stained area to the nose of the board and flush it with steam. If the dark coffee stain is not completely gone, you can repeat the use of a mild tannin formula or move on to a slightly stronger one.
The strength of most tannin formulas is usually related to the concentration of acetic acid in the formula, and the one you choose should depend on the fabric and dye. A red silk blouse with a satin weave is obviously far more fragile than a navy polyester twill!
Once the coffee is removed, place the remaining stain over the solid portion of the board and place a few drops of NSD on the area to remove the last traces of tannin formula. Flush the area with steam.
To remove the last traces of milk, place the stain over the solid portion of the board and apply a few drops of protein formula. Apply mild mechanical action, and flush the area with steam over the vacuum nose. You can repeat this step or move on to a stronger protein formula; a protein formula’s strength is usually related to its ammonia content.
There should no longer be any sugar left in the stain, since sugar is highly soluble in water. Without exposure to water, sugars can stay behind and darken to a yellow, orange or brown. This often happens with clear beverages such as champagne.
When you’ve removed the stain completely, dry the area thoroughly. It’s a good idea to cover the area with a leveling agent to prevent trace moisture from attracting redeposition when the garment is drycleaned.
Combination stains don’t have to be a source of fear. With a basic knowledge of fibers, fabrics, dyes and textile chemistry, you can achieve complete stain removal without anxiety. Today’s customers are bringing in garments with specific problems to address, and excellent stain removal will help you outshine the competition.

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 [email protected].


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