Handling The

Norm Oehlke |

How often have you refused to accept a garment that is extremely soiled — so badly soiled that no one wants to touch it?
While visiting a drycleaning plant recently, I was asked for an opinion on how to process three untouchable garments. Each item arrived in a plastic bag, tied at the top to help contain its odor. The articles had been accepted from three different customers who had signed consent forms. Here’s what happened.Given The Bird. The first bag opened contained a rayon minidress stained with bird droppings. It must have been one huge bird... what a way for a spotter to start the day!
The type of stain dictated wetcleaning, but the dress was labeled “Dryclean only.” To test it before attempting wetcleaning, an unstained portion was saturated with neutral synthetic detergent (NSD) and warm steam. No dye bleeding, puckering or shrinkage occurred, so soaking in water would be safe.
Several gallons of warm water were put in a bucket, along with a few ounces of NSD. When the dress was submerged, much of the stain solubilized immediately; the water was changed and the dress submerged again. After several soakings, the stain appeared to be removed. One final rinse in clear water, and the dress was hung to drip-dry.
In a few hours, the dress looked perfect — no wrinkles or distortion, and it was easy to finish. Machine washing and extraction would have caused excess wrinkling, especially on an all-rayon dress. The soaking, however, was done in a stationary bucket with no agitation, squeezing or mechanical extraction and therefore, produced no hard wrinkles. Wetcleaning provided 100% restoration and likely a very happy customer.Accidents Happen. The second bag contained a pair of gray, all-wool men’s trousers that had heavy fecal stains. The pants appeared to be part of an expensive suit.
A quick test for colorfastness with warm steam and detergent produced no dye bleeding. Again, a bucket of warm water with detergent was made up, and the trousers were given the same treatment as the dress — soaking only, with no agitation or crowding. After a final rinse in clear water, the trousers were hung to drip-dry. It took longer for the wool pants to dry, but when they did, they were completely stain-free.
Neither of these garments was measured before wetcleaning due to the stains — measuring would have been an unpleasant task. Luckily, there was no evidence of shrinkage or distortion.Bloody Murder. The third bag contained a blue linen dress (“Dryclean only”) featuring large areas encrusted with blood. It was a was a plain, A-line dress with no pleats or elaborate tailoring details, so wetcleaning again was the best choice. Colorfastness tests were performed, and no objectionable dye bleeding was noted.
Again, a warm-water bath with NSD was used and changed each time it became discolored. Once the bath no longer evidenced release of the stain, the dress was put in a warm digester bath for 30 minutes. When all stains appeared to have been removed, it was rinsed thoroughly in clear water and hung to dry.
After drying, some slight staining was still present. Linen is known to have limited colorfastness, so I was reluctant to proceed with a protein remover and instead applied a few drops of hydrogen peroxide, which produced the typical white foaming. I then flushed the area with steam, and all remaining residue of the stain was removed.
Hydrogen peroxide is great for breaking down the last residues of blood stains and making them water-soluble, and safer than protein removers after a digestion bath. Only 3% hydrogen peroxide was used and left on the fabric for a few seconds. A mild bleach like this won’t destroy color in such a short time; longer contact would have required more colorfastness tests.
One of the most important aspects of all stain-removal procedures is analyzing stain content. The above stains were all water-soluble, so wetcleaning was the correct procedure. There was no need to use any dry-side agents or drycleaning procedures.
Stains this unpleasant aren’t likely to confront your operation often, but when they do, accept the challenge. Put them in a plastic bag or other airtight container and close it securely. Supply your spotter and anyone else handling the garments with plastic or latex gloves and perhaps a plastic apron. This makes handling them less threatening.
An upcharge is acceptable when processing nasty stains. No doubt the customers who brought in these items were embarrassed — who wouldn’t be? The story behind the stains was also probably embarrassing. But they have little choice — you’re the expert and the customer’s only hope.
These are examples of going the extra mile. If a drycleaner doesn’t accept undesirable staining problems, who else is going to come to the rescue? Only you can restore those favorite items to a like-new, wearable condition. Your customer will remember it for a long time and recommend you to their friends. And getting new customers by word-of-mouth is free advertising.

About the author

Norm Oehlke

Retired Columnist

Norm Oehlke was the author of American Drycleaner's Spotting Tips column from 1996 through 2007, as well as the author of American Drycleaner's Spotting Guide. Now retired, he spent a lifetime in the industry — first in a plant, and from 1955 through 1995 at IFI and its predecessor, NID. He resides with his wife, Adeline, in Highland, Md.


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