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Know Your Stain (Conclusion)

Just the feel can tell you a great deal

CONCORD, N.C. — There are times when stains are easy to identify. However, the appearance of a stain can be altered by time, temperature, and even the color of the garment.

Let’s use blood as an example.

Fresh blood will have a good red tint, older blood will gradually change to a brown (like chocolate), and eventually the blood will appear as a virtually black stain.

Stains can be identified by using location, occupation, texture, odor, or the intensity of the color.

The feel of the stain can tell you a great deal. A hard, stiff stain that bends about 45 degrees without cracking is a strong indication that you are dealing with a stain similar to lacquer, glue, or nail polish.

A hard, stiff stain that cracks quickly when bent, and is virtually flush with the surface of the garment, is a strong indication you are dealing with a heavy syrup or hard candy. A stain that is soft and sticky to the touch may well be an indication of a beverage or candy stain.

It is important to recognize if the stain has penetrated the fabric. Most stains that contain water will penetrate deep into the fiber. Most stains that contain little or no water will remain close to the surface.

By looking at the backside of the stain, you will be able to determine if the stain has penetrated deep into the fabric. This is a strong indication of its origin and content.

The most obvious indicator is the stain’s appearance. A tan/brown stain with a distinctive outline could be either beverage or caramelized sugar. If the edge is darker than the rest of the stain, it is more likely to be beverage than it is caramelized sugar.

However, if that same color of stain has an irregular outline and the edge is characterized by what appears to be crosses extending out from the edge, there is a good chance that you are dealing with a tough oxidized-oil stain.

A yellow, crusty stain could be any of a wide variety of things. If the surface crust disappears when the area is flushed with steam, it may well be mustard. If the remaining tan stain turns to pink when tannin formula is applied, you are almost certain to be dealing with mustard.

That same stain residue will turn to a faint blue color if you attempt spot-bleaching with sodium perborate to remove the last traces of the stain.


Two chemical tools common to the drycleaning industry have shown up on a new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) list. One is tetrachloroethylene (perc) and the second is trichloroethylene.

In the case of perc, our industry leaders have fought a good fight over the last 20 years and bought us added time to adjust our perspective and to move to alternative technologies. Trichloroethylene has long been the primary chemical in volatile dry solvents (VDS). While it is a fine spotting tool, it is now under close scrutiny, and its time to be used in stain removal may be coming to an end. The fact it made the list is a hint of a worker exposure problem that has now been identified. Start now to explore alternatives, if you are still using VDS.

To read Part 1, go HERE.

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