Lot of Little Things Contribute to Consistent Cleaning

Martin L. Young Jr. |

CONCORD, N.C. — There is going to come a time when a cleaner/spotter will get themselves into a difficult situation. It may be through aggressive stain removal, a mistake by another employee, poor classification, or poor maintenance.

There is going to come a time when the short-term goal is to get the garment back to its condition when you began the cleaning process. That can be a sickening feeling, accepting that the problem occurred after the garment was in your custody and control. It is your responsibility. It is your potential claim.

When attempting supplemental stain removal, it is easy to temporarily lose sight of the sensitivity of the fabric and dye. This sensitivity varies from garment to garment, depending on the fiber content and construction.

The tensile strength of a silk fabric, for example, is greatly reduced by moisture. Mechanical action applied to the stain must be drastically reduced to avoid chafing the area. Chafing is the breaking of the small fibers in the yarn resulting in the area appearing lighter than the original color.

Many times, this chafing can be camouflaged by making up a mineral oil bath—10 ounces of mineral oil to a gallon of hydrocarbon—in a container that allows for free movement. Saturate the garment for about a minute and then extract lightly. Dry as normal.

Allowing the fabric to soak for longer periods may allow the mineral oil to accumulate in the seams, which will result in them looking darker than the garment. Mineral oil can be applied to small areas with a powder puff, then feathered to the outside to level the color intensity. Diluted mineral oil works well on any fabric in which chafing has occurred.

The solution of another problem in stain removal is much simpler but must be taken quickly. There are times when the dye will be sensitive to the pH of the chemical tool used in stain removal. This sensitivity will result in localized color change. Many inexperienced cleaners have allowed garments to go out after they thought they had “knocked out the color.”

When faced with this reaction, immediately flush the area with steam while applying the opposite chemical: neutralize tannin with a protein, neutralize protein with tannin. This is the reason that chemical tools must be flushed out before proceeding to the next chemical tool; leaving tannin in the garment and applying protein because it is the next thing to try only reduces the effect of both chemical tools.

Whether it is lipstick or ink, the same sinking feeling occurs when you open the door of the machine and see the marks on a load of customer clothes. Look over the garments, and hope that the damage is isolated.

Reclean the garments to remove as much of the stain as possible. If you have the capability, add a quart of POG to the wheel and run for at least 15 minutes, without circulating the solvent. This “batching” should reduce the number of damaged garments.

Treat the remaining spots on the dry side with POG, then reclean. The remaining damaged garments should be spotted on the wet side, first with NSD, then tannin, then protein and, finally, spot-bleached with sodium perborate. At this point, any remaining damaged garment that can tolerate water should be soaked in a sodium perborate bath. It comes down to doing what is necessary to prevent a claim.

It is important to classify garments into the proper grouping for dry cleaning. A bulkier item will take longer to dry than a sheer silk or rayon. The result is usually a lightweight item with streaks and swales from rubbing against the still-damp garment. This can be corrected by spraying the streaked item with a leveling agent to break down the streaks and swales in recleaning.

Even more serious is the dark item that makes its way into a light or pastel run and leaves dye streaks on some of the garments. Recleaning the damaged items will help significantly but some may require a reducing bleach to remove the last traces of fugitive dye.

The No. 1 problem caused by cleaners is redeposition. It is also the easiest to prevent.

Do not introduce garments to the drycleaning system when they are still damp from wet-side spotting. Maintain solvent clarity by properly caring for the filtration on the machine and by adequately distilling your solvent. A new problem I am seeing is choosing to keep the base tank at less than 50% of capacity, which only allows the concentration of NVR in the solvent to rise.

Redeposition can usually be corrected by the use of POG at the spotting board, or by batching POG in the drycleaning wheel. This is not a good situation, but it comes down to doing what is necessary to prevent a claim.

Good, consistent cleaning is not one particular thing. It is a lot of little things that string together to form an effective system.

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


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