Make Your Plant a Household Name

Martin L. Young Jr. |

A first look at the comforter gave me the impression that she had dragged it behind her car. An entire winter of laying on it, wrapping herself up in it and sleeping under it had taken a heavy toll on the orange, green and brown earthtones. When she told me that she had a dust ruffle, shams and drapes to match, I told her that I would hold off on cleaning the comforter until she brought all matching pieces.
At first she was hesitant, probably thinking I was just trying to get more money out of her. But when I explained that cleaning only one of the matching pieces of a set would probably cause the cleaned piece to appear different from the other pieces, she thanked me. I’d avoided a claim, and after considering wetcleaning as an option, I chose to dryclean all of the pieces.
Drycleaning household items sometimes means performing wet-side spotting to remove water-soluble stains such as soda, coffee and bodily fluids. After spotting with the steam gun and drying, you should apply a good leveling agent to the area and set the item aside for at least 15 minutes.
You can perform wet-side spotting on a quilted comforter if you dry the area and apply a leveling agent to prevent localized redeposition. When drying a quilted or down comforter after cleaning, add a few tennis balls to the cycle to fluff up the quilting. It will turn a good job into an excellent job.
Pets are the biggest enemies of draperies and dust ruffles. Our furry friends have lanolin in their coats and pick up soils as they move from place to place. They transfer these staining materials to draperies and dust ruffles, giving them dingy areas. Lanolin is solvent-soluble, but the soils must be removed with moisture.
A mixture of two parts spray spotter and one part volatile dry solvent (VDS) is ideal. Apply it and keep any mechanical action to a minimum, since most household items contain surface dyes that make them look appealing, but limit serviceability. Aggressive mechanical action will produce crocking — a loss of surface dyes resulting in an unsightly area that’s lighter than the surrounding area — and maybe a claim.
Water-soluble stains on drapes present a unique set of problems. Household items often contain heavy sizing that furnishes the proper drape and hand. In many cases, sizing is water-soluble. If you use a steam gun to remove water-soluble stains, the moisture will loosen and produce shifts in sizing and dyes, causing rings, streaks and swales. Go slowly; test the item before you begin to avoid having to undo  an overly aggressive technique.
Spotters should use a slightly different protocol for wet-side stain removal on household items than they would on apparel. Flush the area with steam, adding distance between gun and fabric to reduce the chance of making the sizing and dye shift. Apply neutral synthetic detergent (NSD) with light mechanical action. Flush the area with steam, then dry it thoroughly. Repeat the process until the stain or circle is gone, and level and dry the area thoroughly to prevent redeposition and rings.
Dirt is not the only problem pets can bring to household items — animal urine is an increasingly common problem. When a cat decides to mark his territory on the new custom comforter or the new puppy has an accident on the corner of a drape, the customer has little choice other than seeking the help of a professional.
You’ll need a course of action that’s safe and reliable. It will require moisture in some form to break down the stain and its boundary circle. On “Dryclean only” items, the moisture must come from prespotting with the steam gun or a “semi-wet” dry-side spotter consisting of one part VDS and two parts spray spotter.
If prespotting with the steam gun, start on the outside of the stain and circle and work toward the center, using NSD to aid in stain removal. Dry the area with air and cover it with a leveling agent, then dryclean the item as a delicate. If using a semi-wet prespotter; apply the chemical and allow it to penetrate for about five minutes. Apply very mild mechanical action, flush with VDS and dryclean the item on a delicate cycle.
Urine, of course, produces the added problem of odor. A number of additives can mask or eliminate the smell, but like stain removal, odor removal requires some form of moisture. An enzyme-based odor remover is usually better than a masking agent; mix the odor remover in lukewarm water. Spray the area containing the odor every 15 minutes for about an hour, let it dry, cover it with a leveling agent and dryclean the item as a delicate.BE LEERY OF LABELS
Removing stains from household items is always a calculated gamble. The FTC doesn’t require the same amount of disclosure on care labels as it does for garments, and without this guidance, testing becomes mandatory. Go slowly, using NSD as often as possible. Use minimal mechanical action and always hold the steam gun a little farther away from the fabric.
Voluntary codes for household fabrics exist, but since they are voluntary, they are rare. A “W” means to avoid solvent; use a water-based foam cleaner instead. An “X” indicates brush and vacuum only. An “S” means you can clean the item with solvent, and that water will probably cause damage. And “W-S” means that the item should be spot-cleaned only, with water or solvent.
Even though good care-label instructions are rare, you can clean household items by using your knowledge of fibers and dyes, and exercising patience. Use these skills to expand your services and enhance your reputation.

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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