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Not All Yellow Stains Are Created Equal

Martin L. Young Jr. |

CONCORD, N.C. — There are times when all stains begin to look alike; they seem to be a shade of tan or yellow. The problem is, not all yellow stains are the same.

They do not have the same origin; they do not have the same composition. This yellow/tan can range from caramelized sugar, to a beverage stain, to a stubborn oxidized oil stain.

The earlier the stain is identified, the easier it will be to remove the stain. This points to the need for your customer service representative to form the habit of asking each customer, “Are you aware of any spots or stains on any of your garments?” Information gathered should be passed on to the spotter to assist in establishing the proper course of action to effectively remove the stain.

Stain content will determine the chemical tools necessary and the protocol to follow in stain removal. Fiber content and garment construction, as well as the age of the stain, can adversely affect the stain-removal process. Any attempt by the customer to remove the stain will make professional stain removal more difficult or even impossible.

A stain that is caramelized sugar can be easily identified because any moisture will significantly lighten the color and soften the texture of the stain. This stain should respond to the wet-side protocol of flushing with steam, applying neutral synthetic detergent (NSD), using light mechanical action, and then flushing with steam again.

If the stain appears to follow the warp and weave of the fabric, forming crosses, the stain is from an oily substance such as cooking oil. It is a dry-side stain and should be pre-spotted with paint-oil-grease remover (POG) before dry cleaning.

Never combine moisture and POG on a stain, as this combination usually leads to color change and dye removal. The heat from drying after cleaning may well alter a difficult oily stain into a nearly impossible oxidized oil stain. In this case, getting in a hurry and cutting corners will make stain removal much more difficult.

You should pre-spot oily stains by placing the stain over the solid portion of the spotting board and applying a good POG. Start with light mechanical action, but increased mechanical action may become necessary to penetrate and break down the stain. Take into consideration the fiber content, type of construction, and the dye to determine just how aggressive you can be with mechanical action.

Many beverage stains from soft drinks, fruit juice and mixed drinks can be almost invisible in garments at the front counter. The sugar they contain will darken when exposed to the heat of drying. This classic scenario can result in the customer accusing you of putting stains on their garments. If these stains are not caught by inspection after the cleaning process, they will most certainly be found by the final inspector: the customer.

You can explain all this to your customer by using the example of an apple turning brown after it is bitten and left open to the air. Beverage stains are significantly more difficult to remove after being exposed to heat and may require the use of bleach to remove the final traces.

Your customers may not understand the significance of identifying stains; your CSRs must be trained to ask the right questions. The information obtained from the customer must then be written on the invoice and passed along to the spotter.

Pre-spotting on the wet side is sometimes necessary for the water-based yellow stains. Wet-side pre-spotting is more time-consuming and risky, but will reduce the number of “set” stains requiring post-spotting and spot bleaching.

When an item is pre-spotted wet side, it must always be allowed to dry before it is placed in the drycleaning machine. Any damp areas are subject to being dirt “magnets” in the drycleaning system. This is called redeposition, because dirt removed from other items in the load is redeposited on the damp area of the garment. Redeposition remains one of the biggest problems in the cleaning industry yet one of the easiest to prevent.

Oily stains can become oxidized by heat or, most often, time. The jagged edges that move along the warp and weave of the fiber are a sure indication of oxidized oil.

Think of a napkin that is used at a Thanksgiving meal, but is put away at the end of the day because it shows no signs of being stained. When it is taken out to use a few months later, there are yellow stains from butter and turkey grease. Time has taken its toll. No amount of water, detergent or bleach is going to fix the problem, but with ample effort and knowledge, you can exceed the customer’s expectations.

Information gathered by your CSR at the counter can make your spotter’s job easier, produce better results, and prevent stains from being set by the heat of drying.

About the author

Martin L. Young Jr.

Industry Consultant and Trainer

Martin L. Young Jr. has been an industry consultant and trainer for the last 18 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 mayoung@vnet.net.

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