CONCORD, N.C. — Cooler weather has arrived and, along with it, outerwear. You can look forward to sweaters, jackets, parkas and overcoats. But you will find, with this influx of seasonal garments, that customers will present a consistent set of stains and problems.
The first consideration is the fiber and fabric connected to cold weather. Protein fibers have come to dominate the cold months, followed closely by moisture-resistant products of modern chemistry. Wool, camel hair, angora and cashmere are all fibers that originate with animals. They have characteristics that make them desirable for warmth and durability. For the sake of discussion, they can be broken down into soft (angora, cashmere) and hard (wool, camel hair) types.
Soft protein fabrics should be considered as “delicate” and handled accordingly. The longer strands are subject to tangling during heavy mechanical action.
Sweaters of soft protein fibers should be run in a net bag, one to a bag, and strictly classified by color to avoid “lint” transfer in the run. If you choose to run a white angora sweater with a navy overcoat, you are going to need a fresh lint roller. Cashmere is also used in high-end sport coats and overcoats; this gives a soft look and feel that must be protected. I recommend pre-spotting of angora and cashmere and running a short cycle to reduce mechanical action.
The hard protein fibers are woven to provide a durable surface and provide warmth to the consumer. In relatively new condition, these worsted wools will contain a certain level of lanolin, which will act to reduce stain penetration. As wear and cleaning reduces the lanolin, stains will penetrate the fiber. These garments dry-clean well since they are sensitive to water, but consideration must be given to trim such as real leather buttons.
The consumer does not always present garments that have been stored in the off-season, under ideal conditions. Garments that were put away stained present a challenge for the cleaner/spotter. Greasy food stains will oxidize over time, making them hard to remove. They should be pre-spotted on the dry side with a good POG. Use mechanical action and time to your advantage.
Allow angora and cashmere to “sit” after applying the POG and using reduced mechanical action. Wool and camel hair can tolerate normal tamping before cleaning.
If there is a crust on an old stain, brush it away while dry, before pre-spotting. Use protein spotters sparingly on protein fibers. I recommend using a digester on old protein stains, wait about a half-hour, then use normal protein stain protocols. A word of caution: Using any bleach on protein fibers other than hydrogen peroxide can cause damage that cannot be reversed or hidden.
Gore-Tex® is the trade name of a “miracle” fabric that allows body moisture to escape while blocking rain or snow. This makes the fabric extremely comfortable for wearers of winter outerwear, and is made possible by the minute size of the fabric’s pores. Thus, these pores must be protected when cleaning Gore-Tex garments.
Follow the care label strictly. I recommend at least one rinse in new or distilled solvent to ensure that no detergent or NVR has accumulated in the fabric pores. If supplemental stain removal is required, use the least aggressive stain removal agent, proceed slowly, and rinse repeatedly. Do not deviate from the manufacturer’s care instructions. Use solvent that is in excellent condition. Do not use fabric softener or sizing.
Nylon is a synthetic fiber derived from petroleum. It is a great fabric choice for outerwear to provide protection from wind and showers. But cleaning and stain removal are impacted when petroleum-based stains are allowed to remain in the garment over time and then form a bond with the petroleum fiber. It is extremely difficult to break this bond and retain the garment’s original structural integrity.
Time and heat are two major enemies of stain removal. Their effects are compounded when the consumer chooses to store the off-season garments in an area that is not temperature-controlled, like an attic. A baked chicken casserole may be appealing, but baking spaghetti on the front of a sweater is trouble for even the most experienced cleaner/spotter.
When you are told that the stain “has probably been in there since I last wore it in March,” set the garment aside for further inspection. Pre-condition old stains before attempting any stain removal.
Soften old, oily sauces with a general pre-spotter or mild POG for a period of 15 minutes.
Soften old protein stains with an enzyme digester for 45 minutes to an hour, unless the stain is in a protein fiber. In that case, cut the time in half to protect the fabric.
Soften old tannin stains with a tannin formula for 30 minutes. Follow normal stain-removal protocol from this point.
You may well receive a light-colored protein garment, such as a wool sport coat. The stain will be almost symmetrical, and will vary in color from dark yellow, through orange, to brown. Examine it closely. On many occasions, such stains are chemical burns, the result of the consumer attempting to remove them using chlorine bleach on the protein fabric. This cannot be corrected.
It is worth repeating: As a professional, you should never apply chlorine bleach to any protein fabric.
Being a garment care professional is far more than chasing pieces—it is providing garment restoration that the consumer cannot duplicate at home.