Pre-Spotting Step Toward Better Cleaning

Martin L. Young Jr. |

CONCORD, N.C. — Many owners believe that pre-spotting is totally unnecessary. The continued evolution of the dry cleaning system allows for much better cleaning by machine than my father ever could have imagined. But this has led many cleaners to adopt an attitude of accepting any stains that do not come out in the dry cleaning machine and returning the garment—usually with a “Sorry” tag.

A “Sorry” tag is a poor advertisement for an operation that presents itself as a professional garment-care service.

Anyone who chooses to be a student of the cleaning industry can prosper by removing stains others routinely return to the customer. Knowledge, effort and experience effectively reduce fear of failure.

The customer brings his or her garments to a professional cleaner to have the stains removed. Any stains that remain in the garment make it appear to be unclean to that customer. No amount of advertising and no reduced pricing structure can sustain an operation that develops a reputation for poor quality. Developing the habit of selectively pre-spotting garments is a step toward improved cleaning.

Pre-spotting is selectively treating certain stains and garments before they undergo the cleaning process. This pre-treatment of stains known to be chemically soluble or water-soluble will immediately increase the quality of your cleaning process. Pre-spotting can easily be done between runs, having no impact on productivity. Pre-spotting can be done without steam (dry side) or with steam (wet side). Allow me to give you an introduction to dry-side pre-spotting.

Spray spotter is a necessary chemical tool in the stain-removal process. The best situation in which to begin using spray spotter is when cleaning jackets and cloth raincoats. Many times, a customer has worn these items for extended periods during the season, leaving a buildup of dirt and perspiration held in place by the wearer's body oils. Experience will allow you to recognize other opportunities to use spray spotter.

Spray spotters are readily available from various manufacturers. It is mixed with water at a rate of four parts water to one part chemical. (If available, use the spray spotter made by or recommended by the manufacturer of your dry cleaning detergent, as this will ensure compatibility within your dry cleaning machine.) The mixture is then sprayed on the collars and cuffs of the garment. Tamping the area breaks up the stain buildup on the garment.

A variety of means are used to spray the spotter, ranging from garden-type sprayers and tanks pressurized with compressed air to a simple spray bottle with a hand trigger. Each is effective.

I recommend that you remain “timid” when using spray spotter, since it is a major contributor of moisture to a dry cleaning system. Spray spotter is mostly water. Allow the garment to dry, or at least skip a run before placing the garment in the dry cleaning system. A good working knowledge of fibers, fabrics and dyes will go a long way in making you comfortable with this tool.

Redeposition is the primary concern when using spray spotter. Wet areas are known to become a “magnet” for soil released by other garments in the run, and this redeposition is the No. 1 way that garments are damaged by a cleaner.

Also, protein fibers do not respond well to water and mechanical action. Low twist yarns may become less defined and pill. Silk yarns lose tensile strength when wet, making then easily chafed and/or broken, leaving behind damage that resembles color loss.

There was a time when it was common for a cleaner to mix dry cleaning detergent and dry cleaning solvent for use as a pre-spotter, but environmental and work exposure regulations have eliminated this practice. Fortunately, several pre-mixed general pre-spotters have appeared to fill the gap.

These pre-spotters are excellent for unknown stains, and most are formulated to emulsify (encapsulate) water. The ability to emulsify water is important, as it allows an additional layer of protection on those occasions when you use spray spotter or you post-spot a stain wet side and want to rerun the garment. This pre-spotter acts as a leveling agent and thereby reduces the risk of redeposition.

A small amount of general pre-spotter and a light tamp with the brush can contribute a great deal to reducing post-spotting and reruns by acting in conjunction with your solvent to break down stains.

If you take the time to glance at the garments before cleaning and you pre-treat some stains, your cleaning and stain removal will be more productive and achieve a higher level of quality.

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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