Primer on Protein, Tips for Tannin

Martin L. Young Jr. |

Glance at every item and care label

CONCORD, N.C. — I must apologize to those of you new to the industry, because I occasionally lose sight of those with little or no experience in stain removal. In my defense, I visit plants that make far too much effort applying manufacturing protocols to this service industry and little or no effort on stain removal.

Keep in mind that each and every item has its own set of variables: fiber, weave, color, dyeing method, trim and stain content. What I hope to do with this column is to commit to print the considerations and steps that have become second nature for me. I will try to limit myself to just stain removal protocol and leave general cleaning for a later time.

Glance at each and every item and its care label. This can be done while a garment is awaiting classification, during run classification, or while being loaded into the cleaning machine.

A water reference on the care label is grounds to at least consider wet cleaning. There is no rule that says you cannot pre-spot on the wet side an item to be wet-cleaned. The heat from the steam gun will multiply the chemical action of a laundry POG, and wet-side pre-spotting with the appropriate tannin or protein formula makes those usually hard-to-remove beverage or blood stains flush more easily during the wetcleaning process. As a cleaner/spotter, you know what is important, and a quick glance may catch something that slips past even the best CSR.

If you determine the need to pre-spot mineral stains (paint, oil, grease, glue), do so on the dry side and then dry-clean the item. On the other hand, tannin and protein stains that are anything but light should be pre-spotted on the wet side. Even a drycleaning machine at the maximum 75% relative humidity allowed by the Federal Trade Commission will not completely remove half a cup of coffee with cream and sugar. Be sure to completely dry the area and apply a leveling agent before dry-cleaning anything that has been spotted wet-side.

The first step in wet-side stain removal is to flush the area over the vacuum nose of the board with steam. This will break the surface tension of the fabric, spread and expand the fabric, and heat the area to enhance any future chemical action.

Some stains may require nothing more, but the next step is to apply neutral synthetic detergent (NSD) and light mechanical action. This stain-removal agent will quickly penetrate and lubricate the stain. Flush the area over the vacuum nose of the board.

It has been my experience that about 33% of wet-side stains, both tannin and protein, are removed using these first two steps. The ability to do this at little risk of a pH color change is a strong endorsement for two steps that will take less than 30 seconds combined.

Stains that originate from a plant are referred to as tannin stains, and stains that originate from an animal are referred to as protein stains. A majority of tannin stain-removal agents have an acid pH, and a majority of protein stain-removal agents have an alkali pH. If you are not absolutely sure of the stain’s content, start with the tannin stain-removal agent. Placing a protein stain remover on a tannin stain will make it harder to remove; placing a tannin stain remover on a protein station has little to no effect on stain removal.

I have a more difficult time with tannin stains than I do with protein stains. I keep four different tannin formulas within easy reach. The mildest is my first choice for silk, rayon, dark colors and other fragile situations. The next is slightly more aggressive and is the choice for known stable colors, fibers and construction. The third is reserved for stubborn stains with which I am confident I can “push” harder, based upon knowledge of the characteristics of the dye, fiber and construction. The last chemical tool, before considering spot bleaching, is general formula. All of these chemical tools are used over the solid portion of the board, applying light mechanical action, then flushing out the stain over the vacuum nose of the board.

Protein stains are easier for me; this may be the result of my liberal use of a digester at the spotting board. If I feel that a protein stain may present a problem, I flush the area with steam to heat and moisten it, then apply a digester to the protein stain in the place of my NSD. I place that item aside and proceed to spot any other items or to lay out/classify my next run.

When I come back to the item, the digester has penetrated and softened the protein stain. I flush the stain over the vacuum nose of the board, expecting most of the spot to be flushed away. I then proceed to a mild protein formula over the solid portion of the board, followed by light mechanical action. This is then flushed over the vacuum nose of the spotting board. If any trace of the stain remains, I proceed to a stronger protein formula, some of which may give off a hint of ammonia. It is rare that the stain will withstand digester and two different protein formulas.

When faced with an unknown stain, or a combination stain of both tannin and protein (coffee with cream, for example), remember to start with a steam flush, followed by NSD and a steam flush, followed by a tannin formula.

I am often asked to endorse chemical tools by their trade name. This is something that I resist. Your product decisions should be based on your personal relationship with your distributor representatives and formed during visits to trade shows. Experience has shown me that a cleaner/spotter will only use a tool that is within his comfort zone. Find a chemical tool that you are comfortable with, then use it to stay ahead of the competition.

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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