The Right Tools for The Job

Martin L. Young Jr. |

As I entered the parking lot, I was impressed. An outer parcel in a strip shopping center, the plant couldn’t be more than two years old. The building was red brick, aluminum and glass. It was obviously designed and built from the ground up to restore textiles efficiently and effectively, and I was envious of the owner.
Then I went inside. It was only a shell of a drycleaning establishment. There was no spotting board to be found. There was a single, self-contained utility press with a piece of copper tubing running across the floor to a Suzy. But the “plant” had two cases of a popular POG product and three boxes of “Sorry” tags.
Would you trust your car to a mechanic that only used two tools: a screwdriver and a pair of pliers? Would you want the person painting your living room to show up with only a spray gun, making no attempt to fill and sand away the blemishes in the wall? The tools you have on hand and the time you spend (yes, time is a tool, too) go a long way toward defining customers’ perceptions of your operation.
Let’s start with time. The idea that the cleaning industry is a “value-added service” has fallen into disfavor. The customer believes that the cleaner will use specific knowledge, experience and equipment to restore their garments.
Many cleaners want to turn as many items as possible in the shortest amount of time. But chemical tools such as enzyme digesters can differentiate you in a marketplace that’s saturated with “whip-and-dip” competition. You may succeed in removing the stain completely with 30 extra seconds of effort. The resulting word-of-mouth will win you new customers and guarantee that you can retain your current customer base.
Knowledge is also a tool. Far too many of our brother cleaners have little or no working knowledge of textile chemistry, fibers, fabrics and dyes. By investing in yourself and your employees, you will turn out a more consistent cleaning product and reduce the potential for a claim drastically. Continuing education works for doctors, lawyers and accountants, and it works in garment care, too. One seminar per year will pay dividends — it will put money in your pocket and keep it there.
The tools you keep at the board can make a vast difference in the success of your stain-removal efforts. A white towel serves many purposes, for example. It can be used to determine whether a garment is going to bleed on the wet side, and how much. It can be used under an ink stain during spotting to prevent it from spreading.  
A wooden toothpick will allow you to apply chemicals with pinpoint accuracy. A cotton swab is ideal for applying chemicals to very localized areas. A pair of scissors will be essential to remove the tip of a pocket saturated by a leaking pen. If the saturated area is not removed before cleaning, the ink will wick and saturate the surrounding area.
I once worked for about two minutes on a stain only to realize that it was a burn. I now keep a magnifying glass handy to get up-close and personal with problem stains. Disposable latex gloves allow an additional level of comfort when working on “undesirable” stains. Tweezers permit you to remove the occasional splinter.
Spotting brushes require maintenance. They should be placed with the bristles down after use. When moisture and chemicals are allowed to saturate the wooden base and handle, the wood will begin to crack and split, requiring you to purchase new ones.
Use brushes to tamp stains over the solid portion of the board; resist the urge to brush. The less brushing you do, the less risk there will be for yarn slippage and chafing. Invest in a silk brush for more delicate fibers; it has a covered pad instead of bristles.
Many spotters mishandle the bone at the board. Cut at an angle, it is more comfortable to hold flat while applying mechanical action. Use the broad, flat surface to apply mechanical action to localized areas, and don’t use the point to dig at a stain. Wipe the bone clean after use to prevent cross-contamination of chemicals.
The steam spotting gun is a very effective stain-removal tool. It is to be respected, but not feared. Held too close to a stain, the muzzle’s velocity can literally blow a hole in a plain or twill fabric. Four inches is as close as you can go under normal procedures. The gun must be aimed straight down to reduce the risk of yarn slippage.
When drying a spotted area, use a circular motion, staying approximately a half-inch outside the wet area. Dry from the stain’s outside to its center, following the wet edge as it dries. Wipe the end of the nozzle at the end of the day to prevent a build-up of gunk from chemicals and lint.
The board itself must be kept clean at all times to prevent the restaining of clean garments. Wipe down the board after each run. Wipe down the board after any spot-bleaching to eliminate the possibility of getting bleach on the next garment.
Arrange your chemical tray and keep that arrangement the same all the time. This will help you reduce the risk of grabbing the wrong chemical by mistake. Once a week, remove the nose grid of the board and pour at least 32 ounces of hot water though it to eliminate the build-up that can reduce vacuum power to the nose.
One more reminder: Get into the habit of “stepping on cracks.” To ensure you always step on the vacuum pedal when using steam or air, step on the crack between the center pedal and the end pedals. With experience, your muscle memory will make this movement second-nature.
“A carpenter is known by his chips,” they say. A spotter is known by his board and the tools he has available to do the job better than his competitors.

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


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