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‘Spotting’ Indian Summer (Conclusion)

Best way to approach an aged protein stain? With an enzyme digester

CONCORD, N.C. — The summer heat has faded and the leaves are giving us a backdrop of orange, gold and yellow.

The mornings are brisk and your drycleaning customers are breaking out those sweaters and jackets that were put away last spring.

Any stains left behind are now a major undertaking, due to time and heat “setting” the stain.

Does your business model include taking the time to pre-spot and post-spot a garment to impress a short-sighted customer who thought putting away a sweater for the season, without cleaning the sweater first, was a way to save money on cleaning?

Based solely on my experience, I want to throw out some estimated failure rates contrasting stains that are four weeks old verses stains that are less than 48 hours old.

After as much as four weeks, you will find less than satisfactory stain removal in a silk garment about 60% of the time.

In rayon, the rate of unsatisfactory stain removal after the time period is about 50%, or half the time. In cotton, the rate appears to be 33% while a poly/cotton blend is around 25%, or about the same as wool.

Acrylic appears to provide unsatisfactory stain removal after the four weeks about 20% of the time, and polyester seems to do best, at a 10% rate of unsatisfactory stain removal.

The numbers are not scientific, by far, but they are grounded in the fact that older stains are progressively more difficult to remove. As you can see from the numbers, natural fibers are less responsive after time. Also, the darker the color, the more easily it is chafed.


The best way to approach an aged protein stain like blood is with an enzyme digester.

When the color has degraded from the original red to a dark brown/black, the digester will soften and begin to solubilize the stain.

Place the stain over the vacuum nose of the spotting board and flush the area with steam. This will heat and moisten the area to assist the digester.

Cover the stain with an enzyme digester. Place a warm, wet cloth over the stain, then set the garment aside for a period of time. When you retrieve the garment, place it over the vacuum nose of the board and flush the stain with steam. You will probably see some of the stain removed along with the digester. You may want to repeat this process a second time before proceeding to the next step.

After you have finished using your enzyme digester, place the stain over the solid portion of the spotting board and apply a few drops of an aggressive protein stain remover.

You may want to make up a spotting bottle that contains a standard protein formula plus two drops of ammonia. Remember to test on an inside seam for colorfastness before committing to the aggressive chemical tool.

Apply mechanical action by tamping with your brush. Place the stain over the vacuum nose of the board and flush with steam. When you reach a point where the stain fails to respond to the protein spotter, you can finish the job by spot-bleaching with sodium perborate or hydrogen peroxide.

Place the wet stain over the solid portion of the spotting board and then apply a pinch of sodium perborate powder. Depress the steam pedal to get a wisp of steam at the nose of the spotting gun, then use the steam to melt the sodium perborate through the stain.

Once the stain disappears, flush the stain over the vacuum nose of the spotting board, then apply a couple of drops of acetic acid to neutralize the bleach.

Aged tannin stains follow the same general protocol as fresh tannin stains. The steps must be repeated more than once, and the choice of chemical tool must be one of the more aggressive formulations.

After testing for colorfastness on an inside seam, it is best to start by placing a few drops of acetic acid on the stain to put it in an acid environment.

Let this sit for about a minute, then proceed by flushing the stain with steam over the vacuum nose of the spotting board.

Move the stain over the solid portion of the board, add a few drops of tannin formula, and tamp with your spotting brush.

Flush the stain over the vacuum nose of the board, then repeat the process again. Any remaining tint from the stain should be spot-bleached in the same manner as the protein stain.

Dealing with aged stains is difficult but it is worth the effort to impress your customer.

To read Part One, go HERE.

Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Dave Davis at [email protected].