Spotting Tips: Take the Time to Test Trim


Photo: ©iStockphoto/Romanchuck

Martin L. Young Jr. |

CONCORD, N.C. — If you have been in the industry for less than three years, if you have never received formal training in the “ins and outs” of garment care, if you are dependent on outside salesmen for your information and technical set-up, I urge you to take a minute or two and read this column. It will cover a variety of subjects related to stain removal, and even a little about good, basic dry cleaning that contributes to stain removal.

I have the opportunity to visit a variety of operating plants during a given year and see the ideas of other business people being applied. It breaks my heart to meet someone who has invested their own money plus borrowed money, only to find that volume was much less than they expected. Each and every time, I find someone who failed to research the technical side of cleaning and assumed that buying equipment and leasing space were going to make them rich. Pride goes before destruction.


With the growth of package plants, there has been the misconception that individual stain removal (spotting) is too risky. Stories of damaged garments and claims being paid for ruined customer items constantly reinforce this idea. It is never mentioned that the owner or manager knows little or nothing about cleaning and spotting, nor does the employee doing the cleaning and spotting.

More than half the plants I visit have a cleaner who knows only how to latch the door on the dry cleaning machine and which program to “punch” to get the greatest productivity. With no training and no incentive to improve knowledge and skill, these owner/operators are taking a path of rushing to mediocrity in order to reduce risk.

The way to reduce risk is to form a habit of testing garments to be spotted. With experience will come confidence and a reduction in testing, but one never outgrows the need to test before spotting.

Test trim to verify that it will withstand the chemical tool being considered for stain removal. The care label can be used as a guide since it lists the fiber content and an appropriate method of cleaning, but it is incomplete in the area of spotting. Taking the time to test can prevent having to spend an hour restoring a damaged garment.

Always test in an unexposed area, preferably on the inside seam of the item. A stamp print and POG can easily lead to a claim, or to exceeding your customer’s expectations. Trim such as beads, sequins, and imitation leather is sensitive to almost all solvents, depending on the time of exposure. An eyedropper bottle containing your solvent of choice can be useful to test trim before cleaning. Place two or three drops of solvent on an unexposed area of trim and wait 20-30 seconds. If the trim becomes sticky or shows a color change, you have identified a problem garment before you have had to pay a claim.

When spotting, one must test any garment in question for the stability of the dye. Place a white towel over the vacuum nose of the spotting board, then place the item in question on top of the towel and lightly spray a small, out-of-the-way area with steam from a distance of 6-8 inches. Lift the item and inspect the towel. The extent to which there is dye on the towel indicates stability.

In spotting, or in cases where the immersion solution exceeds 65% relative humidity, dye instability could present a major problem. Dark areas wicking into contrasting light areas on the same garment, or transferring to other garments in the run, can be prevented by simply taking time to test. Surface dyes that are easily shifted can leave a noticeably light area where steam spotting has taken place.


Solvent maintenance is often neglected in plants. Many cleaners consider any solvent flow, regardless of its color, to be acceptable. I have repeatedly heard “We always leave a ring” as the complaint/excuse for not spotting. Technique could be the cause, but solvent maintenance is more likely the core of the problem.

Testing for dirty solvent is easy. Take a pastel or white cotton blouse that has been dry cleaned to the spotting board. Place three drops of VDS in the center of the front of the blouse. A charcoal or black ring indicates that you have excessive NVR in your dry cleaning system. This is solely a result of poor solvent maintenance and makes proper stain removal more difficult.

Many dry cleaners brag of not wasting money on dry cleaning detergent, but a good detergent will help manage the moisture that enters the dry cleaning machine on the items and thus reduce the risk of redeposition. It will reduce static in the clothes; static leads to lint on your darks when they come out of the dry cleaning machine.

A good dry cleaning detergent will enhance the cleaning characteristics of your solvent. Most solvents do a good job of removing oily type stains, but a detergent will greatly increase the removal of water-soluble stains in the wheel. Detergent will keep zippers working smoothly and protein fibers feeling soft and looking shiny.

Test your solvent flow rate by timing how long it takes to fill your wheel to overflow, from a standing start. If it takes longer than 90 seconds to fill the wheel, you will not have the proper amount of solvent exchanges during the cleaning cycle.

You would never attempt to launder shirts in muddy water and you cannot dry clean a customer’s clothes in dirty solvent. In these economic times, you must deliver a bright, odorless, spotless garment … or one of your competitors will.

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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