With Spring Comes Bloom of Caramelized Sugar

Martin L. Young Jr. |

Heavy-protein coats, sweaters, suits give way to cellulose, blends

CONCORD, N.C. — Springtime is upon us, and with it comes a change in your customer’s wardrobe. The heavy-protein coats, sweaters and suits give way to cellulose and blends (cotton, ramie and linen are much more water-friendly and durable than the protein animal fibers of fall and winter). The dark browns, grays and navy will be replaced by bright pastels. That is all well and good, but what does that mean to the garment care professional?

You will begin to see items that contained stains when they were last put away. These stains may not have been noticeable at the time the garments were stored, but now those “invisible” stains have taken on a color ranging from light tan to dark brown.

Look closely at the edges of the stain. If there is a distinct edge to the stain, and the customer did not notice the substance was present when storing, the stain may well be caramelized sugar. This staining occurs when the sugar in the substance (usually a clear beverage) takes on color when subjected to time and heat. Removal of caramelized sugar is rather straightforward and often requires only flushing with steam over the vacuum nose of the spotting board.

If the stain is indeed caramelized sugar, the effects of the steam will be noticeable immediately, as most or all the stain will disappear. If most of the stain is gone but a slight hint remains, apply NSD followed by light mechanical action, then flush again over the vacuum nose of the spotting board. If any hint of the stain remains, repeat the process but use tannin formula in the place of NSD. On extremely old stains, it may be necessary to neutralize any leftover tannin formula with protein formula before using peroxide or perborate to spot-bleach the area and remove the last traces.

Another type of stain that shares many of the same traits is much more difficult to remove. This stain may range in color from yellow to brown but can be recognized by the distinct cross pattern around the perimeter of the stain. This “wicking” along the threads is a sign that the stain is most likely oxidized oil.

Taking the time to examine the stain and knowing what to look for can make the difference in successfully removing the stain, disappointing the customer, or even having a damage claim.

Over the years, I have come to treat all suspected oxidized-oil stains in the same manner, but removing these stains requires some of the most aggressive procedures a cleaner/spotter will ever be called on to perform. These stains are not stains for a novice spotter.

Oxidized oil is a dry-side stain, so wet-side spotting will have little or no effect at the beginning of the stain-removal process. If you are located in a community that still allows the use of some form of Volatile Dry Spotter, you should start by applying VDS in an amount that will just cover the stain and then allow to stand for 5-7 minutes. Keep the stain over the solid portion of the spotting board and apply a POG remover. Tamp the stain to drive the bristles of the brush into the substance and help break it down. Place a towel under the stained area and flush with VDS (if allowable) or POG (if VDS use is restricted in your locale). Inspect the stain for improvement, and repeat the process until there is no longer any noticeable reduction in the stain. Dry clean as normal.

Passing on pre-spotting and using normal processing may reduce the intensity of an oxidized-oil stain, but it will always fall short of an acceptable level for customer satisfaction. A last resort for the cleaner/spotter is the use of KOH-alcohol solution. This process has fallen out of favor due to the fact that it requires effort and time. The formula of 1/3 oz. of KOH to 1 quart of normal butyl alcohol has proven over time to be effective on oxidized-oil stains. However, a word of caution: this is a highly aggressive alkali that becomes even more aggressive in the presence of water. While it is the most effective way to remove oxidized-oil stains, care must be taken to prevent contact with moisture and thus damage during its use in stain removal.

It is still my experience that cleaners/spotters/owners are not giving credit to the advances in the chemical tools used in water immersion. Doing something as simple as soaking a garment in a low- or neutral-pH detergent can make you appear to be a magician. Even the use of NSD as a soak for a garment containing a water reference on its care label can pay huge dividends. But the use of a sodium perborate bath for those cellulose/cellulose blends in a pastel color and that contain beverage stains from last fall will go a long way toward impressing your customers.

There are many products that contain sodium perborate, but if you are still timid about their use, you can pick up a “safe” bleach at the supermarket. Just be sure that sodium perborate is the first item on the list of contents.

Fill a plastic container with enough warm water (110-125 F) to allow free movement of the garment. Dissolve the powder in the water, then immerse the garment. Move the garment up and down a few times, turning it a quarter turn while moving up and a quarter turn while moving down. Walk away and come back later. As the water cools, the sodium perborate bleach will become less active. I often allow garments to soak overnight and retrieve them when I get caught up the following morning.

Rinse the garment in clear water once, followed by water containing 1 oz. acetic acid, followed by a second clear rinse. Follow this rinse with a conditioner, and dry as appropriate for the fabric and any trim. Minimums of expense, time and effort will yield maximum results.

It is to your advantage to make your spotting and cleaning skills look effective and professional in the eyes of the public.

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 mayoung@vnet.net.

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