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Stain-Removal Problems in Common

CONCORD, N.C. — A reader recently sent me an e-mail that contained several questions. I’ve decided that I’m going to use it as the basis of this month’s column, because the problems cited are common to many operations and my comments should provide guidance and options in your stain-removal efforts.

Q: I use _____ as my POG and lately it’s been leaving a chemical stain (ring) on the clothing that I dry clean…

A: Most paint, oil and grease removers (POG) should easily flush in the drycleaning system. The vast majority of POG can be divided into those that are based in alcohol and others that have an “oily” base (OTPR). It is important to know the contents of any chemical stain-removal agent, as some combinations of fiber, fabric and dye are extremely sensitive to the alcohol (pH).

When used on the dry side, POG is effective on chemically soluble stains such as cosmetics, paint and grease as well as aiding in the removal of difficult solvent-soluble stains. POG is generally ineffective on water-soluble stains.

It is best to flush the area with VDS (volatile dry spotter), general pre-spotter, or leveling agent. When you do not flush the POG prior to dry cleaning, you are contributing to the non-volatile residue in the drycleaning system. This contamination is the one of the major contributing factors to streaks and swales in sheer garments. When heated by steam flushing, the alcohol in some POG will distort color. Unless the POG specifically states it can be used on the wet side, do not use a POG with steam.

Q: With tanning (sic) chemical on cotton, it seems to leave a water mark or stain…

A: Tannin formula must be fully flushed from the garment after the stain is removed. You can accomplish this by placing the area over the vacuum nose of the spotting board and flushing the area with steam. The damp area should be no larger than a half-dollar and air-dried over the vacuum nose of the spotting board.

Begin drying from outside the damp area and work toward the center of the moisture using a broad, circular motion. Because tannin is acid-based, there is always the possibility of a pH reaction in the dye. If this should happen, immediately begin flushing the area with steam over the vacuum nose of the spotting board and apply some protein formula to help reverse the color change.

Leaving a water circle after stain removal via steam is usually the result of drying the area with an improper motion and/or too quickly.

Q: What would be the best way to approach a stain in light-color clothing?

A: It is far better to approach a stain based upon solubility than upon the color of the garment. The fiber content, construction, trim, and dye stability will have to be considered and may limit the strength of the chemical tools used and the aggressiveness of the mechanical action. But, the job at hand is to remove the stain. You must determine if the stain is solvent-soluble, chemically soluble, water-soluble or insoluble before you can effectively use your tools and techniques to remove the stain.

Solvent-soluble stains are light oils and greases; these are usually broken down in the drycleaning machine. Chemically soluble stains are stains such as paint, glue and nail polish; these will require the help of chemical tools to achieve proper stain removal.

Water-soluble stains are the protein (from an animal) and tannin (from a plant). They are removable using water but may require the addition of a chemical tool. Water can be in the form of a spray spotter, semi-wet, cold water, or steam. Insoluble stains are stains such as carbon and graphite; these do not usually break down, and they require lubrication and mechanical action to remove them.

Q: The best way to approach a silk material?

Silk is a fragile fiber that comes from the cocoon of a worm. Silk is sensitive to alkali, and silk fiber loses tensile strength when wet. What this means is you must use care when using a protein spotter, and only after testing for color change on an inside seam. Any use of mechanical action while the area is moist may result in chafing, which will resemble color loss. Silk is not to be feared, but it must be understood and respected.

The first approach to stain removal in silk is working on the dry side and using time to your advantage. It is far better to use a general dry-side pre-spotter and clean the garment twice than to hurry to the wet side and rush the stain-removal process. Stain removal from silk validates the saying, “Haste makes waste.”

Stain removal is equal parts science and art. For one to have consistent success requires confidence, which is the result of knowledge and experience. Make sure you know what is going to happen before you begin the proper stain-removal protocol. Only when you can predict the results should you move forward with more aggressive stain-removal techniques.

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