Stains Are More Than Skin-Deep

Martin L. Young Jr. |

I’m sure she was once a beauty queen, and she’s still stunning in her designer blouse and pants. It just takes her a little more time to maintain the image she saw in the mirror back in 1989.
Thanks to the miracle of cosmetic chemistry, she has resources — foundation, blush, eye shadow, mascara, lipstick, nail polish and more. They’re part of many women’s daily routines, and they’re found on the garments we clean.
When you discover a cosmetic stain, ask yourself three questions: Should I prespot? Should I go dry-side? Is the stain chemically soluble? Solvents are great grease-cutters, and a few drops of VDS followed by a little paint, oil and grease remover (POG) will loosen many cosmetic products easily.
Cosmetics such as foundation and blush are usually lightweight and have a hint of color. They come in dry powder form, or in a liquid base that dries to a powder. In most cases, dry powder sits on the surface of the fabric as a result of incidental contact. A liquid may penetrate further into the fabric, but the limited color content, amounts and penetration typical of a foundation or blush stain is usually solvent-soluble.
Cosmetics such as eye shadow and mascara have more color content and are often liquid. They also contain small flecks of material that add volume to the lashes and sparkle to the eyes. The flecks will burst with color when they come into contact with solvent; take the time to pretreat eye shadow and mascara stains over a towel with a good POG, like you would an ink stain.
Lipstick — usually a combination of waxes and pigment — is found in almost every shade of the spectrum from “Prim Pink” to “Gothic Black.” Solvent may break down the wax, but often leaves behind some pigment. You must remove the wax carrier in order to attack the pigment, like you would a crayon stain. Pretreat lipstick stains with POG to remove the wax, then treat the pigment on the dry side before drycleaning.
Nail polish also comes in virtually every shade and color. Never assume that it is solvent-soluble; pretreat it on the dry side before cleaning. You may need a series of small treatments using VDS, POG and amyl acetate to remove the polish completely. Like paint, you must break the hard shell of the polish in order to attack the colored pigment.
Commercial nail-polish remover contains acetone, which damages acetate fabrics on contact. I once had a customer who spilled nail polish on her white pants. She poured nail-polish remover on the stain while still wearing the pants, melting the wool lining and her hose, and burning her leg.
To prespot cosmetics on the dry side, place the garment over the solid portion of the board and apply a few drops of VDS to the stain. Apply mild mechanical action with the bone or brush. Follow up with a few drops of POG and light mechanical action. Flush the entire area with VDS and clean.
Cosmetic pigments may not come out in the first cleaning. Don’t panic; repeat the dry-side procedures before moving to the wet side. The carrier substances may be solvent-soluble, but the pigments may be water-soluble. Follow wet-side protocols one step at a time until the color is removed.
Place the area over the vacuum nose of the board and flush the area with steam and vacuum simultaneously to remove as much of the stain as possible. Pull the stain over the solid part of the board, and apply NSD and mild mechanical action. Place the stain over the vacuum nose, and flush the area with steam and vacuum again.
If the stain is still noticeable, repeat the process using a tannin formula. If the stain continues to be noticeable, repeat the same steps using a protein formula. If the stain is still visible, you may have to use bleach.
If you are not confident using bleach, end your attempts to remove the stain. Reducing bleaches are the best way to remove fugitive dyes and the last traces of pigment, but they also increase the risk of garment damage substantially.

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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