CONCORD, N.C. — While trying to fix a problem themselves, a customer can often make more work for a dry cleaner. Home-remedy stain removal can give the cleaner two challenges: the original stain and the results left over from the owner’s attempts. In Part 1, I examined some of the issues home attempts and time can present to dry cleaners; in my conclusion, I’ll go into some of the detective-level skills useful in ultimately giving the customer our best service.

A customer drips a clear beverage on the white cotton sweater. The stain is almost invisible. The sweater is stored without being cleaned and turns tan over time. The stain is now noticeable and makes the sweater unwearable. A majority of cleaners do not take the time to learn the difference between these two yellow/tan/brown stains.

You will notice that one of the stains will have a distinct outline that usually appears as an irregular circle. The other stain will appear to be surrounded by small crosses, which are the result of the oil wicking along the threads in both directions. The oil travels through and along the threads, outward from the point of contact rather than over the fabric.

A tan stain with a distinct outline is most likely a beverage stain. It could be fresh coffee, or it could be old champagne. Just like an apple turning brown when set aside after a bite or two, any sugar in a clear beverage will turn brown over time. If this stain is a clear liquid containing sugar, the initial flush of steam over the vacuum nose of the board will remove much of the stain. Applying NSD [neutral synthetic detergent] and light mechanical action, followed by another flush of steam over the vacuum nose of the board, will remove the rest.

If the stain is a liquid other than sugar (like coffee), using the flush-NSD-flush protocol will spread the fibers and heat the area, and the penetration of the NSD will carry the tannin solution deeper into the stain. It is a win-win method for removing the stain.

If it is sugar, the steam will “melt” and flush away most of the stain; if it is another beverage, you have removed some of the stain and prepared the area for further stain removal.

When you fail to notice the “crosses” surrounding the stain, you will find out very quickly that the stain is oxidized oil. When the flush-NSD-flush protocol and the first application of tannin have little or no effect on the stain, look again for the “crosses” surrounding the stain.

Oxidized oil and grease are tougher stains to remove. The stain has been in the garment for a period of time, probably was warm at the time of staining, and has penetrated the fibers. Stop wet-side stain removal, dry the area, then begin dry-side stain removal. (If you have kept a little volatile dry solvent on hand, it’s time to pull it out of the back storage cabinet. Just substitute the VDS when I reference amyl acetate.)

Over the solid portion of the board, place a towel under the stain and apply amyl acetate. Now, remove the towel and tamp aggressively. Apply just enough amyl acetate to flush away stain particles that have broken loose. Place the towel under the stain again and apply your oily type paint remover (OTPR). Remove the towel and tamp aggressively. Then, place the towel under the stain and flush the area with amyl acetate. Repeat the application of OTPR and amyl acetate until the stain is removed or no longer breaks down.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how to “push” the process. There is a method that has had success in the past. While not available pre-mixed, alcoholic potassium hydroxide (KOH) solution has shown great success on oxidized oil stains.

You must locate a source for potassium hydroxide pellets (1/3 ounce) and a quart of normal butyl alcohol. Carefully mix the potassium hydroxide with normal butyl alcohol. Allow the mixture to stand overnight to fully dissolve the potassium hydroxide.

While many cleaners have avoided taking this step, it is an option. Never allow this solution to get wet or fog the area with steam. Also, do not allow this solution to dry on the fabric.

Apply the solution to the stain and allow it to soak in and solubilize the stain for a few minutes. Tamp the area lightly, then flush out the KOH solution with amyl acetate. Dry-clean the item. If a yellow tint appears after dry cleaning, apply acetic acid to neutralize the remaining alkali, allow the item to dry, then dry-clean again.

Having the proper chemical tools is an easy and inexpensive way to improve your quality and expand your customer base. Word-of-mouth is still the most effective form of advertising.

To read Part 1, click HERE