Treating Acetate and Metallics

Martin L. Young Jr. |

CONCORD, N.C. — Not all garments are created equal, just as not all stains can be removed on the dry side by a simple application of POG and dry cleaning. How a garment is constructed, the way its individual fibers are twisted, turned and woven is an important consideration when attempting localized stain removal. This month, I will address various fabrics and the characteristics that may impact the stain-removal process.


At one time, acetate was a commonly used fabric in garments. With the growth of polyester, acetate has been relegated, for the most part, to the role of a lining material. Unfortunately, this secondary use brings to mind an old cliché: out of sight, out of mind. The acetate and its sensitivities are still there, beneath the surface fabric.

When spotting acetate, be aware that it is highly susceptible to yarn slippage. Hold the steam gun a greater distance from the fabric to further reduce the pressure of the steam and air striking the surface of the fabric. Reduce the intensity of mechanical action used on acetate, and always apply this action over the solid portion of the spotting board.

Acetate is highly sensitive to the pH of wet-side stain-removal agents, but much more so to the acid in your tannin formula. Always expect a color change in acetate when using tannin formula and be prepared for it. It usually can be easily neutralized and reversed. Be ready to flush the area with steam or cold water and even apply a small amount of protein formula if necessary to neutralize the change and return the fabric to its original color. Again, flushing and application of the opposite spotting formula can almost always neutralize color changes in acetate.

But this also means that acetate is sensitive to the acids in food or beverages that your customers spill on the fabric. Proper stain identification by your customer service representative can save time and reduce risk. In many cases, when perspiration has discolored an acetate lining or an acetate garment, a controlled application of acetic acid will neutralize the alkali of the body salts and restore the fabric to its original color and intensity.

Many POGs will cause acetate to bleed to some extent. Never use acetone on acetate.Acetone will react with acetate to the point of “burning” a hole at the point of contact, or at least leave the area of contact hard and brittle. On the other hand, amyl acetate is relatively safe for acetate fabric, but will remove any surface print or trim on the acetate.

Acetate in a crepe weave should not be immersed in water. I hate to burst the wet cleaning bubble, but wet cleaning crepe acetate is neither reasonable nor prudent. It can be done, yes, but at great risk and by utilizing excessive time and labor-intensive finishing.


There are two “metallics” that must be taken into consideration. The more traditional metallic is basically a thread, with metallic foil glued to it and covered with one or two plastic coatings. This fabric is sensitive to dry-side POGs and is incompatible with all rust removers. Therefore, wet cleaning is recommended if all other components are compatible with water. If the garment’s components are not compatible with water, proceed with caution.

Metal foil glued to thread with a thin plastic coating is not a construction that lends itself to withstanding even moderate mechanical action or a strong POG. When immersing in a solvent, use the shortest cycle possible to limit chemical exposure and to reduce mechanical action.

The second metallic is a relative newcomer to the marketplace. A micro-denier strand of wire, covered by a traditional fiber, forms the thread from which the fabric is woven. Based upon personal experience and having accumulated tales of woe concerning this fabric, it’s clear that it is a challenge for cleaners.

This fabric appears to be made of a traditional fiber, until you check the label and see a percentage of metallic in the fiber content. This traditional looking fabric has threads with a core of micro-denier wire. The mechanical action of immersion cleaning and drying tends to distort the shape of the wire core. If the garment is not a “wrinkled-look” garment before you put it in the machine, it will most likely have a wrinkled look after you finish.

Conventional pressing and finishing do little to restore the original shape of the wire and the overall form of the garment. Using a rust remover, especially hydrofluoric acid, may dissolve the wire and leave the area of the garment limp. I consider this fabric to be an “ultra-fragile” and deal with it as a spot-clean only if no release has been signed by the customer.

The customer expects the professional cleaner to have knowledge, tools and techniques that are superior to home garment care. Educate yourself and exceed the customer’s expectation.

You can market the sizzle all you want, but sooner or later you have to serve the steak.

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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