Treating Holiday Stains

Martin L. Young Jr. |

CONCORD, N.C. — It is that time of the year, a time of traditions. It is a time of colored lights, childlike laughter, candy canes and red (acetate) velvet.

It is the time of sap, soot, wax, gravy, dips and alcoholic beverages.

As is my tradition, this is my holiday reminder of some of the problem stains and garments you will surely face over this period. It also serves as a refresher of stain-removal protocol.

Many parents cannot resist dressing their small child in red and white for outings during the holidays. With the abundance of candy available, this is a prime opportunity for stains.

Here are the cold, hard facts:


Acetate velvet is excessively sized to keep the texture of the material. The sizing is usually water-soluble. Steam from spotting as well as water from wet cleaning will soften the sizing, and touching damp acetate velvet will cause it to be flattened. This effect is almost always permanent.

Do not grab acetate velvet in a location that is damp. Handle acetate velvet by the inside seams. If you must treat a stain with steam, double the distance from the steam gun to the surface and reduce the amount of steam exposure. Any white trim that is cotton or cotton/poly can be spotted safely on the wet side, as long as you do not put pressure on the area of the velvet that is damp.


The combination of finger foods and a heavier consumption of alcoholic beverages during the holidays will cause some customers to experience gastric distress. When the contents of their stomach make an appearance, there is a high risk of color damage to the garment.

The cleaner is dealing with two extremely strong chemicals: the alcohol from the beverage, and the stomach acid. Many times, this damage does not become apparent until after cleaning. The dye is loosened by the mixture, but is camouflaged by the stain, and the loosened dye is removed in the cleaning process.

The first step is to brush the stain with a dry brush to remove any solid particles, then flush the stain over the vacuum nose of the board using cold water (never steam). Apply NSD and flush again with cold water. Try to avoid using steam, as the heat and pressure increase the risk of color damage. At this point, I recommend applying a good general pre-spotter/leveling agent, allowing the area to dry, then dry cleaning the garment to remove as much of the stain as possible under dry-side conditions.


With finger foods come gravy, dips and sauces. I recommend treating these as mixed, wet-side stains. The standard wet-side protocol of flush-neutral-flush will remove most of the stain and break the surface tension to make additional stain removal easier and safer.


Many people wear garments that are more colorful and festive during the holiday season. These brightly dyed garments are likely to chafe from any mechanical action used in stain removal.

Most are “over-dyed” to be more appealing in the store, leaving a layer of dye on the surface that will easily “crock” off during cleaning. You must pay close attention to dye migration when spotting these brightly colored holiday fashions and stop if the dye shift becomes excessive.


This leads me to garments containing metallic yarn. Such items should be treated with extra care, cleaned and dried in a loose net bag. This will reduce mechanical action and prevent snagging of the item on other items in the run.

Never use rust remover on metallic yarn.


During the holidays, we seem to be surrounded by the soft glow of candlelight. Melted wax will eventually find its way onto a garment.

Wax should be pre-spotted dry side with a good POG. Large or thick areas of wax can be reduced by placing a double thickness of bath towel on the press, then placing the wax-saturated area over the towel. Press the pedal for buck steam. The wax will melt and be caught by the bath towel.

Pre-spot the remaining thin layer of wax with POG and dry clean. If the candle leaves pigment behind, use sodium perborate as a spot bleach or in a soaking bath.


Many customers will be using items that are holiday-specific, including tablecloths, napkins, placemats, sweatshirts, sweaters, ties, etc. The holiday design is usually a stamp print (paint). If the back side shows little or no evidence of the surface design, it should be treated as a stamp print.

This painted design will be sensitive to solvent, and yours will remove the chemicals that keep the design soft and flexible (plasticizers), causing the design to become stiff and crack.

A stamp print on a poly/cotton fabric should be wet-cleaned, when possible. If dry cleaning is the only option, use an extremely short cycle to reduce the time the item is in contact with the solvent.


The season is often represented by the warmth of a fireplace, but where there is a wood fire there is soot.

Soot is carbon residue from the burning of the fire log. It is an insoluble stain, meaning it will not break down further to help in removal.

You must remove soot using lubrication and mechanical action. Use an Oily Type Paint Remover on the dry side and tamp until the stain disappears. The lubrication of solvent and detergent, as well as the mechanical action in the wheel, will remove the last traces of soot during dry cleaning.

Never turn away a holiday item. Use these special garments to gain the confidence of a new group of customers.

When you effectively handle these holiday problems, you have the chance to demonstrate your professionalism and set yourself apart from your competition.

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


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