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Treating Protein Stains on the Wet Side

Martin L. Young Jr. |

Not all stains come out in the machine. That statement may be contrary to what you’ve been told by equipment salesmen, or what you’ve convinced yourself to be true.
Stains fall into four distinct categories: solvent-soluble (drycleaning), chemical-soluble (using additives), water-soluble (steam spotting, wetcleaning, laundry), and insoluble (lubrication and mechanical action). Stains that originate from a living thing are usually water-soluble.
The vast majority of water-soluble stains are either tannin (from a plant) or protein (from an animal). Water-soluble protein stains are substances such as blood, milk, vomit, ice cream, perspiration, school glue and bodily fluids.
To some extent, all of these stains are affected by drycleaning and/or dry-side prespotting. But to really remove protein stains, one has to go to the wet side and use specialized (chemical) stain-removal tools.
The first decision you must make with a protein stain (like any stain) is to pick one of three starting points. You can go straight to the drycleaning machine, perform prespotting or immerse the garment in water. Going straight to the drycleaning machine only works on very small, usually fresh, stains. Most of the time, drycleaning only postpones the stain removal necessary, and may even complicate the process.
Dry-side prespotting is much more effective on solvent-soluble, chemical-soluble and insoluble stains, so prespotting of water-soluble protein stains is only effective when you use a spotter that contains moisture. Even protein stains that may come out with a spray spotter are best treated with a steam gun and a protein-removing chemical tool.
Water immersion is as old or older than the industry itself, and a good digester bath is the still the most effective way to deal with old and/or large protein stains. Wetcleaning is the most recent strategy for the professional cleaner. Professional wetcleaning procedures are effective on a vast majority of wet-side stains, with limited effort required from the cleaner.
When the care label permits the use of water, removing protein stains is simpler. Blood is a common protein stain, and I’ll use it as the example for all protein stains.
Immerse large or multiple bloodstains in a digester bath. An insulated cooler works well, since it can keep water warm for a longer period of time — which is critical. Fill it with water at about 110°F. Dissolve digester powder in the water and immerse the stained article as you agitate the water to saturate the entire garment.
Check the water temperature from time to time to ensure that the water stays above 100°F to keep the enzymes active. You won’t have to agitate the item much, but “turn” the item to reposition it every so often. Let the enzymes in the digester do the stain-removal work. When the stain is gone, rinse, condition, dry and finish the item.
Treat small, single stains at the board. Follow the same protocol for all wet-side stains: Flush with steam, apply NSD, and flush with steam again. The first flush rehydrates and softens the stain; the NSD penetrates and further softens the stain; the second flush removes loose material and heats the area to accelerate the action of any additional chemical tools. If the remainder of the stain takes on a red tint, proceed to a mild protein formula.
If the stain remains more brown than red, use a liquid digester at the board. Apply the liquid digester after the second flush, cover the area with a warm, moist towel, and set the item aside for about 30 minutes. The liquid digester will soften the stain further, removing part of it and making removal of its last traces much easier.
You should have a mild protein formula (9.5-10.5 pH) and a strong protein formula, 11-12 pH) available at the board. Use the mild protein formula on “fresh” stains and fragile fabrics and dyes, and use the stronger protein formula on more durable items and older stains. How you address a protein stain at the board is subjective.
Treat protein stains in the same way as any wet-side stain. First, put the item over the solid portion of the board and inspect the stain. Lightly brush or scrape any loose, solid material away from the stain.
Pull the stain over the nose of the board, and flush the area with steam while applying the vacuum. Pull the stain back over the solid portion of the board, and apply NSD and light mechanical action with the bone tool. Pull the stain over the nose of the board again, and flush it with steam while applying the vacuum. This will soften and heat the area, and remove part or all of the stain.
For any remaining stain, pull the area over the solid portion of the board and apply protein formula and mechanical action. Flush the area with steam over the nose of the board, and repeat the process until the stain is removed.
Dry the area with air and vacuum. Start with the gun about six inches away, pointed just outside the wet area. Use a circular motion and keep the gun pointed just outside the wet area. As the area dries, tighten the circle and slowly reduce the distance to the center of the wet-out area. When the area is completely dry, there should be no rings, and the gun should still be more than three inches from the item.
Always use mild mechanical action when spotting. Spotters do more damage by “digging” than with chemical tools. You can reverse a color change caused by a pH reaction by using the opposite chemical spotting agent (protein/tannin).
With practice and experience, you can set yourself apart in the marketplace by delivering consistent, quality stain removal. You’ll also cut down on “Sorry” tags and exceed your customers’ expectations.
 

About the author

Martin L. Young Jr.

Industry Consultant and Trainer

Martin L. Young Jr. has been an industry consultant and trainer for the last 18 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 mayoung@vnet.net.

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