When the Label Says ‘Spot-Clean Only’

Martin L. Young Jr. |

It was the way the light reflected off the shiny, smooth satin that caught my eye. It was a beautiful, flowing, full-length dress with vivid red and yellow flowers on an orange background. Then there were the translucent “fishscale” sequins arranged in a random pattern, and the miniature shells at the neckline. The care label was all but hidden high in a side seam: “Do Not Wash, Do Not Dry Clean, SPOT-CLEAN ONLY.”
Sometimes, the manufacturer is well aware of a garment’s limited serviceability. Extended exposure to water will cause the dyes to migrate (Do Not Wash), immersion in solvent and/or mechanical action will damage the trims (Do Not Dry Clean). This is not a standard garment, and it will not withstand standard procedures. Stain removal will require thought and patience.
Take the garment to an area with plenty of space and good light to inspect it for stains and damage. Mark the stains on the outside, then turn the garment inside-out and inspect the inside of the garment and its lining.
Begin stain removal on the interior. Flush the underarm area with steam, and follow it with a digester or neutral synthetic detergent (NSD). Spot food grease with a laundry POG to reduce the risk of making a ring. When you finish, hang the garment to dry. Re-inspect the garment, turn it right-side out and proceed with exterior stain removal.
On the exterior, work each marked spot and dry the area thoroughly before proceeding to the next. Neutralize the last agent used, or there’s a good chance of a color change. Hang the garment to dry, and inspect it for stains and circles before sending it to be finished.
Stain-removal specialists sometimes treat their jobs like a contest between man and stain — garment beware. Consider the strengths and weaknesses of the garment. Stain removal is using the correct techniques, in the correct order. The first rule? Do no harm.
There are four types of garment fibers; each has strengths and weaknesses. Plant (cellulose) fibers make up cotton, linen and ramie, and do not respond well to acids. Tannin formulas are largely acidic, so keep contact between tannin formulas and plant fibers as short a possible. Flush and neutralize tannin formulas with a protein formula after wet-side spotting.
Animal or protein fibers include silk, wool, cashmere and angora, which do not respond well to alkalis. Protein formulas are usually alkali, so keep contact with between them and protein formulas as short as possible. Flush and neutralize protein formulas with a tannin formula after wet-side spotting. Animal fibers are prone to shrink, usually due to a combination of any two of these variables: heat, moisture, alkali and mechanical action.
Pronounced shrinkage in animal fibers is called felting. Silk becomes weak when wet, so avoid rubbing it — the fibers will break apart and chafe. Chafing will look like color loss, but it is really the area getting fuzzy and reflecting the light differently. Chafing can sometimes be masked by using mineral oil diluted in hydrocarbon solvent in a soak or spot application.
If caught early, perspiration and discoloration in the underarm area of a silk garment may be restored by the application of acetic acid or tannin formula. The acid neutralizes the alkali (salt) in the perspiration.
Synthetic fibers make up acrylic, polyester, nylon, spandex and others. Most have petroleum in their chemical formulas. They are heat-sensitive and respond to excessive heat by losing dimensional stability.
Hold the steam gun further from synthetics to prevent softening. Place your thumb on one side of the stain and your forefinger on the other side of the stain to prevent distortion while using the steam gun. Synthetics attract and hold oily stains, making the removal of greases and oils more difficult.
“Spot-Clean Only” garments require hands-on pampering. Exceeding customer expectations on them can enhance your reputation in the marketplace.

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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