When The Label Says Water

Martin L. Young Jr. |

CHICAGO — Effective stain removal is now a multi-solution process. Garments are getting so sophisticated that you must follow the care label. Choosing to go against care-label instructions puts garments at risk, and you assume all risk should anything go wrong.
Chemical tools have reached the point at which it is safer, less expensive and more effective to immerse garments in water than it is to stand at the spotting board working on a garment that has a water-soluble stain and a water-based care label.
The professional cleaner has three water processes at his or her disposal. Laundry regularly uses water at temperatures that are above 120°F, with relatively high alkaline detergents and high mechanical action.
Wetcleaning uses water on garments labeled “Dryclean only,” limiting water temperatures to 90°F, with pH-neutral or slightly acidic detergents and very light mechanical action.
Last, a fine-washable process is used on garments with water-based care instructions that restrict temperatures (to below 120°F), detergents (to mild alkalis) and/or mechanical action. Many of these garments would be damaged if immersed in solvent. A fine-washable process often allows the use of mild bleaches such as sodium perborate or hydrogen peroxide.
While it was relatively safe to dryclean a washable garment 15 years ago, today operators should follow care instructions more closely. There are plenty of new low-alkali detergents that can make immersion in water safe and simple. Follow the water process with a texturizer (crisp) or a conditioner (soft) to restore the proper “hand,” and finishing requirements can be near-identical.
The days of scooping up piles of garments and loading the drycleaning machine without inspection are over. Consider drycleaning a garment marked with a water-based care label carefully — today, you really need a good reason to go against the instructions.
Like a doctor, “First, do no harm” to the garment. You may cause harm when you dryclean UV-blocking garments; they usually have special finishes that break down in solvent, even though they can withstand water processing. Likewise, the resins that help make a cotton or cotton-blend garment wrinkle-resistant can be softened or flushed away in the drycleaning process.
Many garments with “permanent” creases have a gluelike resin that softens or breaks down in the drycleaning process, too. Pay particular attention to uniforms and shirts with military creases. Any painted, glued-on or glued-together trims can be sensitive to immersion in drycleaning solvent.
There are ways to protect trims in a water process. Simply turn garments with painted-on designs inside-out for processing; turn more elaborate garments inside-out and place them in a net bag. If the bodice of a dress is covered with beads, sequins or other trimwork, pull a pillowcase down over the trim and tie a cotton cord around it at the waist; run it with or without a net bag and hang it to dry.
The ultimate trick to reducing mechanical action is to place the garment inside the leg of a pair of 65/35 tan pants between the knee and the thigh. Unzip the pants and fold the bottom half of the leg up. Now, place the first leg inside the empty leg, and place the whole thing inside a net bag and process it. Hang the garment to dry.
Increasing your use of water processes will reduce your waste stream and solvent consumption; if you operate a perc plant, the reduction could change your NESHAP designation from “Small-Quantity Generator” to “Conditionally Exempt.”
While wetcleaning drycleanable garments is a risk, following the care-label instructions on washables can lead to better throughput, reduced time at the spotting board, more satisfied customers and an improved profit margin.

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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