CONCORD, N.C. — This is the story of a dress, but not your normal dress. Cleaning this dress is the way to get your customers talking and to set yourself apart from the “me too” operators.
This dress will get the customer talking to her friends and neighbors and make her your customer for life. This dress is also a wonderful way to review the stain-removal process. Here is the story of what it takes to get a customer swearing about the results instead of swearing at the cleaner.
The floor-length maroon silk dress featured a mixture of clear and silver sequins on its bodice. The care label read simply Dry Clean Only. The mother of the groom had worn it for the first time to the wedding ceremony and the reception that followed. There, someone had bumped her elbow, causing her to spill a full glass of white wine down the front of her new dress.
New “party” dresses present a unique set of potential problems. You must assume that, because the dress is new, it was altered prior to wearing. Your CSR must quickly check for loose threads on the inside of the bodice. If a thread is loose, the mechanical action of handling and cleaning could result in an unraveled thread and lost sequins. A new “blind stitch” hem is virtually invisible, but the ultra-light monofilament thread can be easily broken, causing it to unravel. Catch the damage before the customer leaves the store.
White wine is a wet-side stain that contains alcohol; consider getting a customer release for reasons I am about to detail. Most new garments contain a certain amount of surface dye from the dyeing process. This overdyeing makes the garment look more appealing in the store, but is just sitting on the surface. Lightly rub an out-of-the-way spot on the garment with a dry, white cloth. Check the cloth for color transferred from the dress. Any transfer means even greater dye loss will occur when attempting stain removal.
Repeat the process with a slightly damp, white cloth. If this cloth yields color transfer that is almost equal to the color of the original, you should not proceed further without a signed release from the customer. You can expect the wine stain to give up a greater amount of dye than plain water, due to the alcohol content. A slight amount of dye transfer is to be expected, however, when touching a damp cloth to a new silk garment.
Treat deep colors such as maroon with caution. Localized stain removal could easily lead to localized color loss. Work slowly when attempting stain removal. It is preferable and safer to use minimum or no mechanical action, multiple times, than to attempt complete stain removal the first time.
Silk is a delicate fiber. I remember many cleaners who were used to polyester simply turning away silk garments in the 1980s. After years of working on synthetic fibers, limited knowledge and poor techniques were leading to repeated claims.
Water weakens silk, so wet-side stain removal always presents a risk that must be respected. Silk is sensitive to variations in pH on both sides of neutral, and is extremely reactive to alkali, such as salt and alcohol. The white wine, containing water and alcohol, could loosen the dye and result in localized color loss. This loss will not become apparent until after the loosened dye is flushed away in cleaning.
The tensile strength of silk is greatly reduced when the fabric is wet, so consideration must be given to the amount of mechanical action used when attempting wet-side stain removal. Damage may look like color loss, but it is actually the breaking of fibers that creates the appearance of a light area.
In the case of this dress, the white wine was flushed thoroughly with wet steam over the vacuum nose of the spotting board. Applied neutral synthetic detergent was allowed to penetrate the stain for about 30 seconds, before the stain was flushed again with wet steam over the nose. Mechanical action was not used, and close attention was paid to indication of excessive dye loss from the alcohol in the wine. This procedure removed most of the wine.
To remove the remaining white wine, application of a mild tannin formula was required. The first application, flushed with wet steam, removed the last traces of the white-wine stain. I was prepared to make three separate tannin applications followed by wet-steam flushing before I considered using any mechanical action.
The areas that had been exposed to steam and dried were saturated with a leveling agent to emulsify any remaining moisture. This reduces the chance of chafing the silk, or for redeposition. The same leveling agent was used to lightly brush the hemline to remove the dirt and wax picked up from the hardwood floor.
The underarm and neckline areas also received treatment with the leveling agent to break down any perspiration that might be present. (Unseen body salts, if left over time, could eventually cause a color change.)
The dress was processed in an ultra-short cycle, and then hung aside until the next day for finishing. This allowed the “crow’s-feet” wrinkles to soften, making the job of finishing the dress easier.
The combination of knowledge, thought and effort exceeded the customer’s expectations and has lead to new customers.