Chemicals must be used correctly3 May 2013
Richard Neale explains how to get the best results from drycleaning chemicals
Drycleaning chemicals can work wonders but incorrect use has caused widespread problems. Cleaners must understand both the purpose of the chemicals and their correct application.
Many cleaners avoid stain removal reagents for fear they will damage the colour as traditionally the cleaner takes the blame for this fault. However treating stains by brushing on some
pre-treatment detergent is much riskier. Complaints of widespread colour loss, particularly from linens and silks, are numerous. It is difficult to defend a claim if the faded area has brush marks that match the cleaner's slop-spotting efforts.
Pre-treatment detergent is designed for treating collar and cuff grime on dark suits and overcoats, where it can be applied relatively safely. If in doubt, it should be used very sparingly and undiluted to minimise the risk. It is often the addition of water rather than the detergent that causes the damage.
Pre-treatment detergent is not designed for pre-treating stains or removing them. If it is used instead of the correct reagent then left on the fabric until the next load goes into the machine, the risk of colour loss rises sharply.
To minimise colour loss, test the appropriate stain removal reagent on a hidden hem or seam, leave it for a few minutes and then flush off with water or steam. If the colour remains undamaged, then the reagent can be used to remove the stain.
If a stain cannot be removed using the appropriate reagent, hoping it will fade with repeated cleans is pointless. The fabric will just become grey and lifeless. After stain pre-treatment and a single clean, the article should be examined with a view to a single post-treatment with a more powerful reagent and then returned to the customer with a "best-results" ticket.
Silk dress loses sheen and feels limp
Fault: Before cleaning, this silk dress had a high sheen and a lively "scrunch". After it had been cleaned in perc, the owner complained that the sheen had gone and it felt limp.
Cause: Silk is spun with natural and synthetic yarn oils but a strong solvent such as perc may remove these. The detergent is added to the cleaning bath to restore the sheen as far as possible but this was insufficient here.
Responsibility: If the cleaning system included a good detergent added to the bath at the manufacturer's recommended dose, then the cleaner has acted correctly. Many silk garments will feel dry and lose sheen if they are tested for drycleanablity in accordance with the method given in British Standards.
Rectification: The easiest way to restore sheen to a silk is to
re-process it in a single bath with a little suede oil. Use about one third of the dose recommended for leather or suede. The technique should also enhance the colour and the customer should be delighted.
Mayonnaise mark needs protein remover
Fault: This red linen dress had a mayonnaise stain near the front hem. The cleaner saw that the stain was firmly set onto the fabric and pre-spotted it with a little detergent mixture but drycleaning made the stain even darker.
Cause: Mayonnaise contains egg and egg yolk. Neither will dissolve in cleaning solvent and the protein in the egg darkens during drying. Responsibility: The cleaner should take the blame for failing to pre-treat the mayonnaise stain correctly.
Rectification: The mayonnaise can be removed by post-spotting with a proprietary protein remover. A stronger reagent specifically designed for post spotting has a better chance of removing the mark. If a pre-test does not cause any problems, apply the remover and leave it for around 10 minutes, then flush off and check the mark. If removal is only partial but there is no colour damage, this treatment may be repeated.
Tea stain remains after cleaning
Fault: The cleaner brushed pre-spot detergent onto a tea stain before cleaning but after cleaning it looked much worse. Cause: Neither pre-treatment detergent nor drycleaning solvent will dissolve a tannin stain. They are also largely ineffective on the milk and sugar in a tea mark, so these will darken during tumble drying and make the stain even more obvious.
Responsibility: The cleaner should take the blame for failing to make a more skilled attempt to remove the stain.
Rectification: The milk protein has oxidised and the sugar caramelised making post spotting more difficult. The stain can still be treated with a tannin remover designed for post spotting, after testing. Tannin removers are essential for tea, coffee and other vegetable dyes. They oxidise the stain so it turns colourless.
Restoring body to a limp coat
Fault: After this coat had been drycleaned in perc, the owner complained that it "felt like an old dishrag".
Cause: Drycleaning removes the stiffening finishes from many coat fabrics. The result can leave the coat feeling soft and limp even though it felt firm originally.
Responsibility: If the coat has been cleaned in accordance with the care label and with a good detergent, the cleaner is not to blame and the fault is a feature of the fabric.
Rectification: When a garment loses its stiffening, the best way to improve the handle is to reclean it using a good quality cationic detergent. Use the maximum dosage recommended by the detergent supplier. This is usually around 2.5ml per litre of solvent. The cationic detergent will be attracted to the fabric and bond on to it.
The higher dosage will make the fabric feel much firmer but if further improvement is needed then the coat should be re-proofed with the next batch of rainwear.
Before re-proofing the coat clean it in pure solvent to remove any trace of detergent.
Treating ingrained collar and cuff grime
Fault: This cotton-linen mix jacket had ingrained marking along the collar fold - probably the result of long-term rubbing during wear. The cleaner carefully brushed on a mixture of pre-treatment detergent and water but after cleaning there was a patch of colour loss where the detergent had been applied.
Cause: Pastel coloured cotton and linen are susceptible to moisture in pre-treatment detergent mixtures. The cleaner recognised the risk and only applied a little but the dilution has left too much water in contact with the dyes, which have come away into the solvent.
Responsibility: The British Standard for drycleanability does not cover resistance to pre-treatment detergent. The cleaner is responsible for using it wisely. This cleaner was right to apply the minimum but using diluted detergent was unwise. It would also have been wise to minimise the time the detergent was left on the garment before cleaning.
Many experienced cleaners would not have used pre-treatment detergent on this garment because of the risks. The collar grime should have been treated with the water flush or steam gun, or briefly with a protein remover, before flushing and feathering dry.