Getting the best results when using spotting kits

8 March 2013



The drycleaning industry relies heavily on spotting kits for stain removal. Roger Cawood advises on their safe and efficient use


The majority of High Street drycleaners use kit products for the removal of specific stains. In most cases these kit products have proved to be very effective.
Their use has generally led to a simplification of stain removal procedures and a reduction in the need for in-depth staff training, with a small number of cleaners relying solely upon a three-bottle kit.
Spotting methodologies have changed with many cleaners now relying completely on pre-spotting methods using kit products.
Wherever possible, the practice of pre-spotting and re-cleaning all stained items should be avoided as the cleaner is subjecting the garments both to unnecessary stress and wear and to the risks of an extra cleaning process.
In addition, processing full loads for every re-clean means one garment held back. So cleaners that are using re-cleaning as the normal post-cleaning stain removal process should be aware that this is not only bad practice but can also waste a lot of valuable machine time.
In general, the use of water-based pre-spotting reagents that are designed to flush out in the machine should be confined to the treatment of stains on more robust garments such as men's suits and costumes with a high polyester content.
Although the removal of stains from textiles will always carry a degree of risk, it can be minimised. The main risks can be summarised as follows - localised colour loss, localised shrinkage and/or distortion, localised physical damage such as glazing and localised greying on white fabrics.
The object of this article is to help LCN readers substantially reduce the risks involved in stain removal.

Products

There are many kit spotting chemicals available to the drycleaner and, in terms of efficacy, I believe there is not a great deal to choose between them.
For those that are just starting in the drycleaning business or that are in the process of changing their supplier, my advice would be to go for one of the mainstream manufacturers - preferably one that supplies products for pre-spotting and also a kit designed specifically for post-spotting.
When ordering for the first time, do not forget to ask for the relevant chemical data sheets. Specify the drycleaning solvent or solvents that the business uses as a kit may be specific to a particular solvent.
Choose a pre-spotting kit with at least three spotters and a post-spotting kit with around six spotters including a rust remover. In addition, drycleaners should also have at least one product specifically designed for treating stains on sensitive items.
If using separate kit chemicals for pre-spotting and post-spotting, as I would strongly recommend, then it is important to ensure that staff clearly understand that kit products designed for use in post-spotting should never be used on the pre-spotting table.

Problems linked to pre-spotting
Research has clearly shown that claims relating to stains and complaints about stain removal problems such as "you have taken the colour out" or "this stain wasn't on before" are amongst the most common causes of customer dissatisfaction in the drycleaning industry. When problems occur, it is not unusual to discover that the drycleaner is responsible for having failed to anticipate what should have been an obvious potential risk.
Localised removal of colour and localised physical damage caused by inappropriate use of the spatula are perhaps the most frequently encountered faults arising from pre-spotting. To avoid this type of damage, which is unquestionably the responsibility of the cleaner, a good understanding of fabrics and the mechanisms involved is required.
In terms of pre-spotting, it is virtually impossible for the cleaner to accurately test for the colour loss that can occur in the machine as the spotter is flushed out of the fabric.
Any colour loss that occurs through the use of a chemical, other than cold water, on a stain is the drycleaner's responsibility and may well lead to a legitimate claim.
The drycleaner must therefore be fully aware of the textile types that are prone to localised colour loss from spotting chemicals. The most susceptible are cellulosics such as cotton, linen and viscose.
The answer is to avoid pre-spotting stains on these textiles and to remove any stains on the post-spotting table before the garment is drycleaned, making certain that the spotted area is completely dry following the removal of the stain.
It is important to carry out a colour test using a white cloth and the kit spotter that will be used.
This should be done on a seam or unexposed part of the item by applying a small quantity of the chemical and padding off with the cloth.
Although cellulosics and particularly linen are very prone to colour loss from kit chemicals, other textiles which, under normal circumstances would not be considered to be at risk, can occasionally be affected. Usually this happens when a new product range or fabric is put on the market.
The only answer to this is to be vigilant. If the drycleaner suspects that a problem may arise, then remove the staining on the spotting table rather than pre-spot it.

Felting shrinkage
In addition to colour loss there is a very serious risk of localised felting shrinkage if wool or animal hair fabrics are pre-spotted with water-based kit chemicals. Pure wool, closely woven, "designer" fabrics are particularly at risk. Fabrics are likely to show dark patches after drycleaning in areas where a water-based kit product, such as a blood or tannin spotter, has been applied.
The only way to avoid this potential problem is to completely remove the stain on the post-spotting table and ensure the garment is dry to bone dry before drycleaning. This kind of fabric damage is deep seated and usually cannot be corrected. Damage to designer items can easily lead to a large claim.
The conditions for felting shrinkage are created when water or a water-based chemical is applied to an animal hair textile.
The surface of a hair fibre is covered with a scaly layer, which looks very much like the skin of a snake.
Water or moisture causes the fibres to swell, extending the surface scales above the fibre surface. In this condition and where hair fibres lie adjacent to each other in a yarn with the scales diametrically opposed, any vigorous movement of the yarns during the process of drycleaning or tumble drying may cause the surface scales to "ratchet" together and interlock. This results in either a patchy appearance (sometimes mistaken for residual staining) or a "thickening" of the fabric accompanied by matting of surface fibres or a localised pinched effect where the chemical has been applied.
Overall felting often results if a "hand washed" pure wool item is tumble dried. The prolonged mechanical action/movement during drying can cause the fibre scales to interlock.
Machine washable wools have the scales removed or the fibres are coated in a smooth resin finish to prevent felting, or milling shrinkage as it is sometimes called.

Greying
Localised greying is mainly a problem associated with the pre-spotting of white items with water-based spotters.
The moisture present in the spotting reagent may attract the particulate soiling dispersed in the solvent during the wash cycle. The soiling is then deposited locally in the area where the reagent was applied.
Heavily soiled garments cleaned in a single bath process without filtration will be particularly vulnerable to this fault which in some cases can be difficult to rectify. The answer here is to consider a new process structure for whites involving a first wash over the filter followed by a distilled rinse.
However, on many machines, such as those with only two tanks, this may involve operating the machine manually. Alternatively, remove the stains on the post-spotting table before drycleaning, or consider washing any items labelled as washable.

Techniques and methods
Many of the problems that arise from pre-spotting are simply caused by applying far too much chemical to the stain.
Often a cleaner will cut a large hole in the spotting bottle cap but as a result it is virtually impossible to apply an appropriate quantity of reagent to the stain. The answer is to use a pipette or to replace the cap and puncture the new cap with a safety pin rather slicing off the top.
A single drop of chemical on a small stain is unlikely to cause a problem, whereas several drops may cause noticeable damage.
When using chemicals that are designed to flush out in the machine, a small quantity of reagent should be applied to the stain and then worked gently with the spatula or tamped with an appropriate spotting brush. When the stain has started to dissolve it can then be left to flush out in the machine.
Do not leave pre-spotted items standing for more than 30minutes before drycleaning. Some kit products can cause a stain if they are allowed to dry into the textile.
Stains caused by spotting chemicals can sometimes be very difficult or impossible to remove. White fabrics are most at risk.
The spatula can cause a lot of physical damage in stain removal. Hold it so that the rounded end is flat against the fabric as this spreads the pressure and substantially reduces the risk of localised glazing/shine and colour loss when spotting items such as polyester/cotton raincoats.

Spotting silk
Post-spotting procedures are always the safest option for stains that are not too large to be dealt with on the post-spotting table.
However, there are pre-cleaning reagents available from most suppliers that are intended for use with silk.
Although post-spotting kit products can be used for silk, a test should be carried out every time and each chemical should be tested to ensure that it will not affect the colour.
When treating water-based stains on silk, always try the cold water spray first. Around 90% of the smaller stains that remain on garments after drycleaning can be easily removed with the spray. If mechanical action is required, tamp with a soft brush. Never use a spatula on silk, as silk textiles are extremely sensitive to any form of abrasion.
Finally, if you are concerned about colour fastness after doing a colour test, try a 10% solution of acetic acid.
Acetic acid is perhaps the safest reagent the drycleaning industry has ever used and this applies particularly to silk.
It is generally safer than cold water as it tends to set the colour.

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