Importance of detergents

2 October 2017



Stacey King of DTC stresses the use of detergents alongside solvent for optimum drycleaning results


Bath time additives

During a fault investigation, when asking the drycleaner which detergent has been used, it is a frustrating but common occurrence to hear that the solvent is the only cleaning medium present. Although drycleaning solvents themselves exert a good level of ‘cleaning’ due to their inherent solvency power, they are not capable of providing the characteristics required to achieve optimum stain removal and anti-soil redeposition during the cleaning process.

Unlike laundering, where an item is passed through several baths (prewash, mainwash and rinse sections), drycleaning typically utilises only one or two baths; therefore, using the correct detergent at the appropriate dose is vital to ensure that soiling and staining is removed and successfully suspended within the solvent to avoid unsightly redeposition.

Some of the key components in a drycleaning detergent are the surfactants used to aid in the removal of staining. Anionic surfactants are particularly good in aiding the removal of dirt and grime and also at partially holding it in suspension, where non-ionic surfactants are key in removing oily/fatty stains. The presence of cationic surfactants within the detergent impart anti-static properties to the finished articles, not only to stop the fabric ‘sticking’ to itself and other items but also to prevent the attraction of lint particles to the surface. Perhaps one of the key components of the detergent is water.

Water soluble stains such as sugars are not removed by drycleaning solvent alone. The measured quantities of water within the detergent aid in the removal of these, without causing any issues with water sensitive items such as wool when used in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations. The inclusion of perfume in the detergent is not always present in drycleaning detergents. Those that are perfumed do not always deliver as, during drying, a large proportion of these perfumes are evaporated off resulting in the musty odour of solvent synonymous with drycleaning.

Important formulation work has also gone in to achieving the best possible results from pre-spotting treatments. Pre-spotters are designed for specific stain groups and are designed to loosen and soften any heavy staining prior cleaning. Skipping pre-spotting of visible stains can often result in the stain becoming set during the drying stages of the process, making post removal much more difficult. Developing stains, such as caramelised sugar staining, are the only ones which should warrant post-spotting.

When speaking of detergents, additives and item specific treatments should not be overlooked. Any drycleaner with experience in leather cleaning will attest to the importance of the correct dosage of leather oil when cleaning a leather item to replenish those lost during cleaning. Failure to include this very often results in a harsh/brittle skin prone to cracking and damage. A serendipitous effect of this type of oil is that it can help to restore loss of sheen on silks after drycleaning.

Tea stainer

Fault: This top came to the cleaner with a tea stain on the front.

Cause: Although drycleaning detergent is likely to improve the appearance of the stain it is highly unlikely to remove this tannin based stain. Tannin is a natural vegetable dye derived from plants and is found in several food and drinks such as coffee, tea, red wine, nuts and cheese.  Pre-treating with a protein remover prior to a tannin remover can help to ensure that any milky residues have been removed.

Responsibility: The stain is clearly the responsibility of the wearer. However, the cleaner would be responsible for any damage caused by spotting. An inconspicuous area of the garment should always be tested to ensure no adverse reaction with the dyes. Always ensure that sufficient rinsing of any pre-treatments is carried out prior to cleaning. Extended contact even with weak acids could cause damage. Feather dry the area to prevent introduction of excess moisture into the machine.

Rectification: This stain should be removable, depending on how long the stain has been present, this could affect likelihood of full removal.

Colourless result

Fault: This polyester table cloth was drycleaned, but no longer had the same colour as matching linens.

Cause: DTC would question if a detergent was used here at all. During cleaning the soiling from the items in the load remains dispersed in the solvent; if there are no anti-redeposition chemicals from a detergent it is likely that any soiling or residual dye stuff present in the load will redeposit evenly across the entire item.

Responsibility: The cleaner is responsible. Not only would detergent be a key factor here in preventing re-deposition but the quality of the solvent should also be questioned. The colouration here was severe for a pale item, which would have been cleaned alongside similar pale coloured items. It is highly likely the solvent used was not sufficiently pure – even detergent may not have prevented this error.

Rectification: Recleaning in pure, distilled solvent may help remove some redeposition. Polyester is good at attracting loose soiling – once the microscopic particles are trapped in the weave they are difficult to work free.

Shirts get the blues

Fault: Three shirts from one customer turned an unusual blue colour under the arms after cleaning.

Cause: At first glance this appears a strange stain, but is actually quite common.  The blue colouration here is a developing stain and is a result of a reaction between perspiration, antiperspirant deodorant and the heat of the drying process. There are several different colours (typically pink) which have been seen to originate from such reactions. There are numerous components present within deodorants and other skin application which can create coloured stains, such as, aluminium, BHT and titanium hydroxide. In some rare cases, this colouration could also be the result of a medical condition such as chromhidrosis.

Responsibility: The responsibility for the stains seen here is with the wearer; it could not have been prevented by the cleaner.

Rectification: DTC has had reports that removal can be achieved by using a warm solution of sodium percarbonate, applied, worked in well, rinsed and repeated before recleaning. Authorisation should be sought prior to any stain removal.

When brighteners have a dark side

Fault: This dress was supplied to the DTC amid concerns that it was no longer the same colour as when originally bought and now looked patchy grey in areas.

Cause: The cleaner chose to wetclean this dress, which was a commendable choice given the likelihood of water soluble stains on the dress. However, they cleaned the dress either in a machine that was too small for this full-bodied skirt or else in an overloaded drum, resulting in undispersed detergent coming into contact with the dress, which was clearly visible under UV light. The detergent used contained optical brighteners (designed to make whites appear whiter), which made the areas which had come into contact with the detergent appear whiter, leaving those which had not, a little greyed in comparison.

Responsibility: The cleaner is at fault here.  It is equally important to ensure that the correct detergent is used during a wet clean process as it is during drycleaning.  When cleaning wedding dresses and similar which often have a pale cream/champagne colouration, detergents with optical brightener should be avoided at all costs.

Rectification: The dress could be recleaned using a similar detergent containing OBA to even out the colour.  The dress will unlikely ever be the original colour when bought.

Puckered skin needs moisturiser

Fault: This leather jacket was returned to the owner with a shrunken, puckered appearance.

Cause: The jacket was drycleaned correctly, but without a correct leather care label within the garment, the cleaner had to estimate the correct level of leather oil required. During cleaning, the oils from the animal skin are lost, resulting in both loss of handle and depth of colour.  The care label should indicate the required amount of oil needed. Clearly, the cleaners estimate was not sufficient in this instance.

Responsibility: The manufacturer should accept responsibility here. The cleaner used his experience and skill to apply the correct method, but only the manufacturer could know how much restorative oil would be required.

Rectification: Recleaning with a higher dose of leather oil will almost certainly improve the crinkled shrunken item and help re-add some depth to the colour. Any cracks as a result of the original process will not be recovered.

Hemline is a real drag

Fault: This dress came in to the cleaner with some significant hemline staining which was not removed during cleaning.

Cause: Hemline staining is a common complaint against wedding dresses, and is unavoidable during wear.  In the same manner as many other types of staining, hemline soiling is typically more water soluble so drycleaning may do little more than remove any particulate from the surface of the gown.  Wet cleaning is known to provide better results for this reason.  In this instance, little or no pre-treatment was carried out.

Responsibility: Where the responsibility lies with the owner as these stains have been attained during wear, some responsibility must also devolve on the cleaner to attempt some form of stain removal.  It is not always possible to remove ingrained hemline soiling and as such the cleaner should not be responsible for any unremoved soiling after treatment.

Rectification: Pre-spotting of this staining is a must and should form part of the additional services which come with a more expensive wedding dress service.  The use of bar soap or a general all-purpose pre-spotter with gentle tamping should give satisfactory results without causing any damage to the delicate fabrics associated with wedding dresses.

Stainer
Soiling
Shirts
Brighteners
Puckered skin
Hemline


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