Solvents and spotting chemicals

5 September 2018

The proliferation of solvents and spotting kits on the market now is confusing so Stacey King of DTC sets the record straight on how to use them to best advantage while highlighting cases studies where things didn’t go according to plan

To spot – or not to spot?

Selection of drycleaning chemicals is becoming an ever-more difficult task for the cleaner due to the increase in the number of solvents and spotting kits now on the market. Confusion regarding the purpose of some of the chemicals can result in misuse of detergent, spot chemicals and other machine additives. It is still a common issue for cleaners not to use any detergent at all.

There seems to be a universal fear of tackling stains with stain removal spotting-agents because of the risk of causing colour damage however the alternative to specific spotters is brushing on some pre-treatment detergent which is often just as risky. Pre-treatment detergent is designed for application to collar and cuff grime on dark suits and overcoats, where it can be applied with minimal risk; it is not designed for stain removal. If in doubt, it should be used very sparingly, undiluted, to minimise any risk as it is often the water which causes the damage not the detergent itself. If pre-treatment detergent is used for stain removal (instead of the correct reagent) and left on the fabric until the next load then the risk of colour loss increases dramatically.

It is much more sensible to test an appropriate stain removal reagent from your desired spotting kit on a hidden hem or seam. This should be left for a few minutes and then flushed off with water or steam. If the area is free of colour damage when feathered dry, then the reagent can be applied to the stain itself. If a stain cannot be removed using the appropriate spot-treatment then there is no point in cleaning the item repeatedly in the hope that it will eventually be worn away. The cloth will become grey and lifeless long before that and leave the cleaner open to a customer complaint. 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 if no further improvement can safely be made.


White lightening

Fault: This ivory wedding dress became whiter at the train and neckline post-cleaning.

Cause: Spectrophotometric evaluation revealed that the whitened areas had high levels of optical brightening agents (OBA’s). The cleaner had used some pre-treatment detergent on the dress unaware that the detergent contained any OBA. The resulting increased fluorescence gave the dress a whiter appearance in treated areas, which was particularly noticeable in sunlight.

Responsibility: Unfortunately lies with the cleaner. The chemicals used were not marked as an OBA containing product however were not wholly OBA free.

Rectification: The dress could be treated overall to make the entirety of the overlay white. The original ivory colour would be near impossible to restore without damage to the fabric.


Silk loses its sheen

Fault: This silk dress was submitted to the cleaner with a high sheen finish but has been returned as complaint due to the loss of said sheen.

Cause: Silk is spun with natural and synthetic yarn oils, which can be removed by solvent, particularly stronger solvents such as perchloroethylene. Detergent is added to the cleaning bath in order to help restore some sheen as far as is possible but, in this instance, it was insufficient.

Responsibility: Provided the cleaner has added a good quality detergent to the cleaning bath, he has done nothing wrong. Many silk textiles will lose sheen in drycleaning.

Rectification: The easiest way of rectifying lost sheen is to re-process the garment in a single bath process with a small addition of suede oil. This method is also good for enhancing depth of shade to items, which look faded/dull after drycleaning.


Chemical lesson

Fault: A shirt was found to have severe tearing around the cuffs and underarms. The owner and garment manufacturer believed that this was a result of chemical damage during the cleaning process.

Cause: The shirt was one of many being professionally wetcleaned; the cleaner had reported that only a dedicated wetcleaning detergent and surfactant booster were being added to the machine. Wetcleaning chemicals tend to be pH neutral and there was no evidence of residual acid or alkali found on the garment to suggest that other harsher chemicals may have mistakenly been used. A brand-new shirt was also supplied for testing, which allowed DTC comparatively test the cotton shirt for chemical damage. Both the new and damaged shirt tested positive for oxidative damage, however no loss of tensile strength was noted other than in already torn areas. When viewed under magnification, the textile had worn thin in areas surrounding the damage and evidence of abrasion was noted around the cuffs.

Responsibility: As the oxidative damage was present on both the damaged and new item, this indicates that it had stemmed from bleaching of the cotton during the original manufacturing process. The shirt was 12 months old and subject to frequent wear. The tearing was localised to areas of high wear/strain. This was deemed to be caused by abrasive damage caused in wear, which resulted in areas of thinner fabric which in turn became susceptible to tearing in the machine. Ultimately, the shirt had worn out with age.

Rectification: None is possible.


Colour bleed down to manufacturer

Fault: This pale blue jacket was tainted by colour transfer from the lining after spot-treatment.

Cause: The jacket was submitted for cleaning due to a stain near to the pocket. The cleaner treated the stain with a diluted kit chemical, which resulted in migration of dye from the lining through to the outer fabric.

Responsibility: While the damage has occurred due to spot-treatment, on this occasion, the cleaner was not considered at fault. The lining wasn’t colourfast to water therefore the manufacturer was blamed. The very same fault could quite easily have occurred if the wearer spilt water or similar on the jacket during wear. It is poor practice for a textile not to be colourfast to water.

Rectification: None is possible.


Localised damage blamed on cleaner

Fault: The owner of this scarf was unhappy that the item became misshapen and now had a coarse area of wool in the centre.

Cause: Water in spot-treatment chemicals doesn’t just pose a risk regarding non-fast dyes. If a water sensitive item is not sufficiently dry before being put into the machine this can result in localised damage such as that seen here. The cleaner had treated a coffee stain on this woollen scarf but failed to feather dry the area prior to machine cleaning. The residual moisture resulted in localised felting of the wool. The felting pulled the outer edges of the scarf inwards resulting in an unsightly misshapen effect.

Responsibility: The cleaner is responsible here for failing to recognise the risks associated with localised treatment on woollen items.

Rectification: None is possible.


Cleaner should have gone to Specsavers

Fault: The flock velvet pattern on this dress was removed during drycleaning.

Cause: The care label within the dress stated that the dress could be drycleaned but that perchloroethylene should not be used. This was misread by the cleaner who subsequently cleaned the dress in perchloroethylene. Lab testing revealed that the flock was readily removable in perchloroethylene but was resistant to milder solvents such as hydrocarbon. This indicated that the removal was not related to poor fixation or excessive mechanical action. The dress was not resistant to strong solvent as indicated by the care label. 

Responsibility: Although the care label does not meet British and International Standard 3758, the care labelling code, the message is deemed clear. For this reason the responsibility was laid with the cleaner.

Rectification: None is possible.

White lightening
Silk loses its sheen
Chemical lesson
Colour bleed
Woollen scarf
Care label

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