Get focused on FOCAL

Getting to grips with the feel, odour, colour, appearance and location (FOCAL) of stains is key to successful treatment.

Stains are commonly encountered in the drycleaning business. Many of these will be visible prior to cleaning but some might develop during the drycleaning process itself. Successful removal of pre-existing stains is made easier by correct stain identification. The first step in correct identification is to ask the customer what the stain is when the garment is handed in. This, combined with asking the customer if there are any particular stains to be removed should not only give a guide to stain origin, but it should also enable every stain to be tagged, so that nothing is missed in the stain removal department.

At this stage, the owner should also be advised, particularly for delicate fabrics, that the stain might not be able to be fully removed and that depending on how long the stain has been left on the fabric it may have caused some irreversible colour damage or loss of tensile strength which could lead to a hole. It is sensible to have a disclaimer to this effect and to advise that any further ‘invisible’ sugars or proteins which cannot be treated might develop into brown marks during processing.

Use of the acronym ‘FOCAL’ is the best place to start in regards to identifying the stain. This stands for feel, odour, colour, appearance and location. Modern techniques include the use of ultraviolet (UV) light to identify sugars (which fluoresce yellow) and proteins (which fluoresce pink). The UV lamp has become an indispensable tool for stain removal. It also comes into its own when you are faced with a rust or blood stain, which will blacken under UV. Determining the root cause of a stain will always help to aid your choice of removal technique. For example, caramelised sugars need patient attention with warm water and steam, which is totally wasted if the brown speck is actually oxidised protein.

Another useful tool is a microscope or simple hand held magnifier. By making an debris which is trapped within the weave visible, this will help to reveal the difference between a food stain or for example, colour damage.

DTC would recommend that the cleaner is always familiar with the chemical properties of their stain removal treatments of choice and ensure that manufacture guidelines are followed in regards to textile compatibility. This month we outline some of the issues surrounding staining encountered by DTC.

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TLC in finishing makes all the difference

Fault: The owner of this suede lambskin jacket complained that dark stains were noted across the jacket after cleaning.

Cause: Being made of a natural skin, its possible that the pelts of multiple lambs may have been used to construct this garment. Variation in the health of the animal, the condition of the skin and the area of the body from which the skin has been taken will result in natural shade and texture differences. These are often masking during manufacture by use of special finishes or brushing techniques. On this occasion, natural variation of the skin was showing but it was easily masked by brushing with a suede brush.

Responsibility: The cleaner was found to be responsible on this occasion as the fault was easily rectified by a little TLC. Attention to detail in finishing is important.

Rectification: Brushing the nap of the suede with a suitable brush evened out the colour of the suede giving a much more aesthetically pleasing finish.


Apply the litmus test

Fault: Holes and colour loss were noted on this cashmere cardigan after cleaning.

Cause: This type of damage can be identified by using pH indicator papers. These measure the acidity/alkalinity of the fabric in the area of damage or contamination. The technique is to moisten an area of stained fabric and then to press an indicator strip onto this. This will change colour if acid or alkali is present. A strong positive result for alkali was noted when testing the area immediately surrounding the hole but not in other unaffected areas.

Responsibility: The localised alkali damage had been caused by failure to pre-disperse detergent prior to the handwashing of this garment. The concentrated areas of chemical resulted in degradation of the delicate fibres.

Rectification: This garment cannot be repaired.


Nauseating reminder

Fault: These jeans were handed in with a stain to the thigh and an odour of vomit. This odour survived drycleaning and, in addition, the area where the stain had been present developed into a white mark.

Cause: Vomit is a mixture of butyric acid (which gives the characteristic odour) and other components of stomach liquids. This is typically removed by first flushing with water and then treating any residual staining with a protein remover designed for the removal of human body fluids. Cleaning and re-cleaning will not remove either the vomit or the smell – this would likely need aqueous cleaning to fully remove the odour. The white mark here has been caused where the acid within the vomit has weakened the dye to fibre bond. The loose dye has been stripped away during cleaning.

Responsibility: It is the stain which has caused the colour damage to the jeans and the stain has been caused by the wearer.

Rectification: None is possible. The cleaner is unlikely to fully remove the odour via drycleaning and washing contravenes the care instruction on the garment label – this is fruitless given the irreversible colour damage.


Water and velvet don’t mix

Fault: The customer returned this velvet jumpsuit to the retailer claiming that the fabric was flawed due to the formation of white marks.

Cause: When viewed under magnification it was clear that the white marks were in fact areas of flattened pile. Where the pile was flat, the reflective properties of the textile had changed making them appear white when compared to unaffected areas.

Responsibility: The manifestation of the white marks was consistent with a liquid spray suggesting it had been attained in wear.

Rectification: Viscose velvet can sometimes be recovered by wetting of the entire panel, brushing in the desired direction and leaving to dry naturally. The fabric can then be brushed once more, once dry, to remove any residual marks. However, success is not certain and there is no guarantee that the brushed panel will match the rest of the garment.


Revealing dress

Fault: This cream dress displayed matching brown stains at the underarms that the owner claims were not present prior to cleaning.

Cause: Examination under UV reveals areas of yellow fluorescence where staining was present. This indicates the presence of sugars, considering the location most likely incurred by perspiration. The sugars have caramelised during the drycleaning process leaving unsightly marks. Use of a UV lamp prior to cleaning would have revealed this and allowed the cleaner to treat the potential developing stain accordingly.

Responsibility: Ultimately the responsibility lies with the wearer as the stain has been caused by perspiration.

Rectification: Post treatment might successfully remove the stains but caramelised sugars can be particularly stubborn. Care should be taken not to caused damage to the dress. Prevention is the best cure by use of a UV lamp to identify any areas of potential concern.


Hard-edged stain gets worse after cleaning

Fault: this stain was just visible prior to cleaning so the cleaner decided to dryclean it first to see what would come out in the machine. The result was a general darkening within the stain.

Cause: Hard edged stains tend to be sugar or protein based. These are water soluble and are not removed by drycleaning solvent alone. In the warmth of the tumble-dry stage they harden and darken usually becoming ‘set’ and much more difficult to remove. If they are pre-treated with water and steam (for sugars) or with protein remover (or ammonia) for proteins, they will usually come out. They can be recognised under ultraviolet light because sugars fluoresce lemon yellow and proteins fluoresce pink.

Responsibility: The responsibility for getting the stain onto the garment lies with the wearer however, the cleaner is responsible for attempting the correct sequence of stain removal steps to take them out if this can be done without damage.

Rectification: It is still worth attempting to remove the stain, using the techniques described.


Debris tells a tale

Fault: This designer suit went into the cleaning process apparently unmarked and came out with a white patch on it.

Cause: Under 40x magnification it is possible to see deposits embedded in the weave in the area of the white mark. This type of deposit is characteristic of a food or drink spill. It could not have resulted from the use of drycleaning chemicals, however incompetent the cleaner.

Responsibility: The responsibility lies with the user.

Rectification: None is possible.