Chemical suppliers have always placed a lot of emphasis on the identification of stains providing cleaners with comprehensive charts giving the correct kit product to select for a wide variety of specific stains. Charts are very helpful for a known stain type that is proving difficult to remove, but contrary to what many believe, it is rarely possible to positively identify a high percentage of specific stains at the spotting table.

Focal point

Stain identification is based on FOC.AL which breaks down as Feel, Odour, Colour, Appearance, Location.

While FOC.AL can be great for positively confirming some stains such as perfume or perspiration, all the above factors are heavily influenced by the garment type, textile colour, fibre/textile type, the age of the stain and its history. I have regularly seen operators spending inordinate amounts of time they could ill afford during prespotting, searching up and down stain charts for the recommended reagent. Bearing in mind the above, by far the most important aspect of identification is an initial decision as to whether the stain is water based or oil based. Hazarding a guess I would say that this decision can generally be made with over 90% accuracy based on the appearance, feel and location of the stain and in some cases odour, curry being a good example. In terms of odour, a good indication of stain type is that water based stains are often built up or have a clearly defined edge whereas oil based tend be absorbed and diffuse into the fabric.

If the basic nature of a stain is established correctly, even if technically the wrong chemical is used for example, a blood spotter on a fruit stain, it might well still remove the stain.

In a busy working environment, time saved contributes to the bottom line. Realistically, specific stain identification frequently boils down to knowledgeable, inspired guesswork. So don’t get hung up on whether or not you have exactly identified the stain.

Stain classification

Today’s cleaner is faced with an almost Infinite variety of stain types and while many are readily removed in drycleaning and particularly in wetcleaning, others such as paint or beverage stains are likely to require specialised treatment either before or after cleaning. Stains types can be classified into the following groups

  • Oil based – tar, grease, waxes, oil based paint and similar stains are often soluble in drycleaning solvent or paint remover.
  • Water based – stains such as tea, coffee, blood, soft drinks, alcohol are often removed in wetcleaning or with kit blood or tannin spotters.
  • Compound stains – compound stains are stains such as salad cream and lipstick which contain both oily and water soluble components; they normally respond well to kit tannin or blood spotters.
  • Dye stains – hair and fabric dyes, food colourings, etc. A beach is often needed to complete removal.
  • Metallic stains – rust, verdigris, last residue from blood, also some garden products will often only respond to rust remover.

Approximately 70% of stains are water based, and many can be treated locally on the prespotting table using water based kit spotters. Obviously, wetcleaners are at a considerable advantage here and need to concentrate much more on oil based stains using paint or grease spotters.

Getting started

A flat topped table at least 60cm x 90cm with a chemical resistant surface is needed for inspection and prespotting prior to cleaning. Two bowls together with two brushes with soft bristles are required for general prespotting reagents.

You will also need a general prespotting soap and a similiar product designed specifically for sensitive items together with a spotting kit of around 3-6 spotters, and two plastic or bone spatulas.

  • In September I will looking at the practical side of pre-spotting and pointing out the high risk areas that often lead to expensive claims.