In terms of both colour and fabric safety, stain removal on a professional spotting table is by far the safest option. This is because the cleaner is in complete control and where necessary can check/test chemicals on sensitive fabrics before and during the process of removing the stain. Before stains can be removed they have to be seen so good lighting (a minimum of 500 lux) in the spotting areas is very important.


A good professional spotting table is essential. It should be equipped with a steam gun with variable steam volume which should also have hot air for drying, vacuum, and at least one, spring suspended, high pressure water spray. It should also have a sleeve arm with vacuum. It is also very important, particularly when using bleaches that the volume of steam and hot air can be easily varied and controlled during the removal of a stain. The very best tables have a glass or marble surface but the vast majority have a stainless steel top which can be noisy if you tamp a lot.

In addition to the above you will need one or more plastic or bone spatulas (metal spatulas are not acceptable), a medium and a soft spotting brush and some clean, white, absorbent cloths and ideally several small plastic pipettes.

Spotting chemicals

There are three options available to the cleaner.

  • Pre-spotting kit chemicals that can also be used for stain removal on the spotting table
  • Specialist kit chemicals designed for stain removal only – not be used as pre-spotters
  • Pure chemical reagents – not be used as pre-spotters

While pre-spotting kits can be used for stain removal, kits designed specifically for stain removal are by far the best option; this is because wetside pre-spotting products contain detergent that enables them to flush out water based stains in the machine. This leaves greasy deposits on the spotting table making it very difficult to maintain a high standard of cleanliness, also any residual chemical that has not been completely flushed out can leave rings and sweals on some fabrics.

Pure chemical reagents such as 5% ammonia and 10% acetic acid are generally safer in terms of fabric safety and colour than kit products and in most cases easier to use. However, although many high end of the market cleaners use pure chemicals, the industry at large generally uses kit products. I will be looking at the use of pure reagents in my final article.

Getting started

Approximately 70% of stains found on garments after drycleaning are water based and many can be easily and very quickly removed using the high pressure water spray. The BS/ISO tests for drycleaning that lie behind the ◯ aftercare symbols, for example, ℗ dictate that dyes must be fast to cold water; so if the colour or fabric is affected in any way when using the water spray the problem will normally be the responsibility of the retailer/manufacturer. However, if you are using the water spray before cleaning the item it must be completely dry before drycleaning.

Due to its surface tension cold water does not easily penetrate some fabrics and particularly those made from animal hair. If a single drop of washing up liquid is added to the water spray container, it will reduce the surface tension and allow the water to quickly penetrate fabrics and stains.

Finally, cleanliness is critical during stain removal as residues from chemicals can easily be transferred to other items. This particularly applies to kit pre-spotting chemicals which leave greasy deposits on and inside the table. Periodically the interior of the table needs to be cleaned as dirt accumulating underneath the vacuum gauze can splash through and contaminate items when using the water spray and steam gun.

  • Next month Roger Cawood will be taking a look at more methodologies and techniques for professonal cleaners