Spotting with pure chemicals

In this final article on spotting I will be looking at some of the pros and cons of using the straight chemical reagents that up to the late 1960s were in fairly common use in our industry. They are still available in the correct concentrations from Lynx/ Alex Reid.

Advantages of pure chemicals

When used in the correct concentrations, pure chemicals provide a significantly safer option for the cleaner in terms of localised colour loss. In some instances, and particularly in the case of stains of an animal origin such as blood, urine and gravy, ammonia is frequently a much more effective and safer reagent than a kit blood spotter. Pure chemicals are also less likely to affect those with sensitive skin. They are easier to use and there is less risk of rings and sweals developing as they do not contain any non-volatiles.

For those cleaners who are interested in developing their stain removal capabilities I suggest you start and experiment with the following limited range of reagents. I have included hydrogen peroxide as I believe that all cleaners should have the ability to remove stains that in many cases can only be removed with a bleach.

Chemicals and concentrations

  • 4.5 or 5% Ammonia – used to treat stains of an animal origin. This is the most effective all round stain removal chemical used in our industry. It is often used together with bar soap which further enhances its stain removal properties in terms of compound stains such as gravy, and many food stains.
  • 9 or 10% Acetic Acid (some cleaners use white vinegar – Acetic acid is used to treat stains of a plant origin. However, it is nowhere near as effective as kit tannin spotters, its overwhelming advantage being that it is by far the safest chemical available for localised stain removal and will normally prevent loose colours from bleeding. Because of the extremely low risk of colour loss, It is a particularly useful chemical for spotting silk.
  • Amyl Acetate – a volatile dryside spotter that should only be used for treating small stains like oil, tar and nail polish. Good ventilation in the spotting area is essential. Once the stain is removed, amyl acetate can be quickly evaporated with the air gun, it is not necessary to flush out with solvent.
  • 6 or 9% Hydrogen Peroxide – this is a particularly safe bleach which very rarely affects coloured textiles. It is excellent for use on any residual colour that might remain after treating stains that can be difficult to remove such as curry, red wine, some fruit stains, dye stains and colour mark offs. Any bleach has the potential to damage colour and a colour test should always be done to ensure the colour will not be affected. The problem with peroxide is that it so rarely affects coloured textiles that spotters stop testing (familiarity breeds contempt) and of course that’s when the totally unexpected happens. Peroxide has a fairly short shelf life so it is best to buy it from your local pharmacy.

How to use peroxide

  1. Place 1 drop of ammonia on the stain.
  2. Add 2 or more drops of peroxide,
  3. With the press or ironing table, continuously heat stain with bottom/ ironing surface steam.
  4. Add more peroxide if necessary.

Alternatively use dry steam from the steam gun. Using only a wisp of steam, keep the bleach focused on the stain by constantly changing the position of the steam gun (eye protection is mandatory). This does require the spotter to develop, what can be at first, a difficult hands on skill.

I strongly recommend that cleaners wishing to further extend their knowledge of this complex and fascinating subject purchase a copy of the ‘Guild of Cleaners & Launderers Stain Removal Manual’.

Finally, pure chemicals should only be used on the spotting table and never used for pre-spotting.

  • In the Spring of next year Roger Cawood will be looking at the removal of some common stains that can be very difficult to remove