Processing coloured items can be very profitable but it is fraught with pitfalls for the unwary launderer. It also demands the ability to counter claims of negligence when certain problems occur that cannot be attributed to faulty laundering.
The range of problems associated with coloured work makes it more difficult to handle. However, for those operators willing to go the extra mile to get their processing right for some of these difficult classifications, the effort should be worthwhile.
The key lies in the use of the correct detergents and, for stained work, an understanding of bleaching care symbols and how to comply with these by using a bleach that will remove stains without affecting the colour.

Fading caused by wrong detergent
Most good quality detergents for white textiles contain optical brightening agents (OBAs). These expensive ingredients are designed to bond securely to the cotton surface where they react with the ultraviolet portion of natural daylight (which is not visible to the human eye).
The result of this reaction is additional brilliant white light which makes the textile look bright and lively and gives it the desired "wow!" factor.
OBAs are essential for white textiles but they have an undesirable effect on coloured and pastel items.
The white light they generate dilutes the colour and leads to complaints of premature fading. Even shades such as cream and ivory are damaged by OBAs, leading to complaints of greying rather than fading.
Unfortunately, in most cases, OBA quenching chemicals cannot be applied successfully in laundering because the processes use high temperatures and this causes as many problems as it cures.
To produce high quality results, the launderer requires a minimum of three different detergents:
A standard detergent, containing good brightening agents, for white work;
A completely OBA-free detergent for coloured work. (A low-OBA detergent is no substitute for one which is totally OBA-free, because a little OBA goes a long way);
A neutral detergent without any alkali for silks and wools.
The OBA-free product is particularly important for cream or ivory wedding dresses, which can turn to a drab grey in a single wash, a result that is almost impossible to reverse.
The same problem affects cream and ivory table linen in cotton or polyester cotton, because the discolouration is progressive. Such work might not look too bad after one or two washes but when some new stock is added in three months time the difference becomes very clear.

Dyeing faults and bleach damage
The products of gas combustion contain a wide variety of chemicals, some of which will react with blue or yellow dyes and de-colour these. This can result in the green overalls used in manufacturing or the green scrub-suits used in healthcare acquiring areas of fading from green to blue or from blue to orange, depending on the dye recipes used.
The damage starts around the areas in the direct down-blast of the hot air stream in the tunnel finisher and initially only the single thickness areas will be affected.
However, after a few cycles, even the multi-layered areas will become discoloured and the entire garment changes colour. The problem stems from the dyeing process and there is little that the launderer can do to avoid the fault.
A steam-heated tunnel finisher or a steam-heated tumble dryer will not result in the same fading, but even so the basic problem is down to the garment manufacturer not the launderer.
Coloured towels are not usually made to be resistant to the effects of sodium hypochlorite bleach (or chlorine bleach). Even those which appear to have bleach resistance will be found to fade slowly over time.
However, quite a large number of towels can be made to resist the effect of hydrogen peroxide and other "safe" oxygen bleaches (such as sodium percarbonate and other powder bleaches and powder de-stainers). Towels that can withstand such treatment will frequently carry the symbol, introduced in the latest ISO care labelling standard in 2005, which consists of a triangle with two hatched lines in it.
Bleach damage is not confined to the laundry, even though the disappointed customer will blame the launderer when the towels they sent in are returned in a mottled state.
Hair products and some spa treatments contain peroxide bleach. This does not react with a coloured towel as quickly as sodium hypochlorite, so a towel might be unmarked when it goes into the laundry bag at the end of the day.
However, after a few hours the bleaching reaction slowly becomes apparent and the next time the user sees the towel it can be severely marked, through absolutely no fault of the launderer.

Cleaning chemicals remove colour
A great many swimming pool and spa areas still use chlorine-based chemicals for both cleaning and disinfection and although these are not as fast-acting as chlorine bleach, they can have a devastating effect on towels.
The effect is worst when towels are used on a recently washed floor which is still wet. In such cases, parts of the towel will pick up cleaning fluid resulting in small, random areas of fading. Puddles will soak right through, whilst other areas affect one side only.
High-end hotels occasionally use pastel coloured towels in the best guest rooms, and if these are used for cleaning mirrors or bathroom ceramics they will suffer localised damage.
The room cleaner may be completely unaware of what has happened, particularly if the damage is slow to develop. Close liaison with the launderer’s customer service manager is essential if the laundry is to keep on top of this problem. It is generally better to lose a customer than to tolerate this type of damage, especially for bespoke rental goods.

Specify embroidery threads
Many customers value the embroidered logo on their textiles, which represents good value for a relatively small increase in capital outlay. However, the bleach resistance of the embroidery thread needs to be specified correctly.
If this is specified to withstand sodium hypochlorite bleaching, which the best threads will do, then normal bleaching with hydrogen peroxide, for example, should not present any fading problems.
In this way the launderer will be able to take out red wine stains, some tanning lotions and other drink or
make-up stains.
If bleach resistance is not specified, then the embroiderer could easily use rayon thread resulting in the logo progressively changing colour during the first few washes.
Even where the right thread is specified, problems can still occur.
Many modern laundry processes rely not on rinsing but on neutralisation of the wash alkali using an acid sour in the final compartment. This must be well-controlled to avoid the occasional over-soured load being tumble dried or ironed. Then the excess acid combined with the heat of the dryer or ironer will be sufficient to bleach many threads, even some of the most bleach-resistant ones.

Stain removal on coloured towels
When towels become stained with vegetable dyes such as tannin (from beer or red wine) or with protein stains (such as custard, ice cream, gravy, faeces, urine or blood), following the guidelines here will allow the marks to be removed without any damage.
Speed is of the essence. Tannin stains will dye the cotton fibres and this will become progressively worse whilst waiting for a weekly collection.
Protein stains will need a cool pre-wash running for four to five minutes at around 38C, to soften the staining.
Then there is a reasonable chance that the marks will be removed by good detergency and mechanical action in the main wash at 60C, without the need for any bleaching at all.
This is probably the main reason why there is such a difference between the quality results from a top laundry and an average one.