Stain removal is one of the three main reasons why customers take clothes to a professional cleaner. Failure to achieve a good standard here – and also in general cleaning and finishing – could mean that the customer will feel that the garment has been ruined and cleaning was a waste of money.

The majority of cleaners now use what are commonly known as “kit chemicals” for stain removal. These range from basic three-bottle kits to those with seven or more chemicals.

These kits for the most part comprise wetside/dryside reagents, designed to flush out in the drycleaning machine. However, if reagents of this type are used for post-spotting, they can be difficult to flush out on the spotting table.

Note also that kit chemicals (pre-spotting or post-spotting) should not be used for spotting silk. For post-spotting it is recommended that either straight chemicals are used, or a specialist post-spotting kit such as the Kreussler “Deprit” range.

The extensive use of kits throughout the industry has now led many cleaners to adopt the practice of pre-spotting garments and then recleaning them if stains have not been removed during the first clean. This is not good cleaning practice and it can lead to substantial reductions in machine output.

If cleaners are to improve their stain removal skills – and they do need to be improved – we need to re-invent the wheel. I feel that cleaners need to take a step back from today’s simplistic pre-spotting methodology and start using straight chemicals and bleaches.

  Straight chemicals overcome many of the problems encountered with kits. They do not leave residues behind following stain removal and they are much less likely to remove colour or cause fabric damage. They can also be more effective. Any cleaner who uses straight chemicals will tell you that ammonia is generally much better for the removal of blood than a kit protein chemical. However there are some specific cases where a kit product may work more effectively, particularly on tannin stains.

  Understanding bleaches

The understanding and use of a bleach or bleaches is fundamental to a cleaner’s ability to remove many deep-seated stains and particularly those such as dye, colour mark off and some difficult dry and wetside inks. Contrary to popular belief, the oxidising bleaches, sodium perborate and hydrogen peroxide, can be used very successfully in most cases on coloured fabrics without damaging the colour.

A good, well lit (minimum 500 lux) spotting table with steam, heated air and a high pressure water spray is a must if you are really serious about improving your skills and performance. In terms of production rates, hot air is vital for drying off. It is also important that the volume of steam can be easily regulated for delicate spotting operations.

Quality brushes

A selection of good quality brushes – soft, medium and hard (two sets of each) should be provided and a bone or plastic spatula. The two sets of brushes should be kept separate for use with wetside and dryside reagents respectively. Eye protection and chemical resistant gloves should be provided.

Using chemicals properly

For those cleaners that have only used kits for stain removal, it is important to understand that the following chemicals should only be used for stain removal. They should never be used for pre-spotting.

• 5% ammonia*: general proteinic stain removal and stains of animal origin

• 1% ammonia*: silk spotting

• bar soap: Fairy or Sunlight – ideal when used with 5% ammonia

• 10% acetic acid: stains of a plant origin

• sodium perborate: fruit and colour stains

• 5vol hydrogen peroxide*: silk spotting

• 10vol hydrogen peroxide*: dye fruit and colour stains – quicker acting, less stable than sodium perborate, but easier to use

• glycerine: a good wetside solvent and lubricant

• digester: used for the conversion of set albumin/protein stains

• amyl acetate*: a good general purpose dryside solvent which should be used in small quantities with good ventilation

• methylated spirits (industrial): good for biro, grass and colour stains.

* After use, these reagents will evaporate completely and will not leave any greasy, non-volatile residues in textiles.

To my knowledge, Cole and Wilson is the only company to supply the above chemicals in bottles in the dilutions given here.

In conjunction with a comprehensive spotting kit, which it is assumed will contain a metal stain remover, the basic range of reagents listed above will enable the cleaner to remove a wide variety of difficult stains that hitherto would have been returned to the customer with a stain ticket.

In addition the cleaner will be able to treat stains on a wide range of silk fabrics with confidence. In the case of pure silk it is recommended that distilled or de-ionised water is used for water based stains.

Good technique

Today, many cleaners will not attempt stain removal on silk items. In my experience this is mainly due to fear generated by past disasters and problems that have invariably occurred through lack of training. This is a sad reflection on the state of training in our industry today. There are, though, still some cleaners around who are masters of their craft and who can spot silk confidently and with success.

While it is possible that the skills required to spot silk, delicate fabrics and designer label items can be self-taught, there is really no substitute for good professional training. However, there are some basic procedures and rules which should help:

• cleanliness is next to godliness: The spotting table and equipment must be kept spotlessly clean

• a good supply of clean, white absorbent cloths is essential

• always test the colour and the fabric before a chemical is used. This even applies to cold water

• do not use kit chemicals on silk

• some moiré effects are damaged by water, so always test them

• some silk fabrics may contain a water-soluble resin or stiffener which will leave rings if the item is spotted with water. Beware even of items labelled “d” or “D”

• never use a spatula on silk and always tamp on the main body of the table.

• chemicals (and water) that are safe cold may affect the colour or textile if heated

• only use sufficient chemical to wet out the stain

• adjust the volume of steam/air on the gun to a level appropriate for the textile

• always test coloured fabrics before using a bleach

• some dyes are pH sensitive. acetic or ammonia can reverse colour changes

• velour fabrics should be spotted from the pile side, satins from the back of the fabric. Some pile fabrics such as acetate and silk velvets should not be spotted on the wetside

• to avoid the transfer of chemicals, clean the spotting table after each garment.

Spotting silk, in particular, can be a time consuming procedure. If treatment of stains is rushed and checks on colour etc are not carried out at each stage it will not be long before a garment is damaged.

Because of the delicate/sensitive nature of silks and many designer fabrics and also the risks presented by fugitive dyes, it may not be possible to remove some stains that would otherwise not present any particular problem.

However, the following stains can usually be relied upon to cause problems on a wide range of textiles:

• dye stains and mark offs: dye transfer in drycleaning or washing may be very difficult to remove

• heavy metallic stains

• marking inks – in many cases it will not be possible to remove stains/marks

• heat-set blood and albumin – albumin is found in many food stains

• antiseptics, ointments and medicines

• curry, and many oriental foods and sauces

• mildew

• perspiration and antiperspirants.

This list is not exhaustive and there are many specific stains that may prove difficult to remove from some fibres, for example, hair dyes and colorants on animal hair textiles It should be appreciated that the removal of stains on the spotting table will become increasingly difficult the larger the stained area and there will come a point, even with straightforward stains, where a total immersion process may be the only way of addressing the problem

Basic training

Cleaners now often receive basic training in the use of kit chemicals from their supplier. This understandably focuses on the correct use of the company’s products. The advantage for the cleaner is that such training is free. It also introduces those new to the industry to the, it must be said, limited, experience of spotting with a particular company’s kit.

For those cleaners who are serious about improving their skills and providing a top quality service, there is no substitute for independent professional training. There are a range of spotting courses available in the industry. However, before signing up for training, research the available courses and check the following points:

• “Is the course syllabus appropriate for your present knowledge base?”

• “What are the trainer’s qualifications and industry experience?”

Any worthwhile course will include training on a range of straight chemicals including bleaches. Finally, you should ask whether the trainer holds recognised training qualifications. Some do not , but I feel it is essential if you are to benefit fully from a course.