Full marks for no marks!

Many customers take an item for cleaning because it has become stained. They can react with predictable fury if the stain is still there when they collect their cleaning, especially if the cleaner has not pre-warned them to expect disappointment and then refuses responsibility on the grounds that the stain was already on when they brought it in.

Many cleaners use the term “pre-spotting” to refer both to detergent pre-brushing and to stain removal using proprietary stain-removal reagents. Detergent pre-brushing is designed to introduce a little moisture into areas which need this, to aid the release of sweaty grime (such as collars and cuffs) and of soup spillage or vomit splatter (both of which are water-based).

Detergent pre-brushing is not a substitute for proper stain removal procedures and it is just as risky, if not more so. Stain removal starts with stain identification and selection of the most suitable reagent. Then the fabric must be tested to make sure the reagent will not remove a patch of colour. Only then should it be applied, the results assessed and the residues flushed clear of the fabric. The material is then feathered dry.

Brushing pre-spot detergent onto most stains might reduce them a little but it is never as effective as correct stain removal. Even worse, if the pre-brushed item is left in the batch of work for the next load there is a real risk that the moisture in the soap will cause local weakening of the dyes so that when the item is drycleaned a pale patch is created that is worse than the original stain. The risk increases the more water is used to dilute the neat detergent. This month we look at the correct techniques for some common stains.

Damp and cold storage leads to mildew

Fault: After cleaning, speckled dark marking remained on these curtains.

Cause: Storage in cold, damp and dark conditions is ideal for mildew growth and the familiar spots of black, dark brown, green and blue marks are the inevitable result. These are fungal growths coloured by vegetable dyes.

Responsibility: Although it is just possible for the conditions in a drycleaning shop to support mildew growth, this would be very unusual. The garment owner is traditionally held responsible. However, the cleaner should take responsibility for correct pre- and post-treatment.

Rectification: The vegetable dyes in mildew need a slightly acidic oxidising agent to de-colour them.

The magic ingredient in proprietary reagents is usually hydrogen peroxide and many cleaners use this as a single treatment by itself, possibly acidified with a little acetic acid. This must be pre-tested on coloured goods. Treatment is usually successful, but it can take a long while and patience is needed.

Some stains are tougher

Fault: The stain on this wedding dress defied cleaning and defeated the cleaner.

Causes: This stain was identifiable only by its reaction with the various reagents used to remove it. It was reduced appreciably by an alkaline protein remover. When this did not improve matters any more, it was flushed clear and a tannin remover applied.

This removed most, but not all, of the brown colour. Finally, rust remover was applied and the remaining brownish marking disappeared instantly.

Responsibility: The owner is responsible for getting the marking onto the garment but the cleaner is responsible for not removing it. The sauce which caused it is typical of a compound stain and any cleaner with a Guild stain removal certificate, even at intermediate level, (or an NVQ in drycleaning operations) should have been able to tackle it successfully.

Champagne stain becomes darker

Fault: This dress went into the cleaning machine with very little visible marking but dark staining developed in the process.

Cause: Lemonade, white wine and champagne stains contain little or no vegetable dye so they are not as easily seen as red wine or blackcurrant juice during pre-cleaning inspection. However, the sugars in the stain darken with the heat in tumble drying in warm air, leaving a visible mark where nothing could be seen before.

Responsibility: Unless the owner advises the cleaner of the champagne spill, the cleaner cannot treat the stain, so the blame stays with the owner. However, the cleaner should take responsibility for the correct post-treatment to ensure complete removal.

Rectification: First, the sugars should be dissolved away using water warmed up with a little steam. This may take some time. Once the sugars have been dissolved and the stain is looking lighter, the final traces of tannin can be taken out with a tannin remover.