Case studies: Stain removal 2

23 December 2021



In our second part of stain removal, Richard Neale and Roger Cawood, advise on advanced techniques


Acquiring advanced stain removal techniques would revolutionise the profitability of a great many cleaning businesses, simply because their local competition is often so mediocre when it comes to correctly recognising and expertly treating everyday staining. Leading cleaners can often identify marks which only become visible after cleaning, by making use of an ultraviolet light. Sugar stains from champagne and lemonade fluoresce white under UV; blood and metal marks fluoresce towards black, whilst protein stains from a variety of foodstuffs show up as a rich coral pink. Marks that only appear after cleaning are generally more difficult to remove as they are often heat set during cleaning or finishing. Pure chemicals are usually more effective for dealing with stains of this type. This month we look at some typical case studies.


Staining that moves around!

Fault: after drycleaning, these trousers were still stained with the original mud and splash marking and post-treatment only moved the surrounding ring marks. The cleaner tried protein remover and tannin remover, but found that the residual ring marks were partially reduced with a dry-side spotter (of the type used for glues and paints!). Also, the trousers were now a muddy grey-brown when compared to the jacket.

Technical cause: the residual ring marks moved very easily with a water-based spotter and with water, indicating that they are primarily very fine residual mud particles and water-soluble stains. The muddy grey-brown colour is because the original widespread staining has not been flushed from the cloth prior to drycleaning and there is probably too much of this for pre-spotting or post- spotting alone to be effective.

Responsibility: the responsibility for the original staining lies with the wearer, but the responsibility for not adopting or advising the customer on a good professional approach to the removal of the soiling and stains, lies with the cleaner.

Rectification: because of the extensive nature of the original soiling/staining, the cleaner should have realised that drycleaning was not appropriate for this item and recommended wetcleaning. Now, faced with the present problem, the garment could still be treated with water flush, over a vacuum gauze, to remove the movable marking that is causing the rings, starting from the top of the trousers and working downwards. However, it would be far better to discuss this with the customer and seek authorisation to hand wash the trousers using a colour detergent (which should be OBA-free) followed by drip drying, then set them back to size by careful pressing, using the original measurements. An even better alternative would be to wetclean them. Either hand washing or wetcleaning should remove the rings and much of the greying.

Compound stains can be difficult!

Fault: the stain on the cuff to the sleeve of this wedding dress defied drycleaning and defeated the cleaner!

Technical cause: this stain was identifiable only by its reaction with the various reagents used to remove it. It was reduced appreciably by an acidic tannin remover. When this did not improve matters any more it was flushed clear and an alkaline protein remover applied. This removed most, but not all, of the brown colour. Finally, rust remover was applied and the remaining brownish marking disappeared instantly from the test area.

Responsibility: the owner is responsible for the stain but unfortunately the cleaner did not employ good professional methodology in his attempt to remove it and should accept the blame for the residual mark. The brown sauce which caused this particular marking is typical of a straightforward compound stain and any competent cleaner should have been able to tackle it successfully.

Rectification: this sauce mark was wholly removable. It was important, when post-treating it to apply the tannin remover first and only address the protein marks once the effectiveness of the tannin remover had been exhausted. The rust remover then took out any metal oxides (such as rust from the haemoglobin in any blood-based ingredients in the sauce).

Using UV light to identify unremoved staining

Fault: after drycleaning, the original pale staining had darkened, creating several obvious solid stains, which the cleaner could not remove, even using strong post spotters.

Technical cause: this staining was visible before cleaning, but the cleaner decided 'to clean it first to see what would come out'. The cleaning solvent has not removed the staining, which has probably hardened and darkened further with the heat in drying and finishing.

Identification: this stain fluoresces white under UV, which means it probably contains a sugar, which has now caramelised, creating the darker brown marking noticed by the owner on collection and frustrating attempts by the cleaner in post spotting. This is characteristic of marks left by champagne or even lemonade.

Responsibility: with stains of this size, a good professional cleaner should have attempted stain removal (after testing the reagents on the fabric) before cleaning and should be accepting the blame for not doing this here. Any staining which cannot be safely pre treated remains the responsibility of the wearer. Champagne or any white wine ( depending on the extent or size of the staining) can usually be removed before cleaning using a tannin remover, followed by flushing and drying off.

Rectification: it is worth trying 9% hydrogen peroxide, with 1 2 drops of 5% ammonia, heated up with a little steam. Post spotting might take a little longer than removal by pre spotting, because the caramelised sugars have to be dissolved before the peroxide can de colour the stain.

Spatter marking causes blotchy felting

Fault: after drycleaning and pressing, the owner of this brown wool blazer noted pale mottled marking which corresponded with tiny patches of matted fabric. The cleaner had noticed some mottling during steam forming and decided to re clean it on the next load. The present very distinct marking appeared after the second clean.

Technical cause: this blazer was reportedly unmarked before cleaning, but it was one of the first garments in the batch to be steam formed or pressed. Either the steam to the finishing area was very wet (meaning it contained water droplets) or condensation had formed in the steam supply line, possibly because of a faulty steam trap. The release of condensate droplets during the first steam cycle has resulted in the water splatter marks on the blazer fabric. The garment was apparently re cleaned without drying off all the moisture in the water marks, and the fabric in these areas has now felted, making the fault more obvious and giving rise to the complaint.

Responsibility: the blame here lies entirely with the cleaner. The damage was initiated by failure to maintain the finishing equipment in good order followed by failure to ensure the garment had been dried to a safe overall regain before re cleaning. Clearing condensation from supply lines and avoiding humidity in wool fabrics prior to cleaning or re cleaning are part of the drycleaner's basic craft skills.

Rectification: felting cannot normally be rectified and unfortunately that applies here.

Gelatinous starchy foods sit on the fabric

Fault: drycleaning in hydrocarbon did not remove all of the white staining from this dress. It actually looked even whiter after drycleaning!

Technical cause: under only four times magnification it is possible to see the gelatinous white starchy residues sitting on the yarns and in the gaps in the weave. This is food staining which requires correct pre treatment before machine drycleaning as opposed to any residual from drycleaning chemicals.

Responsibility: apparently, the staining looked much whiter after cleaning than before, so the cleaner might be excused for not seeing this beforehand. However, the cleaner should be taking responsibility for correct rectification now.

Rectification: after pre testing, the staining needs treatment with a water based alkaline stain remover. 'the water will soften the starches and the alkali will reduce the fatty proteins. With patience, all of this stain can be softened and flushed away.

  • If you have problems you would like the authors to examine please send with a good quality, high resolution (300dpi/1MB at least) pic of the item to [email protected]

ON THE MOVE: These brown ring marks appeared to move around in post-spotting
CLEANER DEFEATED: The marking on the sleeve cuff of this wedding dress defeated the efforts of the cleaner, which relied mostly on re-cleaning
DARK SIDE: These pale stains darkened in cleaning, but the white fluorescence under UV indicates that they contain a sugar, which has caramelised, darkening in the process
CHARACTERISTIC PATTERN: Splatter marking from water in the steam line to the former caused the characteristic pattern of felting found here
WHITE OUT: Gelatinous foodstuffs do sometimes whiten in drycleaning


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