Is this really all white?

21 February 2024

Howard Bradley is getting exercised by an advert he believes is giving the wrong impression on stain removal

I saw an advert on television the other day for a well-known brand of laundry detergent. The advert was extolling how brilliant the detergent was on a cold wash, able to remove all sorts of stains such as mud, perspiration and all the usual suspects.

A group of cyclists were all wearing the same white jumpers and all cycling across a wet mud strewn course in order to generate the most amount of staining.

It showed the cyclists finishing the course and then immediately putting the dirty jumpers in convenient washing machines on cold wash cycles, and after the wash, all the jumpers came out clean and spotless.

Adverts like this are misleading, in my opinion, because it is highly unlikely that a stained jumper will be put immediately into a washing machine as soon as it gets stained. What also gets me are the disclaimers and what are revealing small bits of information relating to the test results that are flashed at the bottom of the screen for a fleeting few seconds. That really annoys me.

The manufacturer of the detergent, by flashing up these pieces of information, stays within the letter of the law, but ethically I find it a questionable thing to do and here is why.

These cyclists’ jumpers that performed so well in the cold wash, not only had loose, fresh staining on them, but they were also 100% polyester according to the blurb that most people would not think to read. It is of no surprise to me that such good results were obtained given the short time between being stained and getting washed and also being made of a man made fabric that does perform very well in the wash and is usually much easier to remove this type of staining from than natural fabrics .

I always watch these detergent and stain remover ads with a professional interest (what a sad person I must be) and always get annoyed at how they seem to see the general public as gullible. My long-suffering wife Yvonne must find it like watching the television with Victor Meldrew, as “I don’t believe it” is a favoured catch phrase of mine.

I remember writing once to a company that advertised on television, boasting how good their product was at removing stains. The advert featured women in fancy saris as representative examples of the items that had had the stains removed.

The small print on this advert, however, at the bottom of the screen, stated that the product was not suitable for silks. In my letter to them, I asked why they featured silk saris in an advert for a product that could not be used on silk. Naturally I never got any reply from them.

Urgent: detergent

There are thankfully still always new people coming into our industry, but they will often lack the expertise or knowledge that is almost a pre-requisite of what is required in the trade. It’s no exaggeration to say, that as each year has gone by, the time-served experts, the dedicated training schools and so on are all disappearing, and the fundamental knowledge of textiles and their performance is not even on people’s radars anymore.

So, what hope is there for the future of the textile care industry in the United Kingdom? Well, I believe that very much like the song ‘The Circle of Life’ from Disney’s Lion King, our industry will also much like this. Having owned and read textile care books dated back as far as the 1900s, I realised that despite my industry knowledge gained since the late 1960s, if I had time travelled back to a specialist cleaner of 1925 I would have been virtually clueless.

If I have to give one message, it’s this, please people, do remember that you will cannot clean garments in pure perchloroethylene without using a special soap or detergent designed to go with it…..

Those new to the industry will over the course of time learn new methods and tips and tricks to become masters of the craft. But, you need to be open to wanting to learn first.

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