By Wally Makowsky | Apr 15, 2009
As more and more laundry owners continue to offer wash-dry-fold services and seek out commercial accounts to supplement their walk-in business, more and more of these operators are having to transform themselves from businesspeople into stain-removal experts.
To aid in that metamorphosis, let’s take a look at the most common laundry stains. They typically fall into one of five categories: human stains, food and beverage stains, oil and grease stains, common soil stains, and chemical stains.
Human stains consist of urine, perspiration, fecal matter and saliva. To remove these stains, it would be best to use completely soft water with a zero hardness rating. You can contact your city’s water department to find out what softness of water you’re getting in your laundry. Although zero-soft is the optimum level, a safe, effective softness level for laundering these stains is up to seven grains; once you go beyond that, the chemicals have a difficult time doing their jobs, because they’re attacking the minerals in the water, rather than the stains on the garments.
Beyond the softness level, your water temperature should be at least 130 degrees or hotter.
Pre-wash the stained items with detergent at a low water level for about five to seven minutes. The wash cycle should be anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes. Then, follow this up with three rinses.
Use an enzyme-based detergent or a detergent with a decent amount of surfactant. If the material is white cotton, also use chlorine bleach in tandem with the detergent during the wash cycle; however, if it’s colored or synthetic, use a non-chlorine type of bleach.
Softener and a fabric freshener, such as Febreze, can be applied during the last rinse and is often recommended to neutralize any type of human stain.
However, if you choose to use a softener, be sure to use it very lightly, because too much softener can create water repellency. Since most human stains are typically on undergarments, bed linen and towels – items where you want sweat absorption – go light on the fabric softener and maintain these items absorption capabilities.
Food and Beverage Stains
These stains consist of ketchup, mustard, coffee, tea, wine or anything that’s organic. To tackle them, zero-soft water again is ideal, with water temperatures of 130 degrees or hotter.
Generally, pre-wash garments with these stains for three to five minutes with hot water at low levels. Pre-wash with a booster. For guidance, call your distributor and find out what type of booster he recommends for food and beverage stains. It likely will be an enzyme-type detergent. If you put that in as a booster, the enzymes will attack anything that’s organic and aid the regular washing process.
Low water levels during the pre-wash, when chemicals are involved, are ideal; this enables the chemicals to work most effectively – whereas higher water levels obviously are better during the rinsing process because, at that point, you’re rinsing out the chemicals.
Of course, commercial-grade machines designed for on-premise laundry applications are going to have complete flexibility in this regard; they can be programmed for any water level needed, any water temperature at any cycle, and provide as many washes as needed. Washers found in the typical self-service laundry are not quite as flexible.
The optimum wash cycle for food and beverage stains is generally in the 12- to 15-minute range, followed by three rinses.
Use a detergent with a high surfactant content, which may also contain an optical brightener, or an enzyme-based product. If the items are cotton and you’re using a high-surfactant detergent, chlorine bleach should be applied, along with the detergent, during the wash cycle. If the fabric is synthetic, use non-chlorine bleach. However, if you’re using an enzyme detergent, apply bleach after the wash cycle.
The first rinse should be at 150 degrees or higher. If starching is required, use it in the last rinse cycle. Also, understand that it’s very difficult to starch in a pre-programmed washer; however, it’s possible if you can make your last rinse a warm-water rinse. This is highly recommended, because starch doesn’t dissolve well in cold water. In fact, certain starches hardly dissolve at all. Therefore, if you’re going to starch, use the last rinse and be sure the water temperature is at least 90 degrees or warmer.
Applying softener to the last rinse also is an option.
Oil and Grease Stains
These stains can be caused by vegetable oil, petroleum, etc.
Use zero-soft water, if possible, with pre-wash water temperatures at 150 degrees or higher. Pre-wash for five minutes, using alkali only. The reason for this is the alkali attacks the stains. It neutralizes and changes the chemical composition of the oil and grease, which prepares the garments for the wash cycle.
Follow up with a 12- to 15-minute wash cycle, using a built detergent with optical brighteners, if available.
A di-limonene-based detergent can be your second option. This type of product also has oil- and grease-removing properties. However, if you use a di-limonene-based detergent also add some to the pre-wash, rather than the alkali.
If the fabric is white cotton, use chlorine bleach. The chlorine bleach should be anywhere from 8 percent to 12 percent active. Of course, if the garments are colored or made of a synthetic fabric, use non-chlorine bleach.
The wash cycle should be followed by three rinses. The last rinse should include a laundry sour to neutralize the alkali, if used. There are some safe, solvent-type detergents available that also do a great job.
Again, using fabric softener is optional in the last rinse.
Common Soil Stains
Basically, this refers to dust and dirt stains. Again, zero-soft water is considered optimum for such a job. Pre-wash for three to five minutes with a detergent or a booster.
The wash cycle should be 12 to 15 minutes at a water temperature of 110 to 150 degrees. Wash with a good-quality, high-surfactant detergent in tandem with bleach. Again, if the items are white cotton, use chlorine bleach; if they are colored or synthetic, use non-chlorine bleach.
For the wash cycle, you also may choose to use an alkali-based detergent. If so, use a laundry sour in the last rinse. As always, softener is optional in that last rinse as well.
These stains can consist of ink, iodine, hair dye, etc. Use as close to zero-soft water as possible. A five-minute pre-wash with water at 150 degrees or higher is suggested.
In that pre-wash, there are certain additives available to remove particular chemical stains. These additives should always be applied during the pre-wash, setting up the fabric for the removal of the stains during the wash cycle.
The wash cycle, which should be anywhere from 12 to 20 minutes, should include a high-surfactant type of detergent. Surfactants are the active ingredients that do most of the work, such as emulsifiers, water conditioners, wetting agents, soil-release agents and optical brighteners. Those are all considered surfactants.
However, you also may use an alkali-based detergent on certain chemical stains. If so, be sure to use a laundry sour in the last rinse.
If the garments are white, use chlorine bleach that is 8 percent to 12 percent active. Use non-chlorine bleach for colors or synthetics.
Chemical stains can be extremely difficult to remove. There are supplementary additives and safe solvents available from your local distributor – and they are often required to remove such stains, as regular detergent sometimes has no effect on these types of stains.
The five categories highlighted above are extremely broad, with several sub-categories – and, no doubt, some sub-sub-categories – under each one. However, following the tried-and-true strategies just outlined should help guide any self-service laundry owner down the path to becoming the top stain-removal guru in his or her marketplace.
The Science of Soaking
When you need to soak a stained garment, follow these proven guidelines:
• Mix the detergent into the water before placing the garment into the soaking tub.
• Soak whites separately from colors to prevent dye transfer.
• Spin or wring the solution out of the garment before washing.
• Do not soak elasticized garments for long periods – or the elastic will yellow and crack.