By Bob Nieman | Apr 15, 2009
Other than lint and utility costs, they are the archenemy of laundry owners everywhere. And if you are one of the many store operators who also offers wash-dry-fold or commercial laundry services, stains are an everyday, year-round nemesis.
As a result, this month we will cover stain removal and garment care – from basic removal guidelines to specific strategies for tackling particular stains, from what a well-stocked wash-dry-fold arsenal should include to tailoring your laundering to a garment's fabric.
The Basic Rules
First things first, there are two kinds of stains – water soluble, including most food and drink stains; and waxy, oil-based stains, such as makeup, cooking oil and ballpoint ink, which require a cleaning solvent.
Never use water and cleaning fluid together. Some stains, such as lipstick, gravy, oil-based paint and ballpoint ink, will require both methods. First, remove all of the wax with cleaning fluid and then attack the dye stain with water. Water applied initially on oil-based stains may release their dyes and make them permanent stains.
Here are some additional "rules" to follow regarding stain management. Maytag offers its clients a comprehensive "Stain Removal Guide," within which it cites the "Three P's" of stain removal:
1. Promptness. Treat stains as quickly as possible before laundering. Age and laundering before pre-treating can set some stains.
2. Patience. If the garment is worth saving (and a customer would not bring it to you if it wasn’t), it is worth a little extra time and effort to follow stain removal procedures.
3. Perseverance. Because some stains are difficult to remove, it may be necessary to repeat a procedure several times.
With those rules in mind, here are some general guidelines on exactly how to treat a stain:
• Don’t ignore "invisible" stains such as ginger ale, fruit juice or sugar just because they have disappeared into the fabric. Over time, they are likely to turn yellow and can attract dirt.
• Read the label. Before treating any garment, read its care label and follow it to the letter. Make sure you and your attendants are familiar with the fabric care symbols on clothing labels. Some major soap manufacturers publish free posters explaining these symbols.
This rule also applies to detergents and pre-treaters. You can permanently set a stain, or even completely ruin its fabric, by using the chemicals improperly.
• Always test a detergent or chemical on an inconspicuous area of a garment before applying it directly to the stain, to check for colorfastness. A clipping from the seam allowance is usually the best place. For testing, let the product stand for two to five minutes and then rinse. If the color is affected, do not use the treatment.
• Treat a stain from the inside of the garment. One good method is to place the fabric face down on a paper towel. As you treat, change the paper towel regularly to prevent the stain from transferring back onto the fabric.
• Always blot a stain, never rub. Rubbing on a stain can set it in permanently and also can permanently mark or damage the fabric.
• Don’t oversoak a stain, or hand- or machine-wash a stained fabric for too long. This can cause soil to redeposit on the garment, and can fade colors.
• To prevent a ring, moisten a piece of cheese-cloth with the water or cleaning fluid used. Wipe gently around the edges of the stain toward the center.
• Always launder after treatment to remove the cleaning product as well as the stain.
• Air-dry a garment until you are certain that a stain has been removed. Dryer heat will set the stain.
The Well-Stocked Laundry
The next step is to properly stock your store in order to give your wash-dry-fold staffers a fighting chance against the stains they will encounter. There are several types of commercial fabric treatments and cleaners that you should have on hand for stain removal.
Detergents. Both powders and liquids are effective when used correctly. If you use them to pre-treat, you can use the liquid directly on the stain, or mix the powdered detergent with water to create a paste.
Bleach. Chlorine bleach is a great help in removing stains, but it is very strong and can damage certain fabrics. Dilution with water (approximately 50/50) is usually safe when treating stains on bleach-safe fabrics. Oxygen bleach, usually called "all-fabric" bleach, can be used on a variety of different fabrics.
Pre-spotters. These commercial sprays or liquids work well to loosen stains before laundering, and are safe for most fabrics.
Cleaning solvents. Some stains may require commercial drycleaning or other cleaning solvents. These are effective on tough stains, but require special care. All traces of the solvent must be removed before drying the garment or returning it to the customer, as the vapors are often toxic or flammable.
Pre-soaking and soaking products. These commercial detergents contain enzymes or bleaching agents, and are used to soak a stain before laundering.
Rust removers. These are powerful stain removers, but great care must be taken not to damage fabrics with this product. As a result, follow the directions carefully when using rust removers.
Miscellaneous cleaners. Ammonia, oxalic acid crystals, white vinegar and club soda.
Other tools. It helps to keep items such as paper towels, sponges, white bar soap and a small scrub brush or toothbrush on hand to aid in stain removal.
Removing Specific Stains
When you know exactly what type of stain you are dealing with, you are well on your way to successfully removing it. Different stains require different treatments, and properly treating a stain can guarantee at least an improvement in the garment’s appearance. Following are some tips for removing certain stains. While there is more than one way to remove most stains, these suggestions should serve as solid rules of thumb:
Baby stains. Mix a quarter cup of chlorine bleach with a half cup of automatic dishwasher detergent and one gallon of hot water. Soak clothes for 30 minutes, then wash as usual. Use this method only for clothing that is safe for chlorine bleach.
Beverages (coffee, soda, wine, etc.). Sponge or soak the stain in cold water. Apply detergent or a pre-spotter to any remaining stain. Wash in the hottest water possible without damaging the fabric, using bleach if safe for the fabric.
Blood. Soak in cold water for a minimum of 30 minutes. If the stain is old and set in, pre-treat or soak in warm water using an enzyme detergent. Wash in the hottest water possible without damaging the fabric. If the stain is still visible after laundering, soak again in warm water with a pre-soak product. Re-wash using a fabric-safe bleach.
Catsup. Scrape off the excess stain with a dull knife. Soak in cold water for a minimum of 30 minutes. Pre-treat the effected area with a pre-spotter. Wash the garment in hot water with a fabric-safe bleach.
Chocolate and cocoa. Soak in cool water with an enzyme detergent. Wash in hot water. If the stain is not fully removed, re-wash using a fabric-safe bleach.
Cosmetics (lipstick, mascara, etc.). Pre-treat the stain with a pre-spotter or dampen and rub with bar soap. Wash as usual with a fabric-safe bleach.
Dairy products. Soak in a product containing enzymes for at least 30 minutes; several hours for older stains. Then launder as usual.
Deodorants. For light stains, rub in an undiluted light-duty liquid detergent. Launder using the hottest water that is safe for that particular fabric. For heavy stains, place face down on a paper towel and sponge the back of the stain with a drycleaning solvent or laundry soap. Rinse. Rub in undiluted light-duty detergent. Rinse and launder using the hottest water possible.
Dye transfer. White fabrics that have picked up dye from a colored fabric that "bled" may be restored by using a fabric color remover. Launder. If the dye remains, wash again using a chlorine bleach, if deemed safe for that particular garment. For colored fabrics or non-bleachables, soak in oxygen bleach and then launder.
Egg. Remove any solid matter, and then soak the garment in an enzyme pre-soak or detergent. If the stain remains visible, rub with a powder detergent. Rinse under cold, running water. And wash.
Fabric softener residue. Dampen the stain and rub with bar soap. Rinse and then re-wash.
Fruit and berry stains. Soak or sponge lightly with cool water, then use a pre-wash product and rinse before laundering. For tough stains, rub in glycerin and let set for a few hours. Add a few drops of white vinegar, rinse thoroughly and launder.
Fruit juice. Soak in cold water. Pre-treat the stain and wash with a fabric-safe bleach.
Glue and other adhesives. Apply ice or very cold water to harden the effected area. Scrape the stain carefully with a dull knife to remove any excess. Saturate with a pre-spotter or cleaning fluid. Rinse and then wash. Tough adhesives like airplane glue likely will require a treatment with acetone.
Gum. Follow the directions for removing glue.
Grass. Pre-treat or soak in enzyme detergent. Wash using fabric-safe detergent. If the stain persists, sponge with alcohol (dilute the alcohol in two parts water if you are concerned about the colorfastness of a fabric).
Grease and oil. Pre-treat with a commercial pre-spotter or laundry detergent. Wash in the hottest water that is safe for the fabric. If the stain persists, place the stain face down on paper towels and apply cleaning fluid to the back of the fabric. Allow the fabric to dry, and then rinse. Wash again in hot water.
Ice Cream. Some stains will rinse away if sponged with soda water. An enzyme soak also will lift them from most washable fabrics.
Ink. First of all, some inks may be set in by laundering. Therefore, try pre-treating the stain before laundering. Using alcohol or a cleaning fluid, sponge the reverse side of the stain with the fabric face down on a paper towel. Rinse thoroughly. Another method is to place the stained area over the mouth of a jar or glass and hold the fabric taut. Drip the cleaning fluid through the spot so that the ink will drop into the container. Rinse. Some household cleaners or hairspray also may work as pre-treaters. Once the stain is sufficiently removed, launder as usual.
Mildew. Wash items in chlorine bleach, if it’s safe for the fabric. If chlorine bleach cannot be used, soak the item in oxygen bleach and hot water. Launder. If the stain persists, sponge with hydrogen peroxide. Rinse thoroughly and wash again.
Mud and heavy soil. If the mud is dry, brush off as much as possible. Rinse in cold water. Pre-treat with detergent. If the soil is very heavy or set in, soak in regular or enzyme detergent. Wash in hot water with appropriate bleach.
Mustard. Pre-treat with a commercial spot remover and wash in as hot of water as is safe for that particular fabric, using chlorine or oxygen bleach.
Nail polish. Don’t count on removing this stain, especially if it has set for a few days. Gently apply acetone to the reverse side of the stain, placing the garment face down on a paper towel. Rinse the garment thoroughly and then wash.
Paint. If the paint is water-based, rinse in warm water and launder. If the paint is already dried into the garment, it probably cannot be removed. If the paint is oil-based, use a paint solvent such as turpentine on the reverse side of the stain. Rinse, then pre-treat with a pre-spotter or laundry detergent. Rinse again and then wash.
Perspiration. Use a pre-spotter or rub the area with bar soap. If discoloration has occurred from the perspiration, treat fresh stains with ammonia and older stains with white vinegar. Wash in the hottest water that is safe for the fabric, using an enzyme detergent or oxygen bleach.
Rust. Do not use chlorine bleach on rust. If there are just a few spots, apply a rust stain remover, rinse and launder. If there is discoloration on white items, use a fabric color remover. Launder. If stains persist, dissolve one ounce of oxalic acid crystals per gallon of water into a plastic container. Soak for 10 to 15 minutes. Rinse and wash.
Scorch marks. If the fabric is actually damaged by the marks, the stain will not be removable. If the fabric is still intact, treat as you would for mildew.
Sugar. If not removed immediately, sugar stains caramelize and turn yellow over time. Soak overnight in cool water. Rub, wash and don’t dry. Soak for a few hours more in a mild bleach solution that’s safe for that specific fabric, rub and wash again.
Tobacco. Dampen and rub with bar soap. Rinse. Soak in oxygen bleach and then launder. If the stain remains, wash with chlorine bleach, if it’s considered safe for that fabric.
Wax (candles, crayons, etc.). Scrape off the any excess with a dull knife. Place the stain between paper towels and press with a warm iron, or spray both sides of the fabric with WD-40. Then place the stain face down and treat the remaining spot with a pre-spotter or cleaning fluid. Blot with paper towels and let stand until it is dry. Wash in hot water with an appropriate bleach. If an entire load of clothes has been marked with crayon, re-wash in hot water using regular detergent and one cup of baking soda. If the stain persists, re-wash with bleach or soak in an enzyme detergent and hot water, and then launder.
Yellowing of white, nylon, durable press items. Soak overnight with an enzyme detergent. Launder in hot water, using ample amounts of detergent and chlorine bleach, if safe for the fabric. If not, use an oxygen bleach.
Solving (and Treating) Mystery Stains
It’s one thing to combat a stain when you know exactly what you’re dealing with. But what about stains of unknown origin?
Identifying the nature of a stain is the first step to effectively treating it, and the best way to identify a stain is by its odor. Smelling a stain can often help to pinpoint what it may be. Smelling a garment for stains also may indicate whether it has been getting a good overall cleaning.
Another factor to consider is the location of the stain. By associating the stain with the area of the garment in which it’s located, you may be able to narrow down the possibilities to a few stains. For example, underarm stains are fairly clear-cut; so is food on the front of a shirt. Of course, some stains are not so obvious to determine.
After smelling the stain and analyzing its location, feel it. If the fabric at the stain is very stiff, the stain may be something like paint; if the stain is sticky, it might be tape or gum.
However, sometimes despite your best efforts, a stain remains a mystery. Attempting to remove a stain when its nature is unknown can be difficult. However, in many cases, an unknown stain can be removed. Try to remove the stain by following these steps, in the order listed:
1. Soak the stain in cold water for about 30 minutes.
2. Rub laundry detergent (liquid or make a paste from powder) into the stain. Let it stand for 30 minutes and then launder.
3. Spray the stain with a laundry pre-spotter or blot with a cleaning solvent.
4. Launder using chlorine bleach (if it is safe for the fabric).
5. Soak the garment overnight using an enzyme soaking product.
6. After soaking, launder in hot water and use a commercial rust remover (if it is safe for the fabric).
7. Mix equal parts of chlorine bleach and water. Apply to the stain one drop at a time. Rinse thoroughly. A word of warning: Do not use chlorine bleach on wool, silk or any garment labeled "Do Not Bleach." In such cases, use oxygen (all-fabric) bleach instead. Dampen the stain, sprinkle with oxygen bleach, then dip into hot water. Launder.
Caring for Common Fabrics
Beyond stain removal, it's helpful to understand that different fabrics have different laundering requirements. Not only will this knowledge aid in the removal of tough stains, it likely will lengthen the life of your customers’ garments through proper everyday washing. Here are tips for laundering some of the most common fabrics:
Acrylics. Although acrylics don’t shrink and most are machine washable, some acrylics will stretch and lose shape with normal washing. Once stretched, acrylic garments will never regain their original shape, so follow manufacturer instructions on the care label carefully. Doing so will prolong the garment’s wearable life.
Cotton. These garments are among the easiest to maintain as they can usually be machine washed, dried and pressed. Be careful when pressing, as cotton shrinks. To minimize shrinkage, wash in warm water and dry on a low heat setting (or hand dry). Clothes that have been pre-shrunk by the manufacturer should not shrink more than 3 percent.
Chlorine bleach may be used to brighten white cottons, and oxygen bleaches may be used on cotton blends. Of course, check the care label before adding bleach.
Nylon. Wash nylon fabrics in warm water, dry and iron at low temperatures. Nylon accepts water very easily, so white garments should be washed separately. White nylon should be washed in warm water, not hot.
Polyester. This is a popular, low-cost and durable fabric that is easy to care for. But it has its pitfalls, too. Polyester has an affinity for greasy, oil-based stains. Most often, however, polyesters may be laundered in warm water with a cool rinse cycle and dried on a low heat setting.
Rayon. Most rayon fabrics need to be drycleaned, but some are washable in cool water. If ironing is required, as with wools, iron while the garment is damp.
Wool. When working with wool, always check the label to see if it says "Dryclean Only." Although drycleaning costs more than laundering, garments that are drycleaned generally last longer. Depending upon the cost of the garment, drycleaning may be economically advantageous in the long run.
Washable wools are best laundered on a gentle, short cycle in warm and cold water. Use mild detergent that is fully dissolved in the water before the garment is added. It’s natural for wool to yellow with age – particularly wools that have had a brightener added. Do not use chlorine bleach, as it will damage the fibers. If you are to press a wool garment, always press when the garment is slightly damp. It is recommended that knit wools be air-dried on a flat, hard surface. Wool garments being air-dried should be zipped, buttoned and shaped.
Jump-Start Your Drop-Off Business Today
CLA statistics indicate that a large percentage of coin laundry customers (and non-customers) would take advantage of drop-off laundry services if available in their areas. And in today's fast-paced, time-starved society, this type of service is only going to grow – and the laundry owners who offer the best wash-dry-fold programs are going to flourish.
Clearly, proper garment care and effective stain removal are at the heart of every successful wash-dry-fold operation. Follow the guidelines outlined above and start receiving your fair share of this growing business sector.