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How Dry Cleaners Remove Stains

Posted by David Whitehurst on May 16, 2011 9:01:00 AM

Pre-Spotting By Experienced Dry Cleaners


Spot and Stain Removal Is A Key Service From Dry Cleaners.  But How Does  A Dry Cleaner Do It? To Some It Seems Like Magic!

Many people may know a little about spotting techniques when it comes to removing stains.  Spotting in a home setting refers to putting a topical product, such as Shout stain remover, on your laundry before putting it into the machine.  This can loosen stains and make them easier to clean while in the wash. 


But dry cleaners have their own type of spotting, and this is commonly referred to as “Pre-Spotting.”  This is the process used by a dry cleaner to remove stains before dry cleaning or wet cleaning a garment.  Here is a link to an article I wrote on the difference between wet cleaning and dry cleaning.

There are three primary tools a dry cleaner uses to remove spots and stains on garments.


1. Dry Cleaning Spotting Board


In order to perform professional pre-spotting dry cleaners use a piece of advanced equipment called a spotting board.  There are four major components to this device, including:

  • Vacuum:  There is a pedal-controlled vacuum on these machines, which helps keep the garment attached to the spotting board through air suction.  This allows for the best accuracy when removing stains and blotches.
  • Steam:  Also controlled by a pedal for dry cleaning convenience, steam is applied to the tarnished area of the garment in order to loosen the stain.
  • Hot Air:  Once steamed, parts of the garment are likely to be quite wet, and will need to be dried before it can be made completely clean.  The hot air acts as a blow dryer, targeting a specific area of the laundry for drying.
  • Spotting Gun:  This piece helps direct the different foot pedals, applying steam or hot air to the garment within the control of the dry cleaners.


2. Spotting Bone

A spotting bone is a smooth instrument used to work a spotting agent into the stain and loosen its grip on the fabric.


3. Tamping Brush

Dry cleaners and professional spotters will also use a soft brush, called a tamping brush, to loosen and remove stains.  It’s primary use is for tamping the garment to loosen the stain.


How Pre-Spotting Is Done

This is what happens when the dry cleaners perform their “pre-spotting” magic. 

First, the garment is placed onto the spotting board and held in place by the vacuum.

Second, the dry cleaner will apply steam to the stained area, and apply a stain remover that is appropriate for the particular fabric and stain.  Dry cleaners will use a spotting bone or tamping brush to help loosen and remove the stain. 

There are many different types of spotting agents available to the professional spotter.  Which one is used depends on the type of fabric and the nature of the stain.  The more common stains are food- based, water-based and grease stains.  Knowledge of fabrics and spotting agents is critical for removing different stains from the same garment. 

However, sometimes a stain is difficult to remove and every stain cannot be completely removed.  The combination of fabric, nature of the stain, amount of time the stain has been in the garment, and what previous treatments have been applied all affect the outcome of professional spotting procedures. 

Typically the dry cleaner will try to remove the stain first with the mildest possible treatment.  If that doesn’t work, he will take it to the next level.  But if the stain still doesn’t come out and the garment can’t be worn with the stain, the dry cleaner can try a more aggressive treatment.  Sometime this works and sometimes it causes color loss or fading.  This is why most dry cleaners will talk with you about the problem and explain the possible outcomes before taking the more aggressive approach.

After applying the spotting agent and working the stain with the spotting bone or tamping brush, more steam is applied to the stain, hopefully removing it completely.  If the stain is still present, the dry cleaner will repeat until it is sufficiently loosened.  Once removed, the hot air will be applied in order to complete the process.

In the photo above...

is a pair of cotton pants with a latex-based paint stain.  Ric Pevey is shown applying the spotting agents pyratex and amil acetate.  After gently working in these liquied with the spotting bone the paint begins to detach from the fibers, and Ric will flush the spot with picrin.  Then he will dry clean the pants and they will come out without the paint stain.  Like magic...only better!


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Topics: dry cleaners, dry cleaner, dry cleaning, stains

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