I just happened to be at the counter when I saw the lady get out of her car. I saw that look on her face — but was pretty sure I hadn't taken her candy.
It turned out that her husband had given her the forest-green silk outfit for their anniversary. But when she showed it to me, the jacket was lime-green under the arms. She had worn it with only a scarf on one of those unseasonably warm November days.
We've all been there. Someone — the customer, a fellow partygoer, even the spotter — has done something to a garment. And now all we need to do is to get it back to wearable condition.
Based on the customer's explanation and the location of the discoloration, the assumption is that the problem is the result of underarm perspiration. Green is a secondary color, meaning that it is a combination of two primary colors. Blue and yellow makes green; blue and red gives us purple; yellow and red makes orange.
Because secondary colors are blends of other colors, they are more sensitive to changes in pH. Each time you add a component color, a garment's color becomes more sensitive. In the simplest terms, pH refers to the acid/alkali nature of a substance. It is measured on a scale of 0 to 14, with 7 neutral. Below 7 is acidic, above 7 is alkali.
Perspiration is mostly water and salt. There's a good chance that the green dye reacted to alkali salts in the lady's sweat, causing the color change.
Normal wet-side protocol is to (1) Flush the stain with steam; (2) Apply neutral synthetic detergent (NSD); (3) Flush the stain with steam again; and (4) Evaluate the results. Usually the full procedure will remove most of the residual alkalis; application of a diluted acetic acid solution should neutralize the rest of the alkali easily.
The process requires little mechanical action, and can often restore color to the underarm area. You look like a magician! You've probably just gained a customer for life. A little knowledge and a little effort bring success.
ANOTHER WET-SIDE HEADACHE
You're doing a little wet-side spotting. You apply a few drops of tannin formula to a blue blouse, and the whole area turns purple. You've "knocked" the color out, and now have to face the customer. You're going to have to grab the checkbook and pay a claim. Or are you?
I've already talked about pH and the effects of mild acids and mild alkalis on dyes in the situation above. The same principles apply in this situation.
The tannin formula is a mild- to medium-strength acid. When it came into contact with the garment, the dye reacted to the acidity and turned an "off" color.
Your reaction to this color change needs to be quick and confident. You should flush the area with steam while reaching for a spotter with the opposite pH. When you apply this spotter to the area, the color should gradually return to its previous condition as the neutralizing chemical penetrates the fibers.
Your protein spotter neutralizes your tannin spotter, and your tannin spotter neutralizes your protein spotter. This is why you must get into the habit of flushing spotters thoroughly before moving to a different spotter. Applying a protein spotter on top of a tannin spotter greatly reduces the protein spotter's effectiveness, and applying a tannin spotter on top of a protein spotter greatly reduces the tannin spotter's effectiveness.
This is also why, when learning to spot, you must know what your spotting bottles contain. Your knowledge must progress quickly beyond "red bottle/yellow bottle."
It's difficult to reverse bleaching once it takes place, but you can limit it with fast action. A 3% solution of hydrogen peroxide is a slow-acting oxygen bleach. It is so mild and acts so slowly, in fact, that flushing with cold water usually stops further bleaching.
Sodium perborate is probably the most common bleach in the drycleaning industry, used at the spotting board and in soaking. It can be neutralized easily by flushing it with cold water and applying a mild acid.
If you are worried about soaking garments in sodium perborate and it working too quickly, make up a cold water/acetic acid bath at the same time. If the sodium perborate solution acts too fast, switch the garment to the container containing cold water and acetic acid. This should stop or even reverse most of the bleaching action.
Sodium percarbonate has the same characteristics as sodium perborate, but is more aggressive; it works faster and keeps working at lower temperatures. Sodium hypochlorite is the most aggressive of the oxidizing bleaches, and its effects are quick and permanent. I am not a proponent of putting bleach on top of bleach, though. The only way to control chlorine bleaches is to use an antichlor-sodium bisulfite or sodium hydrosulfite immediately.
Reducing bleaches are commonly referred to as "dye strippers." That means they are aggressive on good dyes as well as fugitive dyes. There is little that can be done with a reducing bleach after bleaching has taken place, other than flushing the area with cold water. In some situations, it may help to add a small amount of a mild alkali to a cold-water soaking bath.
It doesn't take much to cause color shifts in garments. Perspiration, alcohol, toothpaste and citrus juices are all things that the customer can innocently bring to your front counter. What was only a circle at check-in can easily be a color loss after cleaning, because of a dye's sensitivity to pH.
The apparently "proper" application of a tannin formula to a tea stain or a protein formula to a bloodstain can leave behind a different color. Know that it can sometimes be reversed and how to reverse it — the skill can earn you customers and save on unnecessary claims.
Martin L. Young Jr. has been an industry consultant and trainer for the past 17 years, and a member of various stakeholder groups on environmental issues. He is a past president of the North Carolina Association of Launderers & Cleaners (NCALC). He grew up in his parents' plant in Concord, N.C., Young Cleaners, which he operates to this day. Contact him by phone at 704-786-3011, or via e-mail at email@example.com.