Exceeding customer expectations is about taking the time to do things right. It’s about spending the time necessary to remove the last traces of a stain. It’s about knowing how to get out of trouble when the garment doesn’t respond as expected, and having the knowledge to go beyond what your competition can do. If your best isn’t good enough, the customer is going to look somewhere else.
When you reach the point at which only the last traces of a stain are noticeable and you’ve tried the appropriate spotters twice, it may be time to break out the bleach. “Bleach?!” you say. Yes, bleach — don’t panic, and keep reading.
Cleaners have at least eight bleaches for use at the spotting board, divided into oxidizing and reducing families. Oxidizing bleaches add oxygen to stains and are most effective on organic stains. Reducing bleaches pull oxygen from the stain, and are most effective on dyes.
Hydrogen peroxide can be used in a variety of situations on almost any type of fabric, but the darker the color, the greater the risk. It’s the only bleach that can be used on fabrics derived from animals (protein fibers) with minimal risk.
Concentrations of hydrogen peroxide up to 30% are sometimes used in laundry applications. At the spotting board, restrict its use to the 3% concentration available in the first-aid section of your local drug store or supermarket. Apply hydrogen peroxide with a cotton swab on dry fabric for precision.
Hydrogen peroxide is ideal for use on delicate fabrics when only minimal bleaching action is necessary. Because hydrogen peroxide is so mild, you may have to apply it repeatedly to achieve the desired results. It works very slowly and lends a high level of control to its bleaching action. If you’re new to bleaches, start by trying hydrogen peroxide on the last traces of blood on a white or light pastel fabric.
Sodium perborate is the most common bleaching tool found in drycleaning plants. It’s added to wash cycles, used in soaking baths and applied at the spotting board. The sodium perborate used at the board, however, is a refined powder that comes in a canister weighing three to five pounds; don’t try to spot-bleach with the coarser product sold in 50-lb. bags for general cleaning.
Steam the area to moisten and heat the stain. Apply sodium perborate powder with a small spoon (or better still, a salt shaker) that you keep near (but not on) the spotting board. Place a drop of water, NSD or protein formula on the powder to prevent it from blowing away while you work the stain.
Get a steady wisp of steam from the nose of the spotting gun and lightly heat and dissolve the sodium perborate into and through the stain. Repeat the process if necessary, while watching for any signs of color change from the fabric — that’s the signal to stop. When the stain disappears, neutralize the area with acetic acid or tannin formula and flush it with steam.
Two other organic bleaches are available: sodium percarbonate and sodium hypochlorite. Sodium percarbonate is the active ingredient in a popular oxygen bleach advertised on TV and a stronger cousin of sodium perborate. It isn’t great at the board, but works well in a bath or as a wash additive since it is active at lower temperatures.
Sodium hypochlorite is a chlorine bleach and should be used only on white cellulose fibers. I discourage the use of chlorine bleach at the board, and limit its use to a specific set of circumstances that involve these fabrics. Use chlorine bleach at the board when nothing else will do the job and all other options have failed. Perform pinpoint application with a toothpick or a cotton swab should these circumstances arise.
Reducing bleaches are commonly referred to as “dye strippers.” They’re great for correcting fugitive-dye problems caused by customer carelessness, and can save you a claim when a “bleeder” rears its ugly head. All four reducing bleaches can be used effectively at the board, but remember: Dye strippers can’t tell the difference between a “good” dye and a fugitive dye. A good dye that’s gone often means a claim.
Titanium sulfate is a purple liquid that’s excellent at removing fugitive dyes. Most brands require mixing prior to use, in a bath or at the board. Again, when applying titanium sulfate at the board, use a cotton swab or a toothpick for precise application.
More is not better, so be frugal. The less you apply, the less you’ll have to flush, and the less chance that the dye stripper will remove any good dyes near the fugitive dyes. Titanium sulfate is especially effective on blue dyes, which makes it the first choice on the last traces of an ink stain.
Sodium hydrosulfite and sodium bisulfite are excellent reducing bleaches. Sodium bisulfite is used primarily to neutralize chlorine bleaches in laundry applications. Sodium hydrosulfite is the more aggressive of the two, and I prefer it because it’s available from most distributors in quantities small enough for use at the board.
Both are white powders that should be dissolved in water before use at the board; dip a cotton swab in the solution and apply where necessary. Sodium hydrosulfite imparts additional whiteness beyond bleaching. And either bleach is excellent on red dyes, which makes them a good choice for the last traces of red-wine and ink stains.
Last, potassium permanganate is a “big hammer” — like going squirrel-hunting with a Howitzer. I’ll save it for another column.
Learn your bleaches, and learn how to use them effectively. If customers are complaining about your prices, they say, you’ll probably still succeed; if customers are complaining about your quality, it’s only a matter of time until you fail.