Panel of Experts: Stains and the Worst of the Worst (Part 2 of 2)


(Image credit: Alissa Ausmann)

What are the most stubborn stains to remove for an institutional/OPL or industrial laundry? What tips can you offer those of us who must contend with these difficult substances?


There are a lot of stains out there that we all work to try to remove in our day-to-day efforts, everything from medical stains in the healthcare industry to various types of waterproof make-up stains in the hospitality industry, but the stain that I find most difficult to remove is the idea of producing linen with “no or zero stains.” This is an extremely difficult issue to deal with because many actually believe they can produce linens/fabrics with absolutely zero stains every time, every day.

Is this possible? Well, yes, it is possible. We could process all linens on wash formulas that would produce a quality level in most classifications about as close to a “zero stain” program as possible. So why don’t we? Why don’t we go with what many of the manufacturing QC gurus call a zero-defect operation, or in our case the zero-stain process? In manufacturing, would a zero-defects operation cost you more money than a process that yields a few defects?

Yes, especially in an operation where we do not technically have control over the quality of the raw material coming in the door. Linen or fabric is our raw material. Unfortunately, hundreds or thousands of 100% cotton sheets having the same structure and design were not necessarily produced from the same raw material. Some need a greater level of soil removal than the rest. Our goal is to provide our customers with linens that are as clean and structurally sound as the linens were when the items were new.

OK, so why don’t we launder the product to produce zero stains? Isn’t that what the customer wants? Yes, but in reality they do not want stains delivered, so our quality control operation should make sure that doesn’t happen. At the same time, the customer and/or the laundry want to make sure the finished goods are protected from excess damage via wear and tear. Laundering fabrics of all types is one of the few “manufacturing” processes in which the raw material and the finished goods are structurally and generally the same.

Here are a few reasons why we shouldn’t process work to deliver zero stains:

  • In every wash load, there are a mix of linens from heavy soil to light soil, while the average washer formula is written to deal with moderate- to heavy-soiled items.
  • If we processed the linens for zero stains, we would be subjecting the lightly soiled items in every load to excess mechanical, chemical and processing treatment that could damage or shorten the life of the majority of finished products. Lightly soiled items generally constitute 50-70 % of a washer load (there are exceptions, i.e. bar towels).
  • Extra time (increased labor), extra water, wear and tear on equipment, more chemicals, shortened linen life, and higher energy consumption are just a few of the costs that will be increased in one’s drive to produce a zero-stain product.

So what’s a laundry manager to do in search of a zero-stain product? Keep quality control on top of product quality delivered to the customer while the plant works to maximize quality while minimizing the downside potential to the final product and the operation.  

Over the years, many studies have developed acceptable levels of stain/rejects for various operations. The averages of these studies are as follows:

  • Hospitality (hotel/motel linen) — 2.5-4.0% rejects
  • Healthcare — 3.5-5.5% rejects
  • Nursing Home — 4.0-5.5% rejects
  • Linen Supply — 5.0-6.0% rejects

The secret to a highly efficient laundry operation is not to have zero stains. No, in this case of production management, it is better to have a percentage of stains within acceptable levels in order to protect the finished product and the sustainability of your operation or business.

We all want to produce the best product possible, but we are going to have to accept a level of rejects that many in true manufacturing businesses could not.


The most stubborn stains to remove (as opposed to those that defy removal, such as stainless steel and cement stains) are mildew, ink from pens left in pockets, and a variety of medical ointments.

steve marcqI am sure others will provide excellent technical advice here on how to contend with these after the fact, but this is truly a case of prevention being the best cure. Ongoing customer education and gaining early buy-in to linen conservation practices is the key, beginning with training on using a product for its intended purpose, and providing the appropriate grade article for that use. Other tips include recommending higher-grade towels for light duty in the front of the house, and saving second-quality ones for the heavy cleaning tasks.

Pre-sorting of linen immediately after use is critical to prevent stains. This include bagging tablecloths and napkins separately from bar mops and aprons, keeping shop towels separate from industrial garments, and so forth. As always, encouraging customers to only put linen into the soil bags will help prevent staining, especially in situations with weekly pickup schedules. Selling bags of ragged-out towels at a good price to “hard” users can be a good strategy as well.

Place laminated signs with pictures of the items that should go in each bag on the wall over the bag stands, and replace as necessary. Convince the customer that taking good care of your linen while it’s in his establishment is not only good for you, it’s also good for his long-term linen costs.


Stubborn stains can be a real challenge in today’s commercial laundry facilities, because stains can have a negative effect on production, leading to a smaller profit margin. We are lucky to have an experienced dry cleaner as our owner. We also have two ex-dry cleaners on our production staff, so stubborn stains have met their match here.

jr norrisThe key to not setting stains or avoiding a mountain of rewash is sorting. Proper sorting in your facility can eliminate headaches and money being washed down the drain. Make the minimum effort to pre-sort those pillowcases and terry and your production times and rewash will be greatly reduced. If the stains are caught during the sorting process, they can be pre-spotted and processed without incident.

On occasion, no matter how hard you try, stains will slip by the attentive eyes of the sorters. The majority of the stains we encounter are lipstick and make-up, primarily mascara. Make-up wears off during the night on pillowcases and sheets. Other times, the mascara is whipped off using hand towels, bath towels or washcloths. These oil-based stains are then transferred to the linen and terry. As we all know, oil-based stains need chemicals in order to be removed effectively.

Mascara, make-up and any other oil-based stains are best removed by using a solvent-based stain remover such as Pyratex. At Delta, once a stain is discovered, it is separated and sent to rewash. We employ one person who is responsible for stain removal. Once the type of stain is determined, the linen is treated based on the spotter’s recommendation and experience, then sent for rewashing. Always remember to wash treated textiles shortly after spotting.

Click here for Part 1.


Impact of Water on Stain Removal

One issue that should be acknowledged by the Panel is the importance of water and mechanical action on stain removal instances, Water of course is the most important element in washing i.e. removal of stains.


Ken Tyler


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