“In your experience, what are or have been the most stubborn stains to remove? What tips can you offer those of us who must contend with these most difficult substances that find their way onto and into our textiles?”Textiles: Elizabeth Easter, Ph.D., University of Kentucky, Lexington, Ky.
Soil can be defined as any undesirable material in the fabric or linen product. In the typical washload, one finds a mixture of several types of soils but, technically speaking, these soils are not stains. Stains are soils that were not or cannot be removed during normal wash procedures.
In my experience as director of a textile testing lab that provides special testing for the linen industry, the most difficult stain is a soil that was not removed during washing and has been dried in a dryer. Regardless of the type of stain, fiber, or fabric construction, the dryer’s heat can set the stain and may make it more difficult, if not virtually impossible, to remove.
Exposure to chemicals, water and other soils during washing can change the color, appearance or composition of these stains. For example, red blood will oxidize and turn burnt orange, which to the inexperienced eye may appear to be an iron-based stain.
Soils that have become stains can be bonded to the fabric physically, chemically and electrostatically. If exposed to heat, soil attachment may increase.
Higher temperatures may drive the stain deeper into the fabric, changing a surface stain to a deeply penetrating stain, or causing a chemical reaction between the stain and fiber content. For example, oily soils on polyester fibers or blends may permanently set the stain.
Blood can be removed using cold to warm water but may be permanently set if washed in hot water and/or dried in a dryer when complete removal was not achieved during washing.
Adhesives, tape and lubricants are other soil examples that will be heat-set when dried before complete removal.
The most important recommendations for removing stains:
- Presort and check for soils that have little or limited chance of being removed during traditional laundering.
- Pretreat or remove for special washing all difficult soils to prevent them from becoming stains.
- When practical, check the washed items prior to placing them in the dryer. If the soil was not removed, then rewash and/or pretreat and rewash to attempt complete removal.
The latter suggestion may not be practical for most laundry managers, but it may be the most important suggestion that I can pass on to those doing institutional laundering.
Try to identify the nature of the stain, then apply the removal treatment as soon as possible after staining has occurred. The longer a soil stays on a fabric, the more difficult it becomes to remove.
Water-based soils dry out, so the moisture must be replaced before soil removal can begin. Oily or greasy soils become less fluid and will require saturation prior to removal.Chemicals Supply: Rhonda Amendt, U.N.X. INC., Greenville, N.C.
There are three types of stains I’ve experienced that cause sleepless nights for a chemical formulator:
Chlorhexidine Gluconate — This invisible medicinal product turns brown when in contact with chlorine. The chlorine will activate and cause staining from the chlorhexidine that is impossible to remove once it is set. The color can even develop with the small amounts of chlorine found in tap water, making it vitally important to treat this incoming water with an antichlor.
This medicinal stain is tricky. If your healthcare account uses this type of antiseptic, I recommend that your chemical supplier provide you with a peracetic acid/peroxide bleaching system to replace the chlorine.
Chili Oil — The eclectic cooking of Asian, Thai and Mexican foods makes use of one of my favorite flavors of chili oil, but removing its stains leaves a “bad taste in my mouth.”
This type of oil can be quite an issue when found on spun poly napkins and tablecloths. The red/pink stain requires solvent-based chemicals and an experienced chemical service representative to adjust the formula for successful removal. An ideal solution is to pretreat the fabric with a stain-resistant, barrier-type product. Although costly up-front, it will pay for itself tenfold by preventing rewash and rag-out of stained linen.
Industrial Greases and Oil on Temperature-Restricted Garments — Strong, solvent-based chemicals and high temperatures are normally needed to remove these stains. However, there are new types of fabric that restrict the temperature range. These can cause added processing issues.
The best advice I can offer is to work with your chemical supplier, because these difficult stains can be removed at temperatures as low as 105 F with extended time and modified chemical wash formulas.
Linen Supply/Commercial Laundering: Duane Farrington, RLLD, Hancock Co. Laundry, Weirton, W.Va.
In my experience, the most difficult stains to remove are those that occur in the operating room or the emergency room. Some of the surgical prep liquids used in these areas specifically say, “Do not use around reusable textiles.”
I recommend working with the nursing staff. The nurses may be able to use disposable textiles when they are using liquids of this nature. Using these liquids around white linen is usually not a problem, but they can be a nightmare to remove from the green, reusable surgical textiles.
The first thing that can be helpful is to positively identify the product that was used. Then, you can determine the best route to take to remove the stain.
I’ve had good luck with higher temperatures in the break and a longer time with the suds. This will get out some of those stains, but it may not get rid of all of them.
A good spotting kit from your chemical supplier can also be helpful if you have a small stain to contend with. Remember that once you apply the stain-removal treatment, you must wash it out as to not damage the fabric.
Time is an important factor to consider when trying to remove stains. The longer they sit, the harder they are to remove.
I’ve also seen direct-fire hot-water systems with poor combustion cause major problems for linens. The items become gray, and it takes time and multiple washings to correct this.
To identify this scenario, remove a hot-water supply line and insert a piece of white linen. Run a few hot-water fills through the cloth. If the cloth remains white upon examination, then this isn’t your problem. But if it’s gray, call your boiler company to correct the combustion on your water heater.
I recommend doing this yearly anyway, as making sure your water system is running correctly can save energy.
Mildew is another stain that can be difficult to remove. I’ve had luck with increasing the bleach time on the formula. You must be careful not to use this step too vigorously, as it can readily degrade your linen.
As with all stains, I look at the items that are stained. If it will cost $2 to remove a stain on an item that cost just 75 cents to purchase, then it’s better to rag out the item.
In many areas, cotton rags are in great demand, and people will pay good money for a bale of good rags. So, if you can’t get the stain out, you can still get your last dollar out of your linen.Click here for Part 2 of this story!