Reader Question: How to Solve Stained Pillowcases

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Eric Frederick |

Columnist offers advice on oil-based stains

ROANOKE, Va. — “We currently have a laundry for a 50-bedroom hotel in Ireland where we have about four to six pillowcases a day coming out of the wash with bright yellow staining on them. The staining is clearly a reaction with the detergent or bleach to an oil/makeup/suntan lotion. This lotion is not being removed/broken down in the pre-wash, and it is then reacting with the detergent or bleach. The only way to get rid of this stain is to put it through a product from our chemical company called Lime-A-Way, which then breaks down the fabric because it is so strong.

“We are using the current company’s detergents and safe bleach. We wash in 60 C (140 F) with a 40 C (104 F) prewash. We had another provider before our current supplier and we left them as they could not find a solution to our problem either.

“I would be very interested to get some advice from you.” 

I do not find it surprising that, as a small account, the technical expertise of your local service representative is unable to handle such a problem. Your initial flush is good for the removal of all protein-based material that might get on the linen like blood or other body fluids. These tend to set and become a stain when the temperature rises above 49 C (120 F). So, we should be able to rule these out as a possible source of the problem.

I think you have correctly identified the source of the stain as an oil-based stain. Normally, oil-based substances on linen are removed through high alkaline levels and temperatures of 72 C (or at least 160 F). High alkaline levels and temperatures would not be needed for all your textile products, and it would be difficult to pre-determine which textile items require this treatment. 

I recommend that you lengthen your pre-wash to four to five minutes, and that you add a solvent-based detergent with a little alkali to the pre-wash. This type of product is gentle on the fabric and will effectively remove any oil-based products on the linen. In this way, you are removing the potential stain before it becomes a problem. 

This is a more traditional healthcare or industrial detergent than it is a hospitality-based product. Any major chemical supplier will have such a product. You will need to request it specifically and may have to wait a while until it is made available in your area. The additional cost of using this product should be covered by the lower textile-replacement cost. 

The best way to defeat stains has always been to determine what wash process is required to prevent them from happening in the first place. This can often be a trial-and-error process, and unfortunately many local service technicians are ill-prepared to handle such a quest. 

Changing chemical companies, as you have found out, often does not improve the problem. Conducting your own research and reaching out for advice is often the best way to solve the problem.

About the author

Eric Frederick

Eric Frederick served 44 years in laundry management before retiring and remains active in the industry as a laundry operations consultant. You can contact him by e-mail at elfrederick@cox.net or by phone at 540-520-6288.

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