Easy approach to unidentified stains

Unidentified stains can be simplified if we understand stain categories and new chemicals needed for their removal. When we approach a mysterious stain or an unidentified stain, we are primarily interested in whether it is wet or dry. The reason for this is that the drycleaner has the most problems transferring dryside methods to wetside and wetside methods to dryside. Also dryside stains are the most common stain to mistaken for wetside stains. The opposite is also true since many wetside stains are mistaken for dryside.


  1. A wetside stain can be either tannin or protein. The significance of this is not very important since the stain removal process involves working it first as a tannin stain and then as a protein stain. This avoids the possibility of setting the stain. The tannin process does not set protein stains but the protein process can set a tannin stain.
    1. Tannin – this includes stains originating from plants. Examples of this type of stain are coffee, tea, soft drinks, medicine, wine, mustard and hard liquor drinks.
    2. Protein – this includes all stains originating from a living body. Examples of this type of stains are eggs, milk, urine, perspiration, and discharge.
  1. Dryside-These are stains that have an oil, grease or plastic base. Examples of these stains are sauce, oil, grease, paint, lipstick, nail polish and glue.

When we approach an unidentified stain, we must make up our minds whether we approach it first as a dryside or vice versa as a wetside. This choice is entirely up to the spotter and is based upon his or hers experience and expertise. Unidentified stains can be a combination of both wet and dry and the approach to the stain removal process is still up to the spotter’s expertise.


The difficulty we had years ago was that the transmission from dry to wet or wet to dry was time consuming and dangerous. When a stain was worked on the dryside using oily type paint remover and amyl acetate the garment had to be drycleaned before wetside agents could be used. This was necessary because the paint removers were highly alkaline, contained alcohol and could cause color loss on a fabric if activated by water or remained in the fabric for a period of time in which moisture from the atmosphere would activate the alcohol. The same problems occurred if a wetside process was used. It would mean that the area had to be flushed thoroughly, dried and feathered before dryside agents could be used.


  • Wet dry oily type paint removers (EF) – These agents have been formulated so it can be flushed on the wetside and also have the ability to be worked on the dryside. The ingredients may not be as aggressive as other oily type paint removers but is still effective on dryside stains.
  • Dryside ink removers – Depending on the manufacturer these agents can be flushed with water safely. They usually contain an acid base and have a major advantage in that it also works on plastic based stains such as nail polish and glues. This avoids the spotter having to use amyl acetate.
  • Nonionic detergents – These detergents carry a neutral ionic charge. They differ from the other anionic lubricants which carry a negative ionic charge. They act as a penetrant and also work well on grease and oil stains.
  • Nonionic detergents (citrus base) – These nonionic detergents have a citrus base ingredient that gives the nonionic detergent more aggressive properties on dryside stains. The citrus base ingredient although wetside has a very effective dryside property. It is however not as effective as a dryside oily type paint remover.


  1. Wetside oily type paint remover or ink remover
  2. Mechanical action
  3. Flush
  4. Tannin formula
  5. Mechanical action
  6. Flush
  7. Protein formula
  8. Mechanical action
  9. Flush
  10. Hydrogen peroxide


  1. Flush
  2. Anionic lubricant
  3. Mechanical action
  4. Flush
  5. Nonionic detergent
  6. Mechanical action
  7. Flush
  8. Citrus based nonionic detergent
  9. Mechanical action
  10. Flush
  11. Hydrogen peroxide


Feathering is the art of removing rings from fabrics. The concept of feathering is that you break up the ring with the steam gun and then use a cloth and wipe the wet areas so it blends into the dry area. A slightly damp cloth will feather better than a dry one. This is based on the fact that the water molecules in the fabric are attracted to the water molecules on the cloth so it will spread and dry faster. The water mover faster to bind with the existing moisture in the cloth.

Picture of Dan Eisen

Dan Eisen

Dan Eisen, former chief garment analyst for the National Cleaners Association, offers lecture, consultation and garment analysis service. He is the author of The Art of Spotting. He can be reached at (772) 340-0909, by email at cleandan@comcast.net or through his website at www.garmentanalysis.com. Dan Eisen, 274 NW Toscane Trail, Port Saint Lucie, FL 34986.

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