Stain Removal on laundry items (2)

In the first bulletin of this series, we discussed the removal of various types of stains from laundry items, including albumin stains, urine stains, dye stains, ring around the collar, mud, concrete, and iron (rust). We also addressed general methods of stain removal.

In this second bulletin, we will continue our discussion on the removal of various types of stains, including carbon paper, ink and felt tip markers, lipstick, makeup, aged stains, alkali stains, grass stains, mildew, oil stains, oxidized oil stains, and oil stains on Visa fabrics. As mentioned in the first bulletin, most of these stains will be removed if appropriate laundry formulas are used; however, there will always be some stubborn stains that will require special treatment.


These stains occasionally develop on old pieces of fabric that have been stored for a long period of time. They are usually light tan to brown in color. If the article concerned is washable and the color of the stain is not too heavy, it can usually be removed in the laundering process.

Heavy stains usually require the use of a bleach solution. Use chlorine bleach or sodium perborate on white cotton, linen, or synthetic fibers. Sodium hydrosulfite or hydrogen peroxide can be used for white wool and silk. Remember to test the fabric for damage and colorfastness before using any type of bleach solution.


When combined with alkalis, starch forms a rust colored stain at ironing temperatures. This stain can usually be removed with a solution of any sour or by rewashing.


Some of these stains are water soluble and can be removed in washing. However, others are not water soluble and will be set by water, making them nearly impossible to remove even with bleach. Whenever possible, remove these stains first on the dryside. If facilities are available and the stains are large or a large number of articles are stained, dryclean the entire load or entire group of articles prior to washing.

On the spotting board, treat the stains with a paint/oil/grease remover. Place an absorbent cloth under the stain and apply the paint/oil/grease remover sparingly. Allow it to absorb into the cloth to prevent spreading. Flush the stain with a volatile dry solvent and treat until no further bleeding occurs. Remove any residual stains with an oxidizing or reducing bleach or stripper.

Some inks that contain iron may leave a stain that may be removed with a proprietary rust remover. After any of these treatments, remember to rinse the fabric thoroughly to remove all chemicals.


The green element in foliage and grass is an organic compound called chlorophyll. Chlorophyll can often be removed by washing, especially if an oxidizing agent is used.

The use of a volatile dry solvent or amyl acetate will also aid in stain removal. After the use of amyl acetate or volatile dry solvent, use a synthetic detergent and 28 percent acetic acid, followed by the application of a proprietary rust remover.

As a final step, use an oxidizing bleach. This process will generally remove most grass stains.


The use of ozone is an effective method for destroying odor through oxidation. Ozone also stops the growth of microbial organisms. Be sure all items are dried thoroughly before using ozone, as ozone reacts with moisture to create the bleach hydrogen peroxide. Rubber and some dyes – especially those used on acetate fibers – can also be damaged by ozone.

Drycleaning in perchloroethylene will kill some fungi, but it will not remove mildew stains. The only effective method for removing mildew discoloration or staining is to wetclean or launder the garment in a solution containing oxidizing bleach. Sodium perborate and hydrogen peroxide are safe to use on silk, wool, or nylon. Sodium hypochlorite (chlorine bleach) can be used on linen, cotton, ramie, and most synthetic fibers. Only sodium hypochlorite is capable of killing mildew.

Dyed fabrics that cannot withstand the use of an oxidizing bleach may be improved by wetcleaning with a neutral synthetic detergent and ammonia; however, the mildew will not be killed by this treatment. For more detailed information on mildew removal, refer to IFI bulletin TOI 593 on mildew.


Since drycleaning will remove oil stains, dryclean the articles first, if possible. Any residual stains must be treated on the spotting board. First, treat the stains with a paint/oil/grease remover. Place an absorbent cloth under the stain and apply the paint/oil/grease remover sparingly. Allow it to absorb into the cloth to prevent spreading. Flush the stain occasionally with a volatile dry solvent or drycleaning fluid.


When conventional spotting techniques can no longer remove oxidized oil stains, further removal can be attempted by using an alcoholic potassium hydroxide (KOH) solution. This is a strong alkaline solution and potentially damaging. The following precautions should be observed:

  • Never apply this solution to a stained area that is wet with any other substance, including solvent or water.
  • Never attempt to speed up the action of alcoholic KOH by fogging with a steam gun.
  • Test the solution on an unexposed area of the garment, such as a seam or hem, before using.
  • During use, never let the alcoholic KOH solution dry on the fabric. Any dried residue will pick up moisture from the air and produce a damaging alkali.
  • Never use the solution on bonded fabrics or garments containing foam.

To remove stains, apply the alcoholic KOH solution to the stained area and let soak for about five or six minutes. As the oil stain solubilizes, you will notice a yellow ring pushing outward from the stained area, making the stain more intense. After the stain has been solubilized, rinse the solution well with distilled solvent and dryclean the garment. If a yellow residue is left after drycleaning, it may be necessary to neutralize the stained area with 28 percent acetic acid or a commercial tannin remover. Flush and dry. Prolonged contact with KOH may cause some whites to yellow. This can be overcome by first flushing out all KOH and then neutralizing.

Refer to IFI bulletin TOI 575 for instructions on preparing the alcoholic KOH solution.


Drycleaning should remove any oil stains on Visa fabrics. If the stain is not removed during drycleaning, try using oily-type paint remover and flushing with volatile dry solvent. If the stain has oxidized, follow the procedures for alcoholic KOH.

This article is from DLI’s SLP38.

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