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The Invisible Stain

Saturday, February 12, 20113 comments

That stain was not there when I brought the garment in the customer told the young lady working on the counter at a local dry cleaners.  The counter person stuttered and stammered, unsure how to respond to the accusation by the red faced, irate customer.  Finally, she wrote up a new ticket and took the garment back to be re-done.  The customer left, without her favorite blouse, that she had intended to wear this evening, along with a less than desirable experience that may prompt her to try another cleaner the next time. I have seen this same interaction time and time again.  The customer blames the cleaner for putting the stain on the garment and the cleaner swears that he(or she) did not do it.  The interesting twist on this instance, was that they were both wrong. The stain wasn't there when the customer brought it in and the dry cleaner did not put the stain on the garment.  Yes, it was the case of the "invisible stain". 

One of the more common and problematic stains that occurs with garment care is the stain that seems to show up all by itself.  They were not visible before cleaning or pressing, but believe it or not, they were there.  Often these are stains that are the result of sodas, food oils or perspiration.
One example is the customer who has dripped a droplet from a soft drink, it dries and is invisible at this point. Over time, the stain begins to caramelize or oxidize(when it is an oil stain) and becomes a visible brown/yellow stain. Or the stain isn't removed in the cleaning process (due to the limited amount of moisture available in the dry cleaning system) and the heat of drying makes the stain brown/yellow and even more difficult to remove. The customer doesn't realize this spill happened and therefore doesn't point it out to the cleaner to be pre-treated.  This type of stain can sometimes be a difficult stain to remove, depending on fabrics, dyes, etc. and may not be removed.  At this point, the dry cleaners puts his "sorry" tag on it and ships it out, only to end up with the problem we started this post out with.
Another example is the stain that contains unsaturated oil such as in foods.  These oils are very quick to oxidize and create another very difficult stain to remove.   When these type stains are on a garment made of polyester they can be almost impossible to remove.  This type of stain can often be indentified by the checkerboard or criss cross pattern that can be seen in the stain.  And again, if it isn't pre-spotted and cleaned soon after the spill, you have the appearance of the "invisible stain". Often, oils from our skin can produce a very similar stain, especially in shirt collars, underarms and cuffs. Usually these will be more yellowed and lack the criss cross design that indicates an oxidized oil stain.
So, what is the best way to handle the situation that the young lady working the counter had experienced.  The best way is to educate and inform the consumer/your customer. Make educating the consumer part of every point of sale interaction. Explain to them the importance of detection, cleaning the garment promptly after the staining occured and making sure to point it out to the customer service rep when they drop the garment off to be cleaned.  Once these stains become visible, there is no guarantee that it can be removed safely.  Explain to the consumer to never attempt a home remedy, do not try to rub or brush the stain out.  If an attempt is made at home to remove the stain and it does not come out, do not put the garment in a dryer (heat will make the stain more difficult to remove). Explain that this is a stain best left for the professional dry cleaner.
Lastly, take the time and train your customer sales reps, give them the answers they need.  Explain to them what causes these type stains so that they can explain this problem with confidence and put your business  one step ahead of the competition.   


Unknown said...

This kind of scenario happened to me once when I had my office attires be dry cleaned to one of the best dry cleaning service at Houston. I got really upset with the stain that came out on one of my blouses but I was lucky that the lady who works there knows what to do with the stain.

Michael R. Miller said...

It is always nice to hear about a good dry cleaners.

lily said...

When cleaning a coffee stain from your clothing you will need to ensure you do not rub the fabric without first treating the garment. If you rub the coffee stain you could be causing the stain to go deeper into the fibers of your fabric. This could make it more difficult to remove the coffee stain.

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