Can dry cleaning remove stains? (and how to remove stains at home)

There are countless number of stain scenarios the human mind could possibly imagine; be it coffee with sugar, coffee with cream, ink on silk, blood on wool, nail polish on acetate or nail polish on cashmere and so on and so forth.

And nearly all of these stain scenarios require special attention and specific solutions in order for their treatments to be actually successful.

For those of us that have battled with stubborn stains in the past, we can surely attest to how difficult it is to actually get rid of them using DIY procedures at home.

Either you end up driving the stain deeper into the fabric or keep going and end up completely spreading the stain to other parts of the cloth, but you almost certainly will never be able to get rid of the stain essence completely.

And the washer of course is another headache, it doesn’t seem to eliminate stains residues the way we like them. There’s always that left over blemish that make OCD’s go really crazy. 

Which brings our attention to dry cleaning. How efficient is it at removing stains than DIY procedure or the regular washer at home? Can dry cleaning really do the magic of making a two year old blemish disappear miraculously from any stained fabric, regardless of the type of stain, colorfastness of dye and nature of fabric?

In this article, we discuss just about that plus more. So keep reading to uncover what the best alternative is should you ever pick up a stain. 

Can dry cleaning remove stains?

Dry cleaning can remove most but not all type of stains. Stains that are fresh and still settled on the surface of the fabric are usually easier to get rid of than those that have completely settled into the fabric. And that’s why it’s generally advised to take any stained fabric to the dry cleaners as soon as possible, in order to prevent any possible oxidation or setting of the stain.

From the dry cleaners perspective

Believe it or not, professional dry cleaning is actually one of if not the best tested and trusted method to ‘effectively’ and economically getting rid of stains on your fabrics. Your regular detergent and washing machine isn’t as thorough and penetrative as dry cleaning and neither are your bare hands. Sorry to say that though.

As a matter of fact, if you’re not very careful of the situation, you may end up driving more stain further into the fabric (depending on what type of stain and fabric you’re working with) and also spread the stain to other areas of the clothing, which is of course, another dimension of issue separate from the initial problem.

That’s why it’s mostly advised to take your fabrics to the dry cleaners as soon as you get stains on them or notice any unusual blemishes, even if it’s the blazer you recently retrieved from the dry cleaners. Not only will you be saved from the hassle and perks of going DIY, but also prevented from incurring any additional damage to the fabric.

At the drycleaners, a spot removing expert, best known as a spotter, usually one of the highest paid workers at the company, checks the stain on a spotting board and employs appropriate solutions and techniques to try and wipe off most if not all the essence from the fabric. Of course, being the expert that he or she is, the spotter only begins the cleaning process after putting into consideration several crucial factors such as the nature of the stains on the fabric, the colorfastness of the dye on the fabric, the fragility of the fabric and also the information obtained from the customer like any special warnings of the fabric and the age of the stain in question.

This would not only allow the spotter to quickly pick out the best possible approach for removing the stain, but also signal to them when attempting to remove the stain is no longer a viable option. Most stains (the ones that are still fresh) actually don’t require the attention of a spot remover as the penetrative and thorough process of dry cleaning is usually sufficient enough. Stubborn stains are often the ones that require extra attention and spotters easily know them when they see them. More on stubborn stains in the next section.

As an eye-opener however, this whole spotting and cleaning process is only possible when a customer works with reputable and quality dry cleaners in the first place. And usually, one can identify reputable dry cleaners by noticing whether or not the attending clerk asks for any stains, blemishes or faults on the fabric when the customer completely forget to point them out. If you get no comments, please get yourself a new dry cleaner, because soon after, you wont be dealing with the problem of poorly washed cloths only, but that of missing cloths as well.

Now if you manage to get yourself a reputable dry cleaner, please and please, do not rely solely on the attending clerk to remind you of any stains you may have deliberately or accidentally picked up on your fabric.

Make it a habit as he or she did, since no one can actually escape the natural tendency to forget. There’s a saying; two heads are better than one, we really don’t have to say much. Make sure to also point out the age of the stain, the type of the stain, and also point out any special warnings on the fabric to boost the chances of a successful stain removal.

The stains that dry cleaning may not be able to remove

As pointed out earlier, professional dry cleaning is actually one of the best and safest option for getting rid of stains on fabrics be it blood, sweat or grease stains. But the process of stain spotting isn’t actually plain sailing. Your cloths don’t get ‘magic wanded’ and return back to you as pristine as you picked them up from the shelves the year before.

They’re handled by professionals that take every bit of their time to manually treat these stains with a combination of mechanical and chemical procedures in order to banish them completely. That’s how spot removal works. And because spot removal works in this manner, there are certainly some groups of stains that would be very difficult to get rid of, except if the dry cleaner is generous enough to deceive you with an identical clothing. These stains are called stubborn stains and they can be virtually any type of stain fulfilling a certain kind of criteria. We’ll discuss elaborately on stubborn stains in the next few sentences.

Here are some of the scenarios that might prove too much to handle even for professional dry cleaning.

  1. Set in stains, old stains, oxidized stains (or whatever you want to call them): These are stains that are far from fresh. Maybe some few weeks old or even months or years. But they are notoriously difficult to get rid of and the reason is simple. They have been given sufficient time to settle deep into the fabric and chemically react with its dye. This cause a chemical change to occur (which is permanent) and can be observed as light patches on darker clothes or dark patched on lighter cloths; basically changing the color of the fabric. To the dry cleaners, this type of scenario is a pain in the a** especially if number three on this list happens. They might be able to get rid of the stains at times, but the affected areas still usually remain blotched, living the impressions of a stain. Dry cleaners often deal with this scenario by starting off with mild solutions and techniques, and then working their way up to stronger solution and harsher techniques (if the nature of the fabric permits).
  2. Set in stains on fabrics with poor colorfastness: Colorfastness as related to clothing and more specifically to clothing dyes, is the material’s dye’s resistance to fading or running. Basically how well a material’s dye holds on to its color. Working with a stubbornly stained material with poor colorfastness (dye not holding onto its color well), is usually one of spotters worst nightmare. On one hand, the passionate spotter wants to do everything within their knowledge and power to appropriately get rid of the stains, but then on the other, they must be very gentle and careful on the fabric in order to prevent the material’s color from running off or fading. So a kind of huge limitation, since the stain appears stronger than the cloth dye And the spotter usually stops with the cleaning process when they begin noticing any color changes whether or not the stains have been removed. 
  3. Set in stains on fragile or highly sized cloth: This present difficulty in that if the spotter attempts to persistently get rid of the stains mechanically, he or she risks damaging the fabric due to how delicate it is. Another thing is that a fabric can be so fragile that it simply wouldn’t be able to handle the chemical solutions used in the spotting process. So stains of these categories are called stubborn stains.
  4. Stains tampered with by the customer: This is another difficult scenario for the dry cleaner to deal with since some home remedies can actually conflict (chemically) with the solutions of the best remedies available at the dry cleaners. Some remedies like common house hold bleach which removes stains by oxidation, can actually end up setting the stains even deeper when it fails to get rid of it, i.e. completing the oxidation process. This can make the stain removal process even more painful and arduous.
  5. Stains set by heat: Stains set by time presents equal damage and trouble as that set by heat, for example a pressing iron or a cloth dryer (not a steaming machine though because it’s actually good for eliminating wrinkles). The only real difference between these categories is that the damage occurs much faster in the case of heat. That’s why it’s never really a good idea to iron or store up your stained cloths. Take them for cleaning even if it’s going to task the wallet. Better never than late. If you get. 
  6. Unknown Stains: There’s nothing more annoying for a dry cleaner than to be present with a stain the customer doesn’t even remember how it got there in the first place. Coffee? Grease? Fat? Oil? Which one? This is usually the case when stained cloths are set aside for several weeks or months after picking up stains. The spots oxidize, or dry out and trying to figure what caused them can be next to impossible unless you really have a sharp brain. These stains are particularly difficult to treat since the unknown cause haven’t been identified and thus the appropriate solution is now a matter of trail and error. But spotting professionals based on their many years of experience working under such pressure, can still manage to do something about the stain that you can’t! That’s why you should never even attempt removing unknown spots at home.

Removing stains yourself

Earlier, we’ve successfully pointed out the fact that dry cleaning should always be your number one go to when any of your fabrics pick up stains. But let’s be honest, dry cleaning the stained pants you barely received the previous day is nothing short of unreasonable, at least for the average Joe.

Not even that, dry cleaning clothes every so often is simply an affair that has been proven not very economical. So what’s the practical solution in this situation?

Well, borrow some money for a friend and dry clean the clothes, and if you cant pay up the debts before the expiration period, trade in the fabrics in place of the cash! We’re totally kidding! But that’s simply us screaming how detrimental attempting to clean your stained fabrics at home can be. Regardless, it can still be done, but with attentive care and caution.

Below are some useful guidelines to help you get rid of fresh stains on your cloths.

First, let’s start off with the cautions.

  • Do not attempt to remove stains from cloths that are pronounced in different places. The chances of damaging the fabric is high.
  • Do not attempt to remove ironed or heat treated stains. You’ll only damage the fabric even further.
  • Do not iron fabrics with stains.
  • Do not store up fabrics with stains.
  • Do not attempt DIY with non-washable cloths.

The dos

  • Do blot up every fresh stain with white towel. This will aid the cleaning process whether (dry cleaning or DIY) by multitudes of levels. When you blot, don’t rub, it can cause abrasion and damage the finish of the fabric.
  • Do read the label of your garment for any special warnings, i.e. guidelines for stain removal. If on there, it says take to the dry cleaners, please adhere to the warnings, stop any DIY process and get the fabric dry cleaned immediately. If nothing is mentioned however, go ahead with the DIY process.

Common stains and their DIY removal processes

  1. Plain Coffee and tea: Blot gently with detergent (containing no soap) and immediately launder with any kind of bleach safe for the fabric. You can also try soaking in cold water for 30 minutes before blotting and laundering.
  2. Cooking oil stains: Pre-treat light and heavy stains with spray stain remover or liquid laundry detergent by placing stains facing down on clean paper towels and applying the cleaning liquids to the back of the stains, changing towels frequently. Dry, rinse, and then launder in the hottest water safe for that fabric. Repeat process when stains still persist.
  3. Lip stick and make up stains: Face stain upside down on paper towels (replacing them frequently) and clean using any dry cleaning solvent or a prewash stain remover. Next, clean using liquid detergent until stain outline is removed, then launder. Alternative to liquid detergent is an all fabric bleach. Apply liquid chlorine bleach for tough stains when the fabric is colorfast to an all fabric bleach.
  4. Nail polish stains: Apply nail polish remover to the back of the stain lying on an absorbent paper towel. Replace towels frequently. Rinse, and then launder. An important consideration is to never apply nail polish if the fabric is acetate, triacetate or modacrylic. They will dissolve.

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