Identification of Stained Material
Fabric for clothing, table linens and bedding are generally divided into two categories: washable and dry-clean only. The ability to wash an item is not always dependent on the type of fabric. A wool suit jacket may require dry-cleaning, while a wool sweater requires handwashing. Many materials are washable, but the trims and interfacings are not. The majority of clothing and linens contain "Permanent care labels" and other labels attached at a garment neckline or seam. These labels help identify the fabric type and the laundry recommendations. Following recommended care directions lengthen the life of the fabric and protect it from damage.
It is essential to understand what material you are working with before applying stain removers. For example, chlorine bleach is not safe for use on wool, silk or many synthetic materials. It will often damage the fabric beyond repair.
You should also know what material you are working with when trying to remove stains from carpet or upholstery. Synthetic materials react differently to certain stains and cleaning agents, especially if it is already treated for easy stain removal. Wool carpeting or upholstery often requires special care. Without understanding what type of material you are treating, you have no guarantees that it will not be damaged by the removal of the stain.
Identify the Staining Agent
The staining agent is the substance that has stained the material. From dirt to food, stains can happen from almost anything. Stains are often categorized by their type and the general method of removal.
Protein stains include the majority of bodily fluids and high-protein foods. Baby food, milk, eggs, blood, school glue and ice cream are all protein stains.
Tannin stains are caused by organic sources, such as berries, coffee, tea, tomatoes, juices and alcohol. They are liquids that basically act as a dye, absorbing into the fabric. Many washable inks and water color pens are also considered tannin stains.
Dye stains are often harder to remove than tannin stains. They include powdered drinks, inks, dye transfer in the wash, mustard, grass and tempera paint.
Oil stains are your greasy stains. They can be from food and petroleum sources. They include oils, fats, ring-around-the-collar, lotions and makeup.
Combination stains occur when there are more than one ingredient in the staining agent. These hard-to-remove stains often require treatment for each part of the staining agent. For example, a spaghetti sauce stain may need to be treated for both oil and tomato staining.
Once you have identified the stained material and the staining agent, the steps for removal can be identified. The majority of stains can be removed through prewash stain treatment followed by washing in a high-quality laundry detergent. After washing, the fabric should always be inspected prior to being placed in the dryer. The heat from drying may set the stain, making it impossible to remove. Stubborn stains can be treated using bleach and other stain removal treatments, depending on the fabric and the stain.