Originally posted – Nov 04, 2014

Since I’ve been writing this column, I get inundated with questions from readers looking for advice on stain removal and garment care, as well as just the basic business of doing drop-off and commercial laundry. So, this month, I thought I’d clear out the mail pile and answer a few of these inquires.

Vitamin C vs. Gasoline

This first one is from a laundry owner whose customer was concerned about removing gasoline from a pair of her husband’s jeans. She had washed them a couple of times, but wasn’t able to get it out.

First of all, the easiest and most effective way to remove gasoline or fuel from any kind of garment – whether the item is cotton or polyester – is to dryclean it. However, with that said, there are still some “greener”laundromat-based solutions that will work well.

Several years ago, it was discovered that oranges – in addition to being packed with Vitamin C – feature some rather strong stain-fighting properties in their skins. In fact, the oil from the rind of oranges is a solvent and does a nice job of breaking down grease.

Long-time PlanetLaundry columnist Wally Makowsky (“Wash with Wally”) often refers to a product called di-limonene – which is a wet side solvent made from citrus oil that is fabulous at breaking down any kind of petroleum solvent. In the right concentration, this product will virtually digest those gasoline stains… just break it up and eat it.

There also are some quality over-the-counter products that are great to use of such stains, if you don’t want to purchase something stronger from your chemical supplier. You can pick up something like Simple Green or Goof Off – both of these products are citrus-based solvents and, if concentrated enough, will do a nice job of breaking down those oils.

That possible problem with using di-limonene or an over-the-counter citrus-based product is that they work well on lighter stains. However, for tough petroleum-based stains – whether it’s oil, grease or fuel – you’ve got to really concentrate it for it to be effective. It takes quite a bit of the product to achieve the desired results.

In general, when you have a cleaning alternative on the laundry side, it tends to be a bit more expensive.

Whenever using a citrus-based solvent, it’s always best to soak the garments in a highly concentrated solution or to pretreat directly onto the stained areas and let them sit for about 15 to 20 minutes before washing them. This will product better results than simply adding the solvent to the load.

Lastly, you also can purchase a commercial-grade detergent with di-limonene already added to it. Of course, this product is slightly more expensive, but it’s highly concentrated and designed to go directly into a laundry load, as opposed to the over-the-counter products.

Those are the primary ways to handle a petroleum-based stain without taking it to a drycleaner.

A Soapy Experiment

Another reader wrote to me about a self-service customer who was complaining that his skin was extremely sensitive to laundry detergent – and that he wasn’t able to wash all of the detergent out of his clothes with his topload washer at home.

The customer clearly is adding too much detergent to his laundry. One of the biggest problems we have, even in training attendants that do wash-dry-fold laundry, is determining how much detergent is the right amount for a load.

At my store, I have chemical injectors on several of the machines. But, when we get busy with drop-off laundry, we will use our other machines without injectors. And, on those other washers, even though I thoroughly train my employees, they still tend to lean toward overusing detergent and chemicals. And, of course, you can see that tendency in your walk-in laundry customers as well.

The customer in question was complaining that he couldn’t get detergent out of his clothes using his topload washer. With all of the water that goes into a topload wash, one might think that it should be able to get out all of the detergent. However, the bottom line is, if you put too much detergent into your clothes – and I was able to determine that this customer used quite a lot of detergent – a single cycle in a topload machine will not get out all of the soap.

As a matter of fact, when I first got started in the laundry business, I would conduct an experiment with my first-time customers. I would have them load their laundry into one of my frontloading washers. And, although we offered a prewash cycle, I would ask them to not add any detergent during this prewash.

Next, I would show them that the soap compartment was completely clean, but I told them that, by the end of the five-minute prewash, they would have plenty of suds, due to the detergent that likely was already in their garments from their last washing.

And I was never wrong. Invariably, after five minutes, those loads were always at least slightly sudsy.

I knew that most of my customers were coming from nearby apartment complexes they had nothing by toploaders, and I knew that there would be a heavy residue of detergent left in their clothes.

The only way to remove all of the detergent, even if you’re using the right amount of soap, is to run three rinses, which is why most commercial machines initially come with three rinses.

If you have customers who are allergic to detergents, include a third rinse or consider doing a second entire wash, without adding any chemicals. It’s the only way to truly know that you’re getting out all of the chemicals.

Don’t believe me? Try my little experiment at your store. Turn off the prewash cycle and ask a few new customers to take the test. You’ll be amazed at how much soap is left in their clothes from wherever they washed them last.

Ink Everywhere

One operator wrote to me about a pen that exploded in one of his wash-dry-fold loads. If you’ve been doing wash-dry-fold laundry for any length of time, you likely know someone who has had this happen… or it has happened to you.

This is why it is crucial to train your employees to check pockets and thoroughly inspect the drop-off loads. Yes, it’s easy (especially when you’re busy) to quickly separate garments and then shove everything into your machines.

But please don’t. It will come back to bite you. Inevitably, you’re going to miss that wool or cashmere sweater someone accidentally dropped in their laundry load.

Of course, some of the biggest culprits are those small items hiding in pockets, such as lipstick and ChapStick. If you’re lucky, the tubes won’t come undone, but if they do, you’re going to have oil spots all over the entire load.

Obviously, the one most of us think of immediately is an ink pen. Sometimes a pen will remain intact in the washer; however, believe me, if you don’t catch it and it ends up in the dryer, you will be in a world of hurt. And, you possibly may be buying that customer some brand new garments.

Of course, there are ways to try to remove any accidental inks stains. The best way is to buy ink remover from your laundry supplier, or you can try some of the over-the-counter products like Goof Off. Most inks today are made from soy oils, so they are dissolvable with petroleum solvents.

Treat the stains individually and then soak the entire load in an enzyme detergent. Next, launder the entire load with color-safe bleach – or, if the garments are chlorine bleachable, use that. After all, dyes are what bleach was designed to remove. This is one of those rare occasions where it’s best to use chlorine bleach if possible.

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