I’ve been approached by an insurance company to launder clothing and bedding that has been damaged by smoke from house fires. Before I accept the offer, I was wondering if smoke-damaged clothing requires any special care. Also, is there any special way to treat scorching?

I would accept this new business, but there are a couple of things to keep in mind before you make promises to the insurance company.

First of all, there really is no effective way to treat scorched garments. Once a garment is scorched, the molecular structure of the fabric has changed. Sometimes you may get lucky, and chlorine bleach or hydrogen peroxide will remove a minor scorch spot. Beyond that, you’re probably not going to have much luck.

Smoke damage is a bit easier to deal with. Your chemical distributor should carry a commercial fabric softener that contains an odor eliminator. For badly damaged fabrics, you may need to do as many as four washes with the softener to completely remove the odor. Another effective additive is Febreze, which is available in large bottles as a laundry additive at most grocery stores.

Unless the smoke damage is excessive, I recommend using Febreze. Six to eight ounces for a 50-pound load should be effective, added directly to the wash cycle or in the final rinse in place of fabric softener. Again, you may need to repeat the wash cycle several times to remove all of the smoke odor. Try washing the clothes once without Febreze, then washing them a second time with the additive. For stubborn odors, you can hang up the freshly washed garment and spray it with Febreze. Let it sit for a few hours, and see if the odor is any better.

One of my commercial accounts is a hair salon. Can you tell me the best way to remove dark hair dye from the white towels my client brings to me?

Hair dye can be a real problem because different manufacturers use different types of bases for dyes. Some use a metallic base. Some use a vegetable base. And some use a clay base. As a result, it’s very difficult to determine what each stain consists of.

Most of your clay-based dyes will come out with straight washing and a bleach treatment. However, vegetable-based dyes are somewhat more difficult because you have to use some type of a solvent to remove them.

My recommendation on white towels is to not go through too many extremes. Simply use a good one-shot detergent or a detergent with alkali. Use chlorine bleach. Use hot water, about 150-160 degrees.

If the towels still have dye on them, I suggest the salon use different colored towels. Many of today’s hair salons have switched to dark green or maroon towels for just that reason. In fact, it’s virtually impossible to remove all of the dyes.

I have a customer who brings in oily rags that are used to clean popcorn machines. And the buttered oil is wreaking havoc with my equipment. After this customer uses the washer, there is a slightly greasy film left over, which we have to wipe out immediately. Unfortunately, my laundry is only partially attended, and this customer typically washes these items when no one is on duty.

The rags also are leaving grease marks in the dryers, and we suspect this residue in the drums has damaged some of our other customers’ clothes. I’d like to know if there are any products and washing methods I can suggest to our “popcorn maker,” other than just blacklisting him from the store.

You should recommend any di-limonene-based detergent. These products are perfectly safe and eco-friendly. And they will neutralize a lot of the oils that standard detergents simply can’t handle.

In addition, this also should take care of your dryer situation. After all, if all of the oil is flushed out in the washing cycle, you won’t have a transfer of that oil to the dryers.

Perhaps call your local distributor and find out what types of di-limonene-based liquid detergents he carries.

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