When Stains Are Actually Discolorations

Many times customers bring clothes to Quality Cleaners with stains on them that are actually discolorations.  What is a discoloration?  Merriam-Webster defines discoloration as “the act of changing color in a bad way”.  In the case of dry cleaning, ‘a bad way’ means ‘a way that doesn’t come out’.


There are actually different types of discolorations when it comes to fabric- and dry cleaning in particular.  The first is basic color loss. Color loss is most often related to some type of strong chemical contact with products such as chlorine bleach, benzoyl peroxide (commonly used in skin care products), and many household cleaners.  Any chemical with high acidity (antiperspirants, soda, juice, hair spray) or alkalinity (toothpaste, perspiration) is likely to cause color loss.  Unfortunately, the damage is almost always irreversible.


An area in which we see a lot of color loss is drapery cleaning.  Since curtains and draperies are placed in and around windows, it’s susceptible to damage by ultraviolet rays.   Exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays will often wreak havoc on curtain and drapery fabrics, resulting in fading, streaking, bleaching and ultimately- fiber deterioration.


The second most common we see is Dye Transfer.  Dye Transfer generally occurs when unstable dyes are used in manufacturing the item. The chance of transfer can be accelerated by increased heat or prolonged moisture.  Dye Crocking is a type of dye transfer, and is defined as the loss of dyestuffs or pigments in a fabric caused by abrasion or mechanical action.  We see crocking from materials rubbing together, often during the trip from the manufacturer to the distributors or in the packing materials in which they are shipped.  Research shows that many new garments are overdyed during manufacturing to produce very bright, vibrant colors. This results in almost immediate dye removal and/or transfer when laundered or dry cleaned.


Here are some of the usual suspects when it comes to discoloration:

Perspiration – Body oils, antiperspirants, or perspiration left long enough on silk and wool garments will weaken the fabric. Frequently cleaning clothes heavily soiled with perspiration can lessen the likelihood of a problem.

Acids – Perspiration, deodorant, antiperspirant, even “all natural organic” products, fruit juice, or hair preparations can cause a change or loss of color along with weakening the fabric.

Alcohol – Perfume, cologne, skin freshener, aftershave, hair spray, medicine, and adult beverages can cause permanent stains or color loss.

Bleach – Home bleach, hair care products, disinfectant, skin lotion, acne preparations, whitening toothpaste, medicine, cleaning products, office supplies, and other such items can cause a change or loss of color or fabric weakening depending on the dye and fabric.

Alkaline Substances – Cleaning products, toothpaste, soap, detergents, shampoo, and skin preparations can also cause problems that may not appear until the stained area has aged or the item is exposed to heat during a cleaning process.

Salt – Perspiration, beverages and food, medicine, even wintry street gutter splash or snow removal slush can result in a change in color on wool fabrics.

Hair Preparations – Permanent wave solution or other hair care products can result in a change in color. This type of staining is easily recognized by the location in the neckline, shoulder, or back of a garment.
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