How to Identify and Prevent Some Common Staining Problems

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How to Identify and Prevent Some Common Staining Problems

Greasy-looking fabric softener splotches: Use of fabric softener sheets in the dryer can deposit softener unevenly, causing greasy-looking splotchy stains on silk-like polyester and blends of cotton/polyester broadcloth. This problem is especially noticeable on medium-colored fabrics such as khaki and medium blue. Avoid this problem and control static by using a fabric softener that is added to the final rinse.

Odd colored or rusty looking stains on collars, sheets and pillow cases, bedspreads, towels, or wash cloths: These stains are often caused by the benzoil peroxide used in cosmetic products (including acne medicine). This chemical acts as a bleach, is very insoluble and hard to rinse off the body. It can permanently change colors of some dyes. The damage cannot be remedied, So it should be prevented. When products containing this chemical must be used, white collars and household textiles may be a good choice.

Stiff, coarse textures and/or dull colors in freshly laundered fabrics: Nonphosphate granular detergents can combine with hard water to leave behind a residue that can cause fabrics to become stiff and feel harsh. Avoid the problem by using a phosphate-based detergent, a heavy-duty liquid detergent or a nonprecipitating water conditioner with the nonphosphate granular detergent. Soaking stiffened clothing in a solution of white vinegar and water (1 cup vinegar per gallon of water) may help restore them, however you should first test clothing for colorfastness to vinegar on a hidden seam allowance. Another way to restore this clothing is to treat as for yellow, gray, or general discoloration.

White powdery streaks on dark clothes: Powdery streaks on dark clothes are probably caused by undissolved detergent being incompletely rinsed out. Some nonphosphate detergents can deposit mineral hardness residue that shows as streaks. Avoid this problem by changing detergents or by adding detergent to the wash water first, then adding clothes and starting washer. Usually a repeat rinse and spin cycle with clear water will remove these streaks.

White streaks on blue jeans: White streaks on blue jeans are probably not caused by un- dissolved detergent. Blue jeans are often dyed with indigo dye, which is a fugitive dye that bleeds in a water solution. As the washer spins, the edges where the fabric is folded get more abrasion and rougher treatment, causing the color to escape. Turning jeans wrong side out before laundering will reduce these white streaks and give more even fading. To avoid the natural fading that accompanies use of indigo, look for polyester/cotton jeans that are labeled colorfast. They will retain their dark blue.

Yellowing, graying, or general discoloration: This condition occurs when insufficient detergent issused for proper cleaning, wash water temperature is too low (especially for oil stains), too much detergent is used and insufficiently rinsed out, synthetics are washed with a light-duty detergent in cold water, or color is transferred from other non-colorfast items in the wash. To refurbish clothing with this discoloration, wash in a permanent press cycle with hot wash water, a cool-down rinse, and a cup of water conditioner instead of detergent. If discoloration persists, repeat this procedure or wash again using the correct amount of detergent, an all- fabric bleach, or diluted liquid chlorine bleach if safe for fabric.

The treatment of last resort for white items is treatment with a commercial color remover (Rit or Tintex). This reducing bleach must be used very carefully, as it will easily fade colors in any fabric it touches.

If the yellow color is on silk, wool, or spandex it may be a result of fiber alteration due to improper use of chlorine bleach and is not removable.


Special thanks to Iowa State University for allowing us to reproduce this information.

Reproduced with permission from the Cooperative Extension Service, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, 50011.

Prepared by: Janis Stone,
Textiles and Clothing Specialist,
Iowa State University

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Clothing Care and fiber Content Labels

fabrics Labeled "Dry-clean Only"

A Note about Modern fabrics

Garments with Contrasting Colors or Trim

Removing Stains from Washable fabrics:

Spot Treatment Technique (Sponging) for Apparel fabrics

Chemical Solvents and Supplies

Follow These Safety Precautions

Classification of Stains

What to Do if You Don't Know

Stains Needing Unique Treatment Methods

Common Remedies to Avoid

How to Identify and Prevent

Additional Stain Removal References

You really should consider washing your clothes if they are dirty.  Learn more about washing clothes.

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