How Stain Removal Works

There’s more work than meets the eye when it comes to getting laundry clean. Throwing a load into the washer, adding detergent and pushing the start button will not always produce good results, especially when targeted stain removal is needed. Using a laundry service may be the right choice for you or your company to take the time and guesswork out of tackling tough stain removal problems and instead focus on enjoying crisp, clean clothes.

Proper stain removal requires the right tools and know-how. One over-hyped infomercial product can’t remove all laundry stains, despite how loudly the salesman shouts. Different stains require different removal techniques. Different fabrics require different cleaning products and water temperatures. Your laundry service will take all of the factors into consideration and use one or more of the following methods to destroy stains: dissolve, emulsify, or digest. Here’s how it works.

Dissolving the Stain

“Like dissolves like” This is a tried and true rule when it comes to stain removal. Using a solvent that is chemically similar to the stain will always yield best results. For a water-based stain like cola, a water-based solvent such as soapy water or club soda will do the job. For a greasy stain like motor oil, an alcohol-based solvent like mineral spirits is the answer. Water is the universal solvent. Although it can’t always remove stains on its own, it is usually quite effective and rarely, if ever, makes the stain worse.

Emulsifying the Stain

Soap and detergent are known as emulsifiers, or surfactants. They do their job by coating the stain and lifting it to the surface to be rinsed away. Emulsifiers are effective against oil and water-based stains. Their chemical make-up contains molecules that have a polar head that is attracted to water and a hydrocarbon tail that attaches to oil. These molecules work in tandem to attack the stain so it can be washed away.

Digesting the Stain

Enzymes are used to break apart protein stains. They digest fat and protein particles in clothing similar to how they digest food in the body. Some laundry detergents include enzymes. They can be added to the wash cycle separately as a “booster” or applied directly to the stain in liquid or stick form. Common protein stains include blood, dairy products, chocolate, body soils and mud.