The Art and Science of Spot Removal

The Art and Science of Spot Removal

Successful spot removal does not mean dumping everything in your spotting kit on a spot, and hoping it will go away. The Science

Anything that will dissolve needs the correct solvent to wet out the solids, and dissolve the soluble fractions. This means to determine whether the cause of the spot is based on water, or on petroleum or animal fats.

Most spots found in a home will be water based. This means that there was originally water as a carrier, with something else in the water. This covers all foodstuffs, and earth dirt, all sugars, starches, carbohydrates, etc., all protein matter. I recommend using a “digesting agent” for protein or albuminous spots or stains. I use Bi-O-Kleen’s Bac-Out Digester.

Applying a petroleum-based solvent to protein matter, or earth, will not dissolve it. Applying water based spotters to petroleum based spots will not dissolve it, either. Think of sugar in gasoline. The sugar does not dissolve in the gasoline, which is why it causes a problem in a gasoline engine. You must have water to dissolve sugar, and a petroleum solvent to dissolve oils. It is that simple.

Thinking along these lines, if you take a water based spotter, and the spot does not dissolve, do not keep working on the spot with the same formula, as it will never come out. By the same token, applying a petroleum based spotter, and the spot does not dissolve, do not keep working with it, as it will never dissolve. You must have the same base as the origins of the spot to remove it.

I have seen many cases of people trying unsuccessfully to remove a series of the same spots, and leaving a few in disgust. Using the correct spot remover on the ones not touched, these come out easily, but the ones worked on incorrectly, possibly might come out with great difficulty, or not at all.

For a given spot that is of an unknown substance, here is a tip to determine if the spot is organic, or petroleum based. Scratch it with your fingernail. If it turns “white”, the substance is protein. If the spot remains “black”, it is petroleum based. Now you know which type of solution to begin with.

The Art

Law #1. Do not spend more than thirty seconds working on any spot with any spot remover, without results.

If you have the correct base, it will come right out. If you have not removed the spot in thirty seconds, you will never do it in an hour. After one or two tries with the same chemical, and it is not out completely, go to a different base.

Law #2. Do not apply the chemical to the spot.

Apply the chemical to a towel, and blot onto the spot.

If you have the correct formula, the spot will dissolve, and absorb by capillary action up into the towel. If the formula is not correct, you will not have left a lot of incorrect chemical on the fabric. Go to the opposite based formula. If you apply the chemical to the fabric, it may leave a ring, that is harder to remove than the original spot. It may also spread the original cause of the spot, making it harder to remove. Ink is a good example. If the chemical is applied to a spot, it may set the spot, or, there may be residue from the spot remover remaining, to re-soil, and cause the spot to “come back”.

Law #3. Use the weakest formula first.

Do not apply the strongest formula that you own to every spot first. This is like using an elephant gun to swat flies. Refer to spotting chart, and usually a General Spotter will remove most water-based spots and stains.

For petroleum based spots, begin with a pure solvent, then go to a mild but formulated solvent such as Pre-Oil Break, then proceed to Paint, Oil, Grease Remover. Everything other than plain water, or solvent must be rinsed out, to make sure there is no residue to cause re-soiling. These two will evaporate completely, leaving no residue.

Law #4. Blot, do not rub.

Wipe if you must, tamp with a spotting brush if you need, but if you rub the spot, it may spread, or it may fray the fabric. For this reason, do not use the bristles of a spotting brush to scrub with. Only tamp with the bristles. Place a towel on the spot, tamp the towel over the spot. The object in spot removal is to absorb it up, and leave no remaining residue. If not cleaning over the spotted area, blow dry with a hair dryer.

Law #5. Liquid spill neutralizing.

It does not matter if it is wine, pet urine, coffee, whatever. Begin with a digesting agent such as Bi-O-kleen’s Bac-Out. If a stain remains, use a Tannin Stain Remover. This will get most spill stains. This must be rinsed out, to avoid leaving a potential problem causing residue, or a chemical reaction with the fabric dyes. If the stain remains following a treatment, remember that it is the customer’s stain. The hole or the worse discoloration is yours.

Law #6. Removing crusty spots.

Blood, chocolate, mud, anything that is hard or crusty should be removed dry. Do not apply anything to a crusty spot until you have removed by scraping as much as possible off the fibers. Most of these spots, even if they look terrible, will come off completely, just with dry scraping.

Use your fingernail, a bone scraper, the handle of a spotting brush, furniture cleaning tool, the back of a knife blade, etc. Then when all has been removed that will come off dry, vacuum away dust, small crumbs, etc., then apply the appropriate spotter, beginning with a General Spotter.

The volume left to remove is so much smaller than the original spot, there is little danger that the large spot will spread, and become more difficult to remove. This law also covers candle wax, tracked grease, tar, etc.- remove dry, by wiping with a towel, or scraping with a knife blade or back, as much as possible, before applying solvent, Pre- Oil Break, or P.O.G.

Law #7. Removing facial makeup.

All facial makeup is based on lanolin, which is an animal fat from the processing of sheep’s wool, and dry powdered pigments. If you apply water, it will dissolve only the powdered pigments, and may dye the fabric, and you will never get the dyed spot out. If you apply a solvent it will dissolve the lanolin, and leave the pigments, which are water soluble, and stain the fabric. A few are solvent soluble, and will dye the fabric.

To correctly remove makeup, apply Pre-Oil Break to a towel. Blot onto the spot, then blot with a dry section of the towel. The Pre-Oil Break only partially dissolves the lanolin, and has no effect on the pigments. It will all come up into the towel. Repeat if needed. Do not apply anything else, without potential problems. Rinse out the affected area when all the makeup is removed.

Law #8. Removing rust.

Rust is ferric oxide. Applying rust removers such as “Erusticator”, or other hydrofluoric acid formulas can cause problems, such as affecting the color of the dyes. If not adequately rinsed out, it can cause skin burns. Oxalic acid, another common rust remover is also hazardous.

If it is rinsed out, the wastewater now has a very potent chemical in it. What are you going to do with it? Think about it. Most acids will remove rust. I recommend a Tannin Stain Remover as a safer chemical. Rinse out with water, use a mild alkali to neutralize as much as possible. Do not use ammonia. Ammonia can cause problems with dyes, and can weaken many fabrics. It can also bring back the rust, as well as cause health problems.

Law #9. Absorbent media.

When a customer calls in a panic, and has spilled a quantity of any liquid, or where a pet has wet, tell her do not apply any chemicals or soaps, etc. until you get there. She should blot up as much as possible with a folded towel, and turning it until no more is absorbed. Then pour on salt, talcum powder, sawdust, or anything absorbent until there is a layer about an inch deep on top of the carpet or furniture. Then just leave it alone until you get there.

The object of course is that the liquid will travel by capillary action to whatever is the most absorbent. The media is more absorbent than the carpet pile and backing, and the liquid will tend to rise into the media, leaving little, or nothing. The next day it can be vacuumed away, and you can do minor spot removal if necessary.

Law #10. Removing urine, vomit, feces, etc.

In the last several years, I have tried a number of bacteria and enzyme digester cultures for this purpose, instead of bacteria killers. Generally, the more powerful bacteria enzyme types are very successful, such as Bi-O-Kleen’s Bac-Out. As you have by now probably noticed, I am a huge fan of Bi-O-Kleen’s Bac-Out! It does not matter whether a digesting agent is used immediately after the accident, or a year later. They all seem to work very well. Some remove the stain, some do not. Some remove the odor completely, some do not. You must use enough, though, to be successful. The rule of thumb on quantities to use is the same amount of the original deposit. Sometimes this can mean as much as a quart or a gallon in one location, to be 100% removed. Usually, the area will need to be cleaned again, to avoid leaving a soil-attracting residue.

Gary Heacock
-The Interstellar Crossroads of The Universe-