Mystery Upholstery Stain!
I received an email and follow up call from a fine fabric specialist who had a problem with a fabric after doing "everything right".
The technician saw a white fabric that tested as being a natural fiber, and made the assumption that this would be best cleaned with an acidic detergent and very low moisture. In the technicians mind, browning was the biggest risk he faced, and in his experience, he knew that a low moisture cleaning process with a low pH product would likely be safest.
However, the fabric appeared to discolor almost immediately when wet, and the technician stopped immediately and where the margin of the cleaned areas met the area that were not cleaned, a brown hazy line appeared.
The technician, assuming it was browning, attempted to reclean the area with the same product (as acidic detergents are often useful to remove browning), but the discoloration remained.
What went wrong?
This fabric didn't brown (although the discoloration was brown in color), it watermarked. Water marks occur when fabrics that have been treated with sizing receive uneven wetting, and/or uneven drying, such as what happened when he stopped when the fabric darkened.
The sizing (which is put on during manufacturing to make it have more body, and to help in the sewing and seaming process), dissolved and built up at the "dry margins" to the extent where it formed a brown stain.
How could this have been prevented?
It's possible that had the cleaner simply completed cleaning the fabric instead of stopping, the problem may not have occurred. It's difficult, though, to fault a technician who sees something bad happening and stops in an effort not to make things worse.
It's unlikely that a fabric that darkens while wet is experiencing a dangerous problem. Both browning and color bleeding happen during the drying process. Natural fibers that darken during cleaning may be linen (which darkens when wet, but dries without discoloration), as will thin cotton or rayon that become clear when wet.
The other clue that the technician noticed, but didn't realize he'd been given, was that where the customer had tried to remove a spot themselves, there was a water mark. If you see a fabric with an existing watermark before cleaning, you must do two things:
- Warn the customer! Fabrics with sizing that allow water marking to occur can be a problem to clean. The customer must be told that the original water mark may not come out, and that there is a possibility that more water marks might occur after cleaning.
- Treat the entire fabric with distilled water before cleaning. After dry soil removal, apply a fine mist of distilled water to the entire fabric will cause any soluble sizing to evenly "wet out", and keep your subsequent applications of detergent from causing water marks. This application might even remove pre-existing watermarks as well.
This type of incident is a good reminder to do a thorough inspection before cleaning, not just to point out things you can't fix, but to look for clues as to how a fabric might respond during your cleaning process.
If you'd like a form to help you with your preinspection step, and what preexisting conditions tell you about what has happened (or might happen later), go to our resource box below.
|I strongly recommend that you use the Upholstery Condition Inspection Report when dealing with delicate fabrics. Since 1987 it has been the only comprehensive such form in our industry. If you would like to check out the form, CLICK HERE. You can download a "proof set" as well as find the price for bundles of 50 of these valuable 2 part NCR forms.