The Science of Stain Removal

177821116It isn’t magic, but sometimes spot and stain removal products make it seem that way. The fact is no one cleaning agent can remove every stain, because the soils that made them and the surfaces in which they reside are composed of different things.

The five basic components of spots and stains each require a different cleaning strategy:

1. Insoluble Components – This includes particle soils that cannot be dissolved using chemicals available to consumers, such as sand, quartz, clay, feldspar, limestone, carbon, pigment, plant fibers and hair fibers. These are best removed dry by vacuuming. Fine particles remaining can be lifted with concentrated detergents and tapped with a clean brush, with the surface then rinsed and blotted with warm water.

2. Dry Solvent Soluble Components – Oily spots, such as those made by animal, vegetable and petroleum oils, greases and tars are easily dissolved with dry detergents along with gentle agitation.

3. Water Soluble Components – Sugars, starches, salts and many foods are easily dissolved in water. However, some of those components contain dyes and pigments that are less easy to dissolve. Most problem stains result when two or more problem components are combined.

4. Protein Components – Protein comes from foods or bodily discharges: milk, egg, blood, urine or feces. Much protein is readily soluble in water when it is fresh. But once it ages or is exposed to direct sunlight over time, protein resists water solubility and can be very difficult to remove. It must then be broken down into more simple components that can be extracted, rinsed or blotted from fabrics. Enzyme digesters may be required to make stubborn protein stains soluble.

5. Coloring Materials – Both natural and synthetic dyes and pigments lend color to substances like beverages and foods, and those dyes are transferred to fibers on contact. Pigment, for example, is insoluble, and once it fixes onto fiber, it no longer is affected by the medium in which it was originally suspended (usually, water). When dry substances like carbon, copier toner or graphite become wet, they are extremely difficult to remove and require dry solvent gels or bleaches.

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