Looking after fabrics

Washing basket

Different fabrics will require varied care – if you decide to apply the same care routine to all items, this could ultimately end in your garments shrinking, becoming discolored or a stubborn stain not coming out.

To help, the team here at WASHCO have created the ultimate Top Fabric Guide. It’s full of tips and tricks which will provide you with all the answers to some of the most common laundry questions, including:

  • Stain removal
  • Laundry troubleshooting
  • Fabric Fading
  • Linen Hire

Bleach damage issues

Oxidising bleaches include sodium hypochlorite (domestic bleach) and hydrogen peroxide (which can either be added as a liquid to the wash or it can be generated from the wash powder – look for sodium perborate and sodium percarbonate on the detergent contents). Oxidising bleaches react with vegetable dyes to change them from coloured to colourless. They also react with the cellulose in cotton and linen, rupturing the polymer chain and causing accelerated weakening so that the linen tears and frays very easily and can form into holes.

How to detect bleach damage

You can detect bleach damage by examining the strength of the individual yarns on a complaint item. Take out a single yarn, break it between your fingers and compare subjectively the breaking strength with that of a yarn from a new and unwashed item. If you suspect localised bleach damage caused by a bleach splash you may need to compare the strength of a yarn from an undamaged area with one near to a hole.

The effect of bleach on the warp and the weft may be different and sometimes you will see characteristic holes which have a skein of warp threads with all the weft rotted away.

This is a typical stage in the development of a bleach damage hole.

  • Cellulose fibres that have been damaged by bleach are much more sensitive to abrasion which is why fraying at the main wear edges can also be a useful symptom of bleach attack.
  • On coloured fabrics, the action of the bleach is slightly different on each component of a three component dye recipe. Red is often the least affected which is why blue towels that show bleach damage holes often have a pink tinge around the edge of the hole – a common giveaway symptom.

How to minimise bleach damage

You can minimise this problem with sodium hypochlorite by using it at the correct concentration and by restricting the dosage (6ml of concentrated bleach per kilogram of work). Sodium hypochlorite bleaching must be carried out below 50°C, because above this stain removal is minimal and accelerate fabric degradation occurs.

Hydrogen peroxide is usually designed to work at around 65°C and there is no risk of excessive linen damage provided the concentration and stage times are correct. Hydrogen peroxide works much more slowly at lower temperatures. As a general rule, overnight soaking in very weak sodium hypochlorite solutions is preferred to machine dosing in higher concentrations.

Difference between soiling and staining

  • Soiling sits on the yarn and must be washed off
  • Staining dyes the yarn and must be made colourless chemically

Optical Brightening Agents (OBA)

Optical Brightening Agents, also called Fluroresvent Whitening Agents, are usually abbreviated to OBA or FWA when you see them in the list of ingredients on the side of detergent containers – both domestic and commercial. Sometimes their presence is disguised with other wording.

An OBA is designed to attach itself to the surface of the fabric (they tend to be more attracted to natural fibres such as cotton and linen than they are to synthetic ones) and react with the ultraviolet portion of normal sunlight.

The OBA absorbs ultraviolet light which is invisible to the human eye and re-emits it as intense white light that is very visible.

The effect is to enhance the brightness and liveliness of white fabrics, making an OBA an essential ingredient when washing white bedlinen and white polyester-cotton coats for example.

However; diluting the light from a coloured fabric with white light makes it look pale and faded, and the effect gets worse with multiple laundering. This is because an OBA builds up progressively onto the fabric surface so that the apparent fading gets worse month by month, even though the dyes themselves might not be affected. You can demonstrate this using a simple and inexpensive bank note detector. Under ultraviolet light, the problem will look much worse than it does in ordinary daylight which confirms this particular fault.

There are plenty of detergents available that do not contain an OBA and these should always be specified for coloured work and coloured prints. One can expect that over half of the problems with fading of coloured prints can be attributed to an OBA and not to the effects of laundering.

Fabric fading problems

Pigment dyes are dispersed in a gluey resin and spread across the top of the fabric surface. They can either be printed (screen or roller) as a single uniform shade all over; or applied in several colours to form multi-coloured patterns.

After application, the print is passed through a heated oven which bonds the gluey resin onto the woven fabric by surface adhesion to the exposed yarns. There is not usually very much physical adhesion in that the resin does not flow into the yarns and lock around them. Curing time and temperature are critical if a good bond is to be achieved.

There are various ways of avoiding fading problems:

Abrasion in use

This will cause progressive breakdown of a pigment print whenever it is rubbed. It can be a particular problem on the arm of an upholstered chair; on the edge of a fitted bedspread or on the leading edge of a curtain handled twice a day for opening and closing.

Mechanical action in laundering

The print can be washing off by the use of too much mechanical action in laundering. There is a big difference in the mechanical action associated with different wash processes and the bar or broken bar beneath the washtub symbol on the care label indicates the precautions needed. This is every bit as important as wash temperature.

Wash temperature

Washing at a higher wash temperature than that specified on the care label tends to cause softening of the resin so that more is rubbed off than it is at lower temperatures. This means that it is difficult to put pigment printed linen through a process which incorporates an implied thermal disinfection stage, because this calls either for three minutes at 71˚C or ten minutes at 65˚C.

Incorrect ironing

Incorrect ironing will cause rapid breakdown of certain pigment prints depending on temperature resistance of the resin used. Repeated abrasion at the wear edges during ironing will cause white lines or white bands at the folds and double thickness points. This is not always immediately obvious because the resin is pushed into the weave without colour loss. However; the progressively broken down resin then becomes washed off in the next laundry process to reveal the characteristic and excessive fading.

Ironing temperate is probably more critical than ironing abrasion, as some resins can only safely withstand a one dot iron (110˚C).

Laundry troubleshooting

From fading and staining to tears and frays, laundry problems are an unfortunate occurrence. Do not panic though, as WASHCO is here to help with our troubleshooting guide. Take a look at our list of the main laundry issues, their cause and how you are able to prevent them from happening to make your garments last longer.

Problem: Fading

Caused by:

  • Exposure to direct sunlight
  • Incorrect use of bleach in stain removal or laundering
  • Contamination in use with hair preparations, household cleaners, garden chemicals, strong perfume, deodorants (these can all produce localised fading that may look worse after washing)

Problem: Holes, tears & fraying edges

Caused by:

  • Effect of normal soap powders after a period of time. Most contain bleaching agents
  • Using bleach to remove stains, especially if then washed at high temperature. In extreme circumstances a cotton product may only last 2/3 washes
  • Bleaches in household cleaning fluids, disinfectants and hair stain treatments
  • Car and boat battery acids and boiler descaling fluids
  • Mechanical and abrasion damage caused by abuse (knives, kitchen tools, sharp corners, floor dragging)
  • Moth damage on wool fabrics
  • Spark damage from cigarette ash, open fires, welding

Problem: Patches of colour loss

Caused by:

  • Spillage on dyes
  • Household bleaches, bathroom and kitchen cleaners, hair treatments, cosmetics, acne remover creams, deodorants, battery fluids and garden chemicals can all cause dye damage that may not be revealed fully until the item is washed or cleaned

Problem: Yellow-brown stains that appear after washing

Caused by:

  • Hibitan staining from items like ‘Hibisoap’ or ‘Savlon’ that comes into contact with ‘chlorine bleach’ (sodium hypochlorite solution) in the wash
  • Oxidisable protein staining (from bodily fluids or food residues) that have not been properly washed out and which then react with the oxygen in the warm airstream in the tumble drier

Problem: Orange-brown specks and rings that appear in washing

Caused by:

  • Iron marking from contaminated water (pipe or tank rust) or from a garment stud or leaky radiator. Iron changes to iron oxide (rust) in the wash and dyes the fabric. It can be removed with an iron removal treatment, either by localised spot removal or in a special wash process

Problem: Brown marking on outer folds of a curtain

Caused by:

  • Nicotine staining that is not removed by dry cleaning and which darkens and becomes more obvious in drying and pressing. Nicotine is best removed in a well-designed wash process

Problem: Yellow-brown marks that appear after dry cleaning

Caused by:

  • Water-based soiling and staining containing sugars or proteins or certain perfumes are often not removed by dry cleaning solvent. They oxidise in drying and pressing, resulting in marks visible after cleaning that could not be seen before. They need expert treatment pre or post-cleaning BEFORE re-cleaning

Problem: Green & black specks that are not removed in washing or cleaning

Caused by:

  • Mildew, which often occurs when dirty linen is stored in cold, damp conditions prior to washing. It will also occur along the bottom of a curtain from window condensation. Mildew is a fungal growth that feeds on the fabric and penetrates deep into the yarns. It usually needs treatment with a strong oxidising agent (bleach)

Problem: Embrittlement & shrinkage of goods which include PVC or polypropylene

Caused by:

  • These goods need cleaning on a carefully designed low temperature wash process. They shrink excessively and can go brittle in dry cleaning

Problem: Odours on washed goods

Caused by:

  • Bacterial growth on unwashed soiling produces foul odours from bacterial excrement. Bacteria can grow in laundry water tanks

Problem: Brown stains after blood removed

Caused by:

  • The iron in haemoglobin often defeats normal blood removal procedures and needs a special iron remover to take out the residual orange brown ring

A – Z stain removal guide

Adhesives: Use nail varnish remover or acetone.

Ball-point pens and felt tips:: Sponge with a little methylated spirits before washing.

Beer: Sponge with white vinegar and warm water: Then rinse and wash in a biological powder.

Beetroot: Soak, then wash normally at the maximum temperature indicated on the label. Most vegetable dye stains need an oxidising agent to de-colour them because they cannot be washed easily out of a cotton yarn. This applies to beer, beetroot, fruit juice, grass, jam and wine.

Blood: Soak in cold salty water. Keep changing the water until it is clear. Wash in the usual way using a biological detergent. Brown stains remaining after the treatment of blood marks should be treated for rust staining.

Candle wax: Peel off any surface wax. Then sandwich the affected area with blotting paper, and iron over the paper so there are always clean sections of blotting paper to absorb the wax. Dab with a grease solvent to remove the final trace. Wash according to the fabric care label.

Chewing gum: Harden the gum by putting the garment in the fridge in a plastic bag. It can then be cracked a picked off. Then use a grease solvent for the final traces before washing normally.

Chocolate: Soak or wash as soon as possible to make sure the stain is completely removed. Difficult stains can be dabbed with 20 volume hydrogen peroxide, diluted 1 part to 9 with warm water. Wash normally.

Coffee: Soak or wash as soon as possible to make sure the stain is completely removed. Difficult stains can be dabbed with 20 volume hydrogen peroxide, diluted 1 part to 9 with warm water. Wash normally.

Crayon: Sponge stains with methylated spirits. Then wash normally.

Emulsion paint: Wash immediately with cold water while the paint is still wet. Once it is dry, a plastic film will envelop which cannot be removed.

Fruit: Rinse at once in cold water. Dried on fruit stains can be loosened before washing with a solution of equal parts of glycerine and warm water.

Gloss paint: Sponge with white spirit and then wash immediately with detergent. However, fresh stains can be sponged out with a warm detergent solution.

Grass: Rub with methylated spirits, rinse with warm soapy water, and if still necessary treat with glycerine. Then wash normally.

Grease: Heavy stains should be treated with washing-up liquid or a grease solvent followed by a wash at the maximum temperature recommended for the fabric.

Jam: Fresh stains usually wash out. Soak old stains in borax solution or detergent solution, and then wash normally.

Make-up: Wipe stains immediately. Then soak for 5 minutes in a weak ammonia solution (5ml to 500ml water). Rinse well and wash normally.

Mascara: Soak in a strong solution of detergent and then wash.

Milk or cream: Soak in a strong borax solution and then wash. If the stain is on a wool garment, do not soak but sponge with borax. Wash as normal.

Nail varnish: Apply a little non-oily nail varnish remover from the back of the fabric. Do not use on acetate or triacetate. Wash as normal.

Perspiration: Wash stain with a weak solution of ammonia, then rinse. If colour is affected sponge with vinegar and rinse.

Rust/iron/mould: Rub lemon and salt into the mark. Leave for one hour and then wash.

Scorch marks: Rub light marks immediately under cold running water, and soak in a warm borax solution. Rinse well and wash. However, if the fibres are damaged there is no remedy.

Shoe polish: Rub with bar of soap or a grease-removing solvent. The wash immediately. The coloured particles in shoe polish should lift out of the fabric.

Tar: Scrape off as much as possible. Soften tar with a littler glycerine. Work in washing-up liquid. Rinse with warm water and wash immediately.

Urine: Cold rinse and then wash with detergent. Urine staining is generally caused by a variety of proteins and iron oxide. It may respond to an oxidising agent such as hydrogen peroxide but it is usually better to raise the PH, using ammonia for example, and then to treat any residual marks as iron.

Vomit: Remove surface deposit and rinse well under running cold water. Soak in a detergent solution before washing normally.

Wine: Mop up any excess and then cover the stain with a warm detergent solution, then rinse with cold water and wash.

On-premise laundry vs linen hire

Advantages of washing in-house

  • You usually need much less linen stock with an on-premise laundry
  • You can control your costs very tightly
  • You can also handle guest/resident personal clothing in-house, giving a rapid personal service if needed
  • You can respond rapidly to short term demands (e.g. outbreak of enteritis in a nursing home or two complete room changes in 24 hours in an airport hotel)
  • You have direct control over quality and can bring this precisely to your commercial requirement
  • The laundry might enable imaginative use of spare staff hours
  • You can control linen losses better if all linen is kept on the premises
  • You can minimise linen damage if wash chemicals are under your control
  • If you have a potential laundry room available you can get some return on this asset

Advantages of linen hire or contracting your laundry out

  • You are free to concentrate all your management and staff time on your core business
  • You only pay for what you soil, so your variable costs go down in line with bed occupancy, for example
  • You can use all of your productive floor space to build your core business
  • You can budget more accurately if you contract out the washing of your linen, even more so with linen hire because then you do not even need to allow for linen depreciation
  • You avoid the capital investment involved in purchase of washing and finishing equipment and, with linen hire, the linen itself
  • You simplify your health and safety policy and the associated management problems arising from this

Mixing in-house and contracting out

Towels require tumbling and can readily be handled in-house. Bed linen and table linen need an expensive multi-roll ironer for the best quality and are often best contracted out. Hand finishing of garments can usually best be undertaken in-house.

Laundry management tips

Staffing: You will need to have sufficient staff hours available to run the laundry. Budget on 30-35 pieces per operator hour for trained staff.

Training: It is easy to rot sheets and towels, cause irreversible greying and setting of stains all through incorrect laundering. Untrained staff can also be a major safety hazard in a laundry, especially if guests or patients are put at risk in a fire for example or as a result of cross infection. There is a simple NVQ (National Vocational Qualification) available to which staff can be practically trained.

Utilities: Laundry equipment requires appreciable energy to operate successfully. You need to check that you have adequate water pressure to fill all your machines to rinse level in under one minute and that your drains can cope with your machines dumping a rinse simultaneously, without flooding the floor.

The same applies to gas – you need sufficient gas pressure to enable all your equipment to operate simultaneously without problems. Electricity should always be your last choice for heating equipment because although it is easily connected it is usually more expensive than gas. If you do need electric heating you must check the rating of your supply and meters because all-electric laundering can use a lot of power.

Procedures: A successful on-premise laundry often has simple laid down procedures for every operator, detailing machine loading, additives, wash cycles, drying temperatures and so on. This can remove undue dependence on one or two members of staff and make it possible for everyone in the team to do each task correctly.

Health & safety: The laundry needs its own health and safety manual built up little by little each week by the person designated as Laundry Manager. This needs to set out a clear policy, practical risk assessments, COSHH data sheets for wash chemicals and safety training notes for staff.