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A Cleaner World Blog

Is There Such a Thing as a Delayed Stain?

The short answer is yes, but you could test my answer by conducting an experiment at home.  Pour a bit of Sprite on a clean white cotton t-shirt, allow it to dry, then hang it in the back of your closet for a year.  After a year has passed, pull the t-shirt out of the closet, and examine it.  There will be a yellowish, brownish stain where the clearly dried Sprite once sat.

Delayed stains can appear on clothes after being stored without first cleaning.  (On a side note, storing clothes without first cleaning will also make them targets of attack by critters.) Faint stains may also appear worse or invisible stains, like Sprite, may show up on clothing after the item is cleaned because the heat from the cleaning process causes the sugars and tannin residues to oxidize, making the stain visible or more prevalent.

Instead of conducting your own year-long experiment, you could learn something from experiments the folks at the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute (DLI), a trade association for professional drycleaners to which we belong, conducted.   

  • DLI spilled a juice beverage on a sweater, and after it dried, there was no visible stain.  They then cleaned the sweater, and the heat of the cleaning process accelerated the oxidation of the sugars that were in the juice.  As a result, the delayed stain is now visible after cleaning.
  • DLI stained a blouse with an alcoholic beverage that oxidized and left a faint stain. Cleaning removed the stain, but there was color loss that resulted from contact with the alcohol. To the untrained eye, this color removal could look like a delayed stain.

What’s the remedy for delayed stains?

  • Never put anything away without first washing or dry cleaning the garment.  Even if there doesn’t appear to be anything on the piece, unseen spills can oxidize over time causing a stain to appear down the road.
  • If you spill something on a garment and are dropping it off with a professional, inform the clerk so we can attend to those areas and prevent any delayed staining.
  • Use caution with products that contain alcohol like perfume, skin freshener, after shave, cologne, hair spray, and lotions.  Allow these products to dry completely before dressing.

While stain removal is our specialty, it is helpful to know the location and content of the spill to make the removal process run more smoothly.  If you have a garment with a delayed stain, drop it off at one of our locations, and our trained professionals will work their magic.

laundry with stains
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