WHAT ARE INVISIBLE STAINS?
Updated: Sep 28
Eileen sent her precious Chanel silk blouse to her regular dry-cleaner to have it cleaned after she wore it to an event. When she was at the dry-cleaner, the service personnel received and checked her item before issuing the job order. All good it seemed.
A week later, Eileen went back to retrieve her blouse. To her horror, the service personnel informed her that the stain on the front of the blouse cannot be removed. “What stain?!” screamed Eileen. “There was no stain when I sent in my blouse! You guys must have created the stain!” insisted Eileen. The service personnel said: “It's actually an invisible stain, Ms. Eileen.”
An invisible stain? Is there really something called an invisible stain? Is this a “professional excuse” coined by dry-cleaners and laundry companies to protect themselves against liabilities for their mishandling?
WHAT IS AN INVISIBLE STAIN?
Invisible stain is a bugbear of dry-cleaners all over the world. Many a dry-cleaner has been wrongly accused of staining and damaging customers' garments.
An invisible stain is, as the name suggests, a stain that is not visually apparent to the naked eyes. This happens when the compound causing the stain gets absorbed by the fabric and dries to become invisible. It is as if the stain was never there at all.
Some invisible stain sources are: vegetable cooking oils, linseed / soybean / peanut / coconut oils, liquor, tea, sugary drinks, various types of medicines, eggs, perspiration, milk, etc.
These invisible stains will become visually apparent only after dry-cleaning or pressing. Hence, you can only see it if your dry-cleaner has actually performed his job, ironically.
Do you remember the science experiment where you used lemon juice to write a secret message? When the juice dried on the paper, the words disappeared. In order to reveal the secret message, heat needs to be applied to the paper. Voila! The secret message presents itself mysteriously!
What happened here? When the lemon juice was applied to the paper, the carbon-based compound was absorbed by the fibre and became invisible when the words dried up. When heat is applied, oxidation takes place and causes the dried juice to turn brown. Another similar phenomenon is with the apple. When we first cut an apple, the flesh is off-white. After a short while of leaving it in the open, the colour changes to brown due to oxidation too.
When a garment with an invisible stain is dry-cleaned or pressed, heat from the process causes the components in the stain to oxidize. The result is a very visible brown stain. This oxidation process will not take place if the same garment had been wet washed. This is because the water would have been able to flush out the compounds prior to the item ever getting exposed to heat, hence, no oxidation. Unfortunately, invisible stains are hardly able to be completely removed.
WHAT SHOULD I DO THEN?
The best thing to do is to always inform your regular dry-cleaner whenever your garment has been stained, even if the stain is no longer visible. Let him/her know what was the product that caused the stain. He/She will then be able to better provide the necessary care for your garment, minimizing the risk of oxidation taking place and creating an ugly stain.