The legendary Sherlock Holmes was fond of telling his assistant, Watson, that there’s more than meets the eye. He would have told you the same about a visit to your neighborhood dry cleaner.

Here’s a common scenario. You drop off your items to be cleaned, making sure to let them know there’s a stain on a garment. Then you leave. It’s the end of your story—well almost…it ends when you come back and pick up your stain-free clothes. For the item of clothing with the stain, though, things are only just beginning.

Stain Removal Technicians

There are specialists in the home laundry field just as there are in any other industry. In this case, the “Holmes and Watsons” are the men and women who are specially trained to treat and remove stains. They’re officially known as stain removal technicians.

In a perfect world, you’ll let your dry cleaner know when you’re bringing in a stained garment. At that point, a little history goes a long way. The more you can tell your dry cleaner about the source of the stain, the better the likelihood they’ll be able to treat and remove it.

In a not-so-perfect world, you don’t tell your dry cleaner about a stain—or maybe you didn’t notice it to point it out in the first place. That’s when a stain removal technician steps in to use their deductive powers. They’ll identify the source of stain, and then they’ll call out the appropriate solution to treat and remove it. Here are a couple of examples.

Special Equipment and Procedures

There’s an actual piece of specialized equipment called a stain removal board. It’s the first stop for your stained garment. This device has several foot-operated pedals that apply steam, forced air, or vacuum.

  • Ever notice that oil and grease stains often end up making a cross shape on your clothes? It’s a part of the characteristic of how these substances move along the fibers. These stains are best removed with special solvents that gently release the bond between the oil or grease, and the fibers of your garment.
  • Protein stains must be treated differently, so it’s important for a stain removal technician to properly identify them—if you don’t. The majority of protein stains come from living animal sources, meaning it can be anything from ice cream to your own perspiration. When these stains are scratched lightly with a fingernail, they’ll often release a whitish dust. A solvent won’t release the bond between protein and fiber. The stain removal technician will use what’s known as a digester. Afterwards, the area may be treated with a leveling agent to remove any remaining traces of the stain.

The tannins in wine or the plastic stains from nail polish won’t come out with the procedures used on oil and grease, or with protein. Other procedures are necessary.

Luckily for you, your dry cleaner has their own in-house stain removal technician who will bring their sleuthing powers to bear. They’ll identify the stain if you can’t, and they’ll know precisely how to treat and remove it before the garment is cleaned.

There’s more than meets the eye when it comes to treating stains. Starting with the modern-day Sherlock your garment meets up with at the dry cleaner.