Cover Story: Stain Removal Practices & Challenges

Luxury is not just limited to the amenities offered by hotel suites; it can also be experienced the moment you slip between the crisp, white sheets of your perfectly made king-size bed. While most hotels opt for white linen for its classic and pristine appearance, the stains from cosmetics, beverages, room service meals, bodily fluids and even shoe polish becomes a challenge for the housekeeping department to deal with.

Stains can be broadly differentiated and categorised into protein-based (blood and certain food), tannin-based (coffee, tea and wine), oil-based (makeup and essential oils) and dye and ink stains. These stains call for a separate stain removal treatment and a specialised skill. Minar Aliyar, Executive Housekeeper,  Elite Byblos Hotel, agrees. He shares his experience while having worked with the inhouse laundry processing unit in the past. He says, “There is a particular procedure to be followed for stain removal prior to washing the laundry. Stain removal can be done using the spotting table and necessary brushes/  tools, or it can be soaked in necessary spotting chemicals prior to laundering the linen." Handling and washing linen the right way in the first treatment prevents additional marks, removes the maximum number of stains and prevents rewash; thus resulting in increasing the linen’s life. If processes aren’t  managed properly, rewash may result in higher operational costs as additional wash cycles will result in more water, chemical, energy and labour. Also, the staff handling the laundry will have to undergo further training to avoid situations that lead to stains. Some situations include linen falling from  overloaded trolleys on to the floors during transportation, staff stepping on this linen,  linen getting caught in feeder or folder rolls, rusty belts, etc. All of this may result in grey and black marks, which would require a high dosage of detergent or special treatment or may end up damaging the fabric.


Some of the laundry departments may  employ specialists known as spotters who  are responsible for stain removal. They have  an in depth knowledge of fabrics and the  reaction of various chemicals on stained  fabrics and dyes. They also have the skills  and techniques required to handle various  chemicals and remove stains from different  types of fabrics without damaging.  “Oil, food and body liquid stains are some  of the regular stains we come across  predominantly on F&B linen. We wash house  linen at 600 C whereas F&B linen at 800 C so  that most of the stains are easily removed. In  the case of stringent stains, we rewash linen  in a different programme set by our chemical  supplier. On the other hand, pillow cases,  which might get stained with hair dyes - and  are extremely difficult to remove - we prefer  spotting,” explains Pamini Hemaprabha,  Complex Executive Housekeeper, The  Westin Mina Seyahi Complex, Marriott. 

Aliyar adds that a neat spotting table  equipped with spotting guns for steam air  and cold air drying guns works wonders. A scrubbing brush or even a simple hard bristle  tooth brush to work out smaller stains is  essential. Hemaprabha informs, “Spotting  methodologies have changed with many  cleaners now relying completely on prespotting  methods using kit products.  Wherever possible, the practice of prespotting  and re-cleaning all stained items should be avoided as the cleaner is  subjecting the garments both to unnecessary  stress and wear and with the risk of an extra cleaning process. In addition, processing full  loads for every re-clean means one garment  is held back. So, cleaners that are using recleaning  as the normal post-cleaning stain  removal process should be aware that this is  not only a bad practice but can also incur a  lot of valuable machine time.”

Stain removal practices

Shiyam Chandru, Laundry Manager – Le  Meridien Dubai Complex, talks about his  favourite tool or method used to remove a  stain, he avers, “We have a 24-hour laundry  service, where we segregate the soiled  linen coming from rooms, wash it and keep  it ready for use within six hours. It’s hard  to pick one method for stain removal but  as a general rule, always use cold water  to remove blood stains as hot water can  make the stain set into the fabric, making  it difficult to treat later.” He also mentions,  “For tannins and ink stains, we use spotting  chemicals that dislodge the stain without  affecting the fabric. We are currently using  A.L. Wilson’s products that are extremely  user-friendly, and we have trained our staff  adequately to handle and use spot chemical  products. More than the chemical used  to remove a stain, it is essential to have a  team with the necessary skill to effectively  use stain-removal chemicals carefully,  depending on the type of fabric and  identifying what type of stain.” Aliyar reiterates, “It is always advised to  use cold water while treating protein-based  stains, while hot steam can be used to flush  oil-based stains. Sometimes repeating the entire process is necessary in case of very tough stains. As most hotel house linen are  white, the fear of colour run or chemical  patches is very rare, but it is necessary to  be careful when treating fancy-coloured  restaurant napkins or expensive cushion/  bolster covers and bed runners. The water temperature can be hot when spotting white linen and cooler solutions can be used on coloured fabrics/linen. With coloured linen, testing a hidden patch is always recommended prior to the actual spotting  of the stains.”

The worst stains and their challenges

During spring season, it’s a common practice for hotel guests enjoy the pleasant weather and be out in the sun and nearby  pools and beaches that surround these  properties. They end up using sunscreen - a  sun essential to protect themselves from  the harmful UV rays, but it can take a toll on  the appearance and lifespan of hotel linen,  like towels, napkins and even house linen.  “Body lotion (sun cream) is the worst stain for both bed linen and bath linen. Normally sun lotion stains are not visible during the sorting process. These stains need special wash treatment without any bleach”, says Hemaprabha.

No guests would like to be welcomed in their suites with towels or bedsheets that are covered in lingering stains left behind from those cosmetics or sunscreen or even hair dyes by guests. Also, using towels for polishing shoes, is a common occurrence and one that complicates stain removal. These stains not only impact guest satisfaction at a hotel property, but also add upto the operational costs, reduce productivity and the environment. To avoid these uncertain situations, the hotel can educate the guests about the environmental impact of linen and their sustainable goals to converse energy and water. Another challenge is to separately wash the stained linen, which may not be a full load in the washer, hence adding to the utility costs and disturbing the regular laundry cycles. 

Aliyar elaborates on how stubborn stains add to the operational cost. “With one of my previous properties, we had a long-term guest staying in a suite. She had coloured her hair using black dye and had used white face towels to wipe off the excess from her skin. This resulted in staining of not only the linen but also the sofa upholstery on which she was sitting. It was a real challenge for us to get the entire place cleaned. In this situation, we used the  Yellow Go dye removal chemical in different  processes such as the spotting table, and  then later in the laundering process by  manually adding the spotting chemical to  the washing cycles.”  He concludes, “Stain removal procedure is always trial and error based; it does not guarantee that the stain will disappear completely. In some cases, depending on higher management decisions, the guests are charged for the damage caused to house linen if the stain removal process fails.”  



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