From playground mud puddles to happy-hour wine spills, stains take different forms. Selecting the appropriate cocktail of chemicals to knock them out makes all the difference when it comes to happy apparel customers.
Youre at an important business luncheon when the balsamic vinaigrette lands on your shirt and the waiter spills a Coke on your lap. Time to grab a napkin and keep talking, or throw in the towel and head home?
That depends, and the decision may come down to the type of stain technology incorporated into your clothing.
Understanding your target consumers stain-fighting needs, as well as the differences among stain-resistant technologies, can help apparel retailers, brands and manufacturers make smart and strategic decisions about developing and applying the most appropriate technology for the garment at hand. For the most part, stain-fighting technology can be classified into three types of solutions: 1) stain repellent; 2) soil release; and 3) dual action, a combination of the two.
Following is a brief primer on the what and when of stain removal.
Trench coat: You cant touch me.
Stain-repellent technologies do precisely that: They repel.
This type of technology was first developed for applications such as raincoats DuPonts Teflon brand was developed strictly for water repellency, says Lisa Phrommer of Invista, the marketing arm of DuPont but it has spread to everything from dress shirts to casual pants.
In addition to water-based products, stain-repellent products also provide excellent protection against oil a source of many stains, including food and ring-around-the-collar. [Also,] dry soils and dirt are less likely to stick to the fabric, she says.
The technology is particularly effective against liquid stains, such as wine, juice or oil, allowing them to be easily brushed off or blotted. The property of repellency results from altering the surface tension of the fabric, creating a condition whereby things that would normally absorb into the fabric bead up and roll off instead, says Phrommer.
Real world stain-repellent applications:
Brooks Running uses DuPont Teflon in some of its athletic wear.
J.C. Penney uses 3Ms Scotchgard in its Stafford line of dress shirts.
Nike uses DuPont Teflon in some of its athletic wear.
Spaghetti sauce: Rub me in! Ill still come out.
Soil-release technology, designed to eliminate stains during clothes washing, was developed for stains that are ground into clothing those beyond incidental contact. Think sandbox after a thundershower, or workday at an auto-repair shop.
These technologies were, in fact, first developed to counteract the types of stains common to work wear, such as motor oil and cooking grease. A fast-food worker, [for example], who is working around the fryer, will have more than incidental contact, and will want the ground-in, dirty, greasy stains to come out in the wash, says Phrommer.
Like stain-repellent technology, soil release has forged new ground, expanding beyond blue-collar uniforms to markets such as childrens wear often ground zero for fruit juice and spaghetti sauce.
When something drops, children are going to smash, rub and grind it in, says Nancy Spence of Daikin, a supplier of fluorochemicals for stain-fighting textile applications. But they absolutely are not going to blot it, she quips. As a parent, you want to know that if you put it in the washer, without doing any sort of pre-treatment of your clothes, the stains will release from the product.
Real-world soil-release applications:
Williamson-Dickie uses 3Ms Scotchgard in its work wear.
Lollytogs uses DuPonts Teflon in its French Toast brand of school uniforms.
Target uses Teflon in some of its private label childrens wear.
Khaki pants: Sit on that french fry. I dont care.
Dual-action performance is the newest member of the stain-fighting trifecta. Its one-two punch of repellency and release keeps stains at bay and washes out the persistent ones that dont take kindly to the brush-off.
But stain-repellent does not mean stain-proof, stress suppliers behind the fabric treatments.
Say a child sits on a french fry, says Peter Kjome, 3M. The repellency feature will offer some protection, but grease is still going to get into the clothing, which is where the release feature comes into play, he says.
The technology makes it possible to recover from a messy situation, such as the aforementioned Coke and salad-dressing scenario. Consumers can blot the offending stains and proceed with their day, knowing that the technology is preserving the integrity of their clothes and that they will be able to wash out any remaining stains later at home.
Real-world dual-action applications:
Wal-Mart uses 3Ms dual-action performance in segments of its Faded Glory and George apparel brands.
Dockers Stain Defender line of pants uses DuPonts dual-action Teflon product.
Sears Craftsman brand recently launched an apparel work wear line that uses the Teflon dual-action product.
No one-size-fits-all solution
Suppliers of stain-fighting technologies say that there are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to choosing the most appropriate solution, and that each product must be considered individually.
Its also important to keep in mind that stain-fighting technologies such as Daikins Unidyne, 3Ms Scotchgard and DuPonts Teflon do not represent one chemical formulation, but are brands under whose umbrellas reside a wide range of solutions that can be adapted to the particular needs of the product at hand.
Its about what your consumers want about what will meet their needs in everyday living, says Spence, adding that ongoing research to ascertain those desires is crucial for retailers, brands and suppliers.
To save the trouble, you might ask, why not just put dual-action performance on everything? It seems like a no-brainer, but there are situations in which it is simply unnecessary, and in some cases undesirable, say suppliers. (It also costs more, so its wasteful if you dont need it.) Upholstery, for example, typically is not going to be washed, so it doesnt need the release component; its better off just going with a strict repellent, says Phrommer.
On the flip side, athletes dont expect their uniforms to stay pristine during play think baseball players sliding into home plate but they do want to start the day looking clean. For sportswear, soil release is often the best option.
An example in which dual action would be problematic is in application on fabrics that offer moisture management, such as athletic apparel incorporating DuPonts CoolMax, says Phrommer.
In this case, the stain-repellency feature would counteract the moisture-management properties, i.e., instead of absorbing sweat and wicking it away from the body, a garment treated with a stain repellent would cause sweat to bead up on the body. This would be particularly undesirable for athletic wear, or close-fitting T-shirts, for example.
For this type of scenario, DuPont has developed an ultra release technology that has no repellency. This differs from a typical soil-release formulation, which still contains some repellency, even when it is not a so-called dual-action performer.
Real-world ultra release application:
Tommy Hilfiger is using it in its Stay Clean line of T-shirts.)
Alternatively, some apparel companies are choosing to use dual-sided fabric that maintains absorption on the inside while repelling on the outside, Phrommer says.
Typically, because stain-fighting solutions operate at the nanotechnology level, protecting each fiber rather than coating the fabric, they do not interfere with additional fabric performance features such as wrinkle-free resistance, suppliers say.
Jordan K. Speer is senior editor of Apparel. She can be reached at [email protected].