Spotting Tools and Equipment

Spotting kits make quite an impression on customers and, even if you know little about actual spotting techniques, the customer will have the impression that you are a true professional simply by virtue of the equipment you use - or at least, until you start to use that professional looking equipment in an unprofessional manner! The more elaborate your spotting kit, the more impressive to the customer.

Interestingly, most professional spotting kits in this industry contain basically the same equipment, chemicals and supplies, regardless of complication or expense. Usually, they include:

  1. Carrying Tray. There are a number of items you need to carry in your spotting kit, and for this reason a carrying tray is required to keep them all together. The height of non-productivity and un-professionalism is technicians who enter homes or businesses with their arms loaded with bottles and brushes, and with rumpled rags sticking out of every pocket. Again, a well-designed carrying tray solves this problem.

    Professional technicians prefer the solid-bottom, molded plastic trays that are available from specialized fabric cleaning suppliers. Indeed, these trays offer several advantages. Multiple compartments enable you to separate your chemicals into as many categories as necessary, to include: dry solvents, water-based spotters, digesters, rust removers and special agents. That should leave plenty of room for spotting accessories. In addition, the contents of leaking bottles will be confined to the bottom of the tray - not all over the customer's furnishings where irreversible damage might take place.

    Most of today's kits have a lid with latches, which adds a margin of safety with only a little extra expense. But regardless of whether your spotting kit can be closed or not, never allow children access to it at any time. When small children are present on the job site, it is highly recommended that the spotting kit be returned to a secure location on the work van immediately after use.

  2. Towels. Technicians should take a close, critical look at their supplies from the customer's viewpoint. If you have a source of clean, white towels, fine. However, if like many cleaners you're still using old undershirts or diapers that have been stained in previous spotting procedures (even if washed so that they are clean, though stained), it's time to get honest about the impression you're making on your customer. Most professionals eventually turn to a linen rental or paper supply company for a quantity of terry cloth bar towels or heavy-gauge paper towels to use in spotting procedures. This impresses customers and provides more accurate results, while avoiding cross contamination of chemicals. After all, who can observe for subtle transfers of foreign matter with an already dirty towel?

  3. Tamping Brush. Various types are available from professional suppliers. Generally, they should be made of white, nylon bristles of medium stiffness. Some professionals even advocate using two different brushes in their spotting procedures: a white bristled brush for water-based spotting and a black bristled brush for use with dry solvents. This is far more important to the dry cleaner who is processing highly sensitive, delicate fabrics than to the carpet or upholstery cleaner who deals with much more durable goods. In all probability a single, white nylon-bristled tamping brush will be all that's needed. The white bristles let you observe for prior contamination before starting on another spot - assuming you keep it clean.

    The brush should, as the name implies, always be used in an up-and-down tamping motion - never for scrubbing back and forth. Scrubbing distorts face yarns, while spreading (and diluting) spotting agents and also spreading staining materials so that previously unstained areas are now contaminated. Tamping, on the other hand, doesn't distort the nap, and it keeps both spotting agent and staining matter localized.

  4. Spatula (bone, plastic, stainless; not a "scraper" - you never "scrape" your customer's delicate fibers and fabrics!). The spatula is the mark of a true professional. It is used in several activities: the point is used to break up crusty materials; the edge is used to keep spotting agents within the confines of the spot, and the blunt end is used for gentle agitation when needed. The original spatula was made of whalebone, but today it usually is made of chemically inert plastic (it doesn't react with common spotters or staining materials). Its use will avoid a lot of often painful wear and tear on your fingers.
  5. Duckbill Shears. These are scissors specifically for use on carpet yarns, and which also work well on pilling on upholstery fabrics. They are extremely useful in clipping the permanently stained or singed tips of carpet yarns - cigarette burns, yarns melted by fireplace ashes - and for obtaining yarns from corner or edge areas (inside zippers on upholstery) with which to conduct fiber identification (burn) tests.

  6. Spotting Bottles. Eight-ounce plastic bottles with flip-top or twist-open applicator spouts are recommended. You should never pour spotting agents onto a spot. This is an expensive waste of chemical and can be destructive to other fabric construction components. Rather, you should drip-apply only enough chemical to do the job, i.e. to saturate affected face yarns only. This application procedure is best controlled through the use of these spotting bottles with the flip-top or twist-open spout.

    Many professionals would argue that glass bottles are the only containers appropriate for dry solvent spotters, because of the solvent's effects on plastic over a prolonged period. This is a difficult point to dispute; however, even glass bottles have plastic caps that will crack and become defective in time, and heaven help you if you allow water-based spotters to freeze in glass bottles! Plastic bottles, by way of contrast, are inexpensively replaced as technicians observe the need to do so. Today, most are made of solvent resistant plastics. Furthermore, the potential for larger spills, along with shattered glass, isn't as great.

    Spotting bottles must be clearly labeled at all times. Most spotting agents are relatively clear in color (like water), and without consulting labels, it is virtually impossible to tell an acid spotter, for example, from a volatile dry solvent. It is strongly recommended that labels of different colors be used to differentiate dry solvent spotters from water-based agents. That, combined with separate placement in your carrying tray, should eliminate the possibility of mix up. The labels supplied by product manufacturers must be present and readable. They not only contain the name of the product, along with directions for mixing and use, but they also contain required "signal words," hazard warnings and first aid instructions - all of which are required by health and safety laws. When labels become obscure, contact your supplier to order replacements. Of course, MSDSs are required on the job site for any chemical used, including spotters. This is a legal requirement that's of great practical value as well.

  7. pH Test Kit. Supposedly, this indicator (litmus) paper enables you to determine whether a spot, having been saturated with distilled water, is acid or alkaline. The idea is for you to use a spotter of the opposite pH to neutralize the spot and, thereby, facilitate its removal.

    Used for this purpose, you will waste a lot of time - and pH test paper - so forget it, except when unusually nosy customers are looking over your shoulder and you're trying to impress them! The truth is that many spotting agents contain volatile alkaline (ammonia) or acid (acetic) compounds. By the time you get around to testing for pH, you'll get little or no reading at all. pH paper does serve a very useful purpose when testing spotting and staining matter in liquid form. This gives you some idea of how it (the foreign substance) might have affected fibers or dyes when the spill occurred. Thus, it should result in a more accurate decision as to what agents to use to get the foreign substance (the spot) out.

    pH paper has some ability to help us determine the pH and, to some extent, the strength of various cleaning and spot removal agents we may be thinking about using. Besides, a pH test kit included in our spotting kit impresses overly curious customers to no end.

  8. Trigger Spray Bottles. Quality, plastic, trigger spray bottles (22 ounce to 32 ounce) enable you to more efficiently treat spots where relatively large areas are involved. They also may be particularly useful in applying, accelerating and neutralizing certain bleaches in areas of general contamination. Ensure proper labeling of bottle contents.

  9. Cotton Swabs. These are especially useful when applying small quantities of chemicals, such as rust remover, peroxide or chlorine bleach, to a confined area (perhaps even a few tufts). Keep them in a sealable plastic sandwich bag in order to avoid exposure to moisture or other contaminants.

  10. Pipettes. An eye-dropper or pipette is used for pin-point application of spotters, specifically, reducers or bleaches on color-added spots.

Since the spotting kit is routinely brought in on each job, many technicians will fill any "left over" space in their spotting kit with furniture tabs and blocks. No problem; as long as they don't fail to include necessary spotting chemicals and supplies, and as long as they keep things clean and organized.

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