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The Mystery of the Unknown Spot

April 11, 2006
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One scenario for a positive moment of truth may be when you get the call from the consumer regarding the infamous unknown spot. Fix this for them and you become a hero, but remember, if you agree to attempt the correction, inform the customer that there are no guarantees on satisfactory removal of the spot.

Solving the mystery of the unknown spot will require some detective work and possibly some midnight oil. Where to begin? Start with lots of questions, such as "When did the spot develop? Was it overnight or over a period of time?" "How long has it been there?" "What size and shape is the spot? What color? Where is it located? Is it hard or soft?" What does it smell like? Taste like?" (Here's hoping they can't answer that last one). "What have you used to try to correct it? Did you see any improvement when attempts have been made, or does it just sit there and laugh at you?" "Are there any pets in the home? Children?" "Is it getting worse, getting better, no change?" and so on. Once you have gathered all of the info you can, it's time to plan the attack, load up your gear and saddle up the service vehicle.

If the customer has tried everything they have in the cleaning closet and the medicine chest to remove the spot themselves, it will probably be best to begin by scraping up any solids and dry vacuuming the remainder the of the spot. If it still a mystery spot at this point, the first step should be a thorough clear-water flush - use tepid water, as hot water will set some stains - to remove substances which the customer may have loosened but couldn't extract. One of the biggest challenges to successful home spotting attempts is that the average homeowner will not have the tools to remove loosened spot-causing materials. Their spotting agent may loosen the "stuff" just fine, but blotting is a slow, tedious project, often leading them to quit before the spot is satisfactorily removed.

Keep rinsing until no improvement is visible, then blot with a clean white towel to judge whether the spot is moving. As long as there are traces of the spot coming up on the towel, keep blotting, and then start adding your spotting agents, simple alkaline-side detergents first since acid side will set some stains.

Blot with another clean towel and look again for color transfer into towel. Some agitation may be of value here. Give it the smell test now, for a clue as to whether or not it is a pet stain. If it is a pet stain, use a spotter formulated for removing protein spots; apply liberally, allow proper dwell time, perhaps introduce some more agitation (remember: blot, don't rub), and follow with some more rinsing until no further improvement is being made.

Now it is time to break out the POG, or Paint, Oil, Grease remover. POGs are usually very wet products, so don't overdo it. Agitate, dwell and break out a clean towel to check for color transfer. If you get transfer to the towel, rinse some more and repeat until no improvement is detectable. It is now time for hot water to assist in a thorough rinsing of spot-causing agents and spot-removal agents. Agitate the area with a bone spatula to check for detergent residues. If you get foam on the spatula, more rinsing is required.

Make several dry vacuuming passes to remove as much liquid as possible. If the spot is now satisfactorily removed, quit and get your check. If you have any clean towels left, use one or two as a poultice to absorb anything that wicks up during drying.

If you have followed the steps outlined here, you have addressed detergent and water-soluble soils, pet and protein substances, and grease and oil-based substances. If the spot is still there, it is time to get out the yellow stain removers or the red stain removers, to be used according to package directions. There are no guarantees that following the steps I've listed here will work in every case, but remember: not all spots and stains can be removed. In fact, the definition of a stain is a spot that cannot be removed.

If correction is successful, issue your customer their cheerleading gear. At any rate, good luck. That's all for now, so until next month, see ya!

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