Washing suedes and leathers

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Source: May 2009 at natclo.com

A growing concern for the environment has spurred the search for more environmentally friendly methods of cleaning suedes and leathers.

The result was the development of the wetcleaning process which has been called the ultimate processing method for cleaning suedes and leathers.

Wetcleaning is the industry term used to describe washing or laundering drycleanable articles using water as the cleaning fluid and additives like water soluble detergents, conditioners and auxiliary treatments like dye setting and sizing.

Washing suedes and leathers

Washing suedes and leathers can be found in the processes performed in tanneries where the skins of animals are made into leather. Washing the skins in water is used extensively throughout the tanning process which starts with washing the salt-cured, blood-soaked skins after they arrive at the tannery from the slaughterhouses; continues throughout the tanning process with treatments that use water as the liquid carrying agent for the tanning chemicals and dyes as well as for rinsing them out; and ends with a fine spray of water on the leather to establish the final desired moisture level in the skins.

In more developed countries like the United States, wetcleaning of suedes and leathers was not used to process all items because drying was time consuming compared to modern high production-oriented leather drycleaning operations. In less developed countries, wetcleaning of suedes and leathers was quite common because these nations did not possess the capital, technology, machinery, solvents or chemicals for modern, efficient, high-quality leather drycleaning.

However the advent of modern wetcleaning products and equipment enables leather cleaners to meet environmental concerns and wetclean suedes and leathers safely and efficiently.

Wetcleaning can be especially advantageous where items with water-soluble stains caused by blood, vomit or milk products that have soaked into the suedes or leathers. It is also better for wetcleaning distressed leathers and items trimmed with vinyl. Wetcleaning these items could be the only way to safely clean and restore them to a usable condition.

Wetcleaning equipment

Suede and leather wetcleaning equipment can be as simple as a bucket, a sink, a tub or some other type of of container. It can be done in a simple washing machine like a small home washer if volume is not too great.

A home washer can wetclean four to 12 suedes or leathers an hour. It can also be done in larger standard commercial laundry washers for greater output. Or it can be done in modern wetcleaning machines equipped with washing cycle programs that control drum rotation, mechanical agitation, timing of multiple cycles, water temperature, water level injection of additives, extraction speeds and duration, etc.

In most cases, the cycles of these machines can be custom programmed in accordance with information from the detergent and additive manufacturers. Wetcleaned items can be dried by hanging to dry in the air or by tumbling in a cool tumbler or by using a special dryer that can be programmed to sense and control moisture level and temperature.

An existing washer can be used to start wetcleaning suede and leather. Drying can be accomplished by hanging or tumbling in a cool tumbler. The home washer will do if no other wetcleaning equipment is available. Or the shirt laundry washer can be used if it is available. One or two pieces of old suede or leather can be wetcleaned to build confidence. From there it is off to the races!

Wetcleaning additives

The additives used to wetclean suedes and leathers must be biodegradable, non-hazardous, non-flammable and non-solvent in order to meet government regulations when the used wash water is dumped into existing sewer systems.

In addition, they must be able to restore suede and leather to its original softness, without glue bleed problems, without shrinkage, without color loss, without color bleed on multicolored items and on cloth, suede, leather or vinyl combinations.

The most essential additives required to safely wetclean suedes and leathers are the prewash dye fixer, the main wash detergent conditioner and the prefinish rinse conditioner.

The most important additives are the detergent and the conditioner used in the main wash cycle. The detergent is used to remove and suspend stains and water soluble soils and to prevent them from redepositing on the items being wetcleaned. It must be effective in cold or warm water.

The purpose of the conditioner is to to prevent color loss and bleeding of the dyes and to retain the softness of the skins during the main wash cycle. The ideal situation is achieved when these two additives are combined into a single product such as Royaltone’s Prosuede Wet.

The next most important additive required to wetclean suedes and leathers is the prefinish softener conditioner rinse. The purpose of this additive is to provide added softness on the final rinse cycle that will aid in press finishing. These conditions can be achieved with a product such as Royaltone’s Leather Soft.

The next important additive required to wetclean suedes and leathers is a prewash dye fixer. The purpose of this additive is to set dyes that testing indicates are water soluble. This can be accomplished with a product like Royaltone’s Leather Fix.

Other additives that are also useful include a sizing like Royaltone’s Leather Size, which will restore body and firmness to suede and leather items that become limp because they contain water soluble sizing which is removed in the wetcleaning process.

Removing stains

While most water soluble stains can be removed from suedes and leathers in wetcleaning, some prespotting may be necessary with a biodegradable wetcleaning prespotter like Royaltone’s Leather Magic. Oily solvent soluble stains such as paint, oil, grease, etc., must be removed with a non-oily POG stain remover like Royaltone’s Spot Magic prior to wetcleaning any suede or leather. The non-oily POG will flush out in the wetcleaning without leaving an oily ring.

Likewise ink stains must be removed with a non-oily ink remover like Royaltone’s Ink Magic prior to wetcleaning.

Getting started

To start wetcleaning suedes and leathers in an existing washer, these additives are available in an inexpensive trial kit from Royaltone that comes with step-by-step written and audio cassette instructions.

Source: May 2009 at natclo.com, Frank Lucent

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