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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Seeing spots? You're not alone.

By Dick Hirsch

Just recently, I drizzled a couple drops of soup on a pair of pants. It has happened before. I try to be careful, to place the napkin in a strategic location, but the law of averages dictates that a certain amount of soup---or sometimes sauce, gravy or salad dressing---is certain to drop occasionally from the spoon or fork to the lap below.

I try not to tamper with spots. Do it yourself spot removal is tempting, but can make a bad situation worse. So I took the pants to the cleaner a few days later, and I pointed out the soiled area.

“I spilled some soup,” I said, both an admission of a shortcoming and an explanation of the facts of the case.

“What kind was it?” the woman behind the counter asked.

I was startled by that question. I had never before been interrogated by a cleaner about the precise background of a spot that required removal. Usually they merely nod and and write up the ticket. I am embarrassed to report I could not recall the nature of the soup spilled.

“I don’t know,” I replied. “Is it important?”

“Yes, quite important,” she declared. “Can you tell me this: was it a cream soup or a clear soup?”

I was positive it was not a cream soup, but I couldn’t be sure of the identity of the soup. It was either lentil or mushroom barley...or it could have been pea, I told her.

She seemed dissatisfied with my uncertain explanation, but made a few notes on the ticket, handed me my copy, and told me the pants would be ready Saturday. I am pleased to say that the spot was successfully removed. Whether I should attribute that result to the clerk’s investigation or enhanced cleaning techniques I cannot say.

However, that experience made me wonder. Is spot removal becoming a truly professional pursuit? In an attempt to answer that question, I embarked on an Internet search and found over 486,000 locations that purported to offer advice about solving that homely problem. They would surely tell me more than I would ever need (or want) to know about spots and their removal, although it is a specialty that has long interested me. I did browse, finding categories for different types of stains and spots, including grease, chocolate, blood, grass and ink.

There were some 13,900 locations dealing with the removal of mustard spots, one of the most dreaded of all stains. It urged blotting rather than rubbing and warned against the use of any cleaning agent containing ammonia, claiming the ammonia reacts with the tumeric in the mustard to set the stain even more permanently.

I was just a rookie when I discovered that one of the enduring failures of science has been the inability of researchers to discover and develop a satisfactory method for removing a spot from a necktie.

Yes, I understand there are many recommended strategies, but experience has proven to my satisfaction that it is impossible to successfully remove a spot from a tie. Many men try; they usually enlist the help of wives or significant others. Others immediately outsource, seeking professional assistance from a dry cleaner, but the results are always the same.

Typically, the appearance of the spot is definitely modified, but the result is not always an improvement. The density and consistency is reduced but the spot often becomes a larger smear or, on occasion, expands to a smudge.

Depending on the location of the spot, some wearers reserve those disfigured ties to be worn only under a sweater or a vest, a narrow form of damage control. The more definitive step is to discard the tie immediately and try to find another that resembles it. In the days when a suitable silk tie could be acquired for $10 or less that was often considered to be a merely incidental inconvenience. Now, with ties retailing for much more, replacement has become a major capital investment.

Alas, spot removal technology is lagging. Since there seems to be little research currently underway, I cannot offer readers the promise of new developments aimed at solving this recurring problem. Since bibs have long been out of style, I can only offer my sympathies over your past spotty records, hope that you have a steady hand, and urge constant vigilance, especially during the soup course.



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