Would an household all-purpose cleaner ruin a suit?
August 30, 2009 7:38 AM   Subscribe

Would an household all-purpose cleaner ruin a suit?

To my dismay someone tried to remove some stains from my suit using an all-purpose cleaner (for bathroom, sinks, kitchen, etc), and claimed that it worked on his own clothing without any damage.

My common sense tells me that the liquid would be too harsh on clothing and may be bad for it in the medium-long term.

What are your thoughts? Is it possible to repair any damage that was caused?

The suit is shiny blue made from wool and appears to look like it is in very good condition.
posted by gttommy to Science & Nature (6 answers total)
Chlorine, or chlorite, which are common active agent for bleaching and sanitizing in many bathroom cleaners, is very destructive to some dyes used with wool, and, at high concentration, to wool itself. Raw wool is often treated with chlorine, to reduce felting properties of the wool fibers, and make the wool fibers accept dye better. But the process is carefully controlled, and uses a low concentration of chlorine, and is finished with effective rinsing and neutralization to stop the process before major damage is done to the fiber.

You'll have to see the result, but I doubt you'll be pleased in the long run. Your friend may have used a bathroom cleaner on clothing made of some synthetic fiber without much damage, but on 100% worsted wool (common suit fabric)? Generally, bad news. Even if it didn't cause immediate visible deterioration of the color of the fabric, it still could have weakened the fiber significantly, so that you get pilling and breakage of the fiber in the treated areas, before wear appears elsewhere on the garment. Particularly problematic for a suit, if the treated areas were in wear points like trouser seat, knees, fly, or cuffs.

You can try to have damaged fiber replaced from selvage edges like the hems of trousers, or the seat seam allowance, through a process called reweaving, but that is a time consuming process for skilled workers, who generally do it at home, under contract with local dry cleaners. If you have many damaged areas, or the damaged areas are large, more time is required to reweave, and the cost is liable to exceed the value of the suit. Reweaved fabric may also not be as strong as the original. It's a good technique for repairing small tears, cigarette burns, etc., but it is not intended for major garment repair.
posted by paulsc at 8:04 AM on August 30, 2009

Does it look damaged where he used the cleaner? What does the damage look like? Wool is a lot more resilient than you might think, so if it looks okay it's probably going to be fine. You might want to get it dry cleaned to remove any residue though.
posted by apricot at 8:05 AM on August 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Have you had it cleaned since? If it's still shiny and still blue I'd say it was OK since I suspect that damage to small to be detected if you were looking at individual threads would make it less shiny. Wool itself is pretty durable. My concern would be for the dye, and I think that's going to be screamingly obvious kind of thing.

If it was an ammonia based cleaner, it's very possible that ammonia was the mordant used to set the dye in the first place. Back in the middle ages when urine was THE industrial chemical.... Well, let's just be thankful for the Haber Process, eh.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 8:21 AM on August 30, 2009

What was the cleaner? Anything with bleach is likely to cause damage. Something without bleach, like windex, is not recommended, but probably not ruinous if used once.

My Mom thought lighter fluid was the ultimate cleaner (and it works on some things) but she was notorious for ruining clothes.
posted by theora55 at 9:14 AM on August 30, 2009

Did the person who removed the stains adequately flush the cleaner from the fabric? It might be just fine, but have no idea what will happen the next time you have the suit dry cleaner, i.e., whether there will be a reaction between any cleaner residue and the dry cleaning chemicals. I'd sponge on water, pat/towel it off a couple of times. Cold water shouldn't hurt wool, esp if you're not drenching it. BTW, pure wool doesn't usually shine unless it's been pressed incorrectly, so I suspect it's a blend/hard twist fiber.
posted by x46 at 9:05 PM on August 30, 2009

Thanks for the responses, they were all helpful!
posted by gttommy at 7:51 PM on August 31, 2009

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