The president of the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) says questions raised in a recently-published white paper critical of CRI's signature Seal of Approval (SOA) testing and certification program for carpet cleaning products have long since been addressed and resolved. Vigorously defending the SOA program, CRI President Werner Braun said, "The Seal of Approval program has raised the standard of carpet cleaning, which has led to better cleaning products on the market and higher customer satisfaction overall."

The paper, titled, "Discussion Regarding a Novel Method: The Use of X-Ray Fluorescence for Quantitative Analysis of Elements in Carpet", was produced and paid for by Racine Industries, a longtime critic of the SOA program. The document specifically targets components of the SOA testing that use X-Ray Fluorescence, or XRF, to identify and measure carpet soil removal in vacuums and extractors. XRF imaging was originally developed and used by NASA as part of the Space Shuttle program. According to Braun, the Racine paper rehashes old information and raises meaningless questions.

"There is nothing [in the document] that has not been addressed either before or since the SOA program was introduced at NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center in the Fall of 2004," Braun said. "It is disappointing to see questions listed as unanswered when we have, in fact, answered Racine Industries on multiple occasions in writing."

The following Carpet and Rug Institute responses address concerns expressed in the Racine report:

Will an independent validation study be planned and completed?
At this time, an independent validation study has been completed and the scientific paper is undergoing peer review prior to publication. It is important to note that the SOA Program was developed in a collaborative effort with significant input from the carpet cleaning community. In fact, the workgroup tasked with developing the Seal of Approval protocol for CRI's Cleaning and Maintenance Issues Management Team included a majority of cleaning professionals and manufacturers.

Will a protocol be released?
The protocols for the SOA, like the protocols for all of CRI's signature programs, were released over five years ago and have always been available on the CRI website. It is ironic that, although Racine Industries firmly states that the SOA protocols are misguided, they also report that they have never seen them. Which scenario represents the truth?

Will the reported concentrations of the compounds be reproducible outside of the one licensed laboratory performing this method?
The CRI protocol is readily available to any laboratory, and CRI has repeatedly stated its desire for other laboratories to undergo certification to perform XRF testing. To date, Professional Testing Laboratory is the only facility that has invested in the necessary equipment and expertise to conduct the testing, but that situation is now and has always been open to change.

Will a determination of relevance be conducted to see if the laboratory-generated results actually apply to the field?

This also has been done - repeatedly, in fact. First, CRI and Professional Testing validated the use of NASA-designer soil in the SOA protocols. Soil-filled vacuum cleaner bags were collected from locations across the United States. After comparison testing, the NASA-designed soil was found to be consistent with the various soil samples collected.

Next, CRI has performed numerous "real-world" tests of SOA-certified cleaning products and systems and has consistently found that even extremely soiled carpet can be brought back to its original beauty through the use of SOA products. A video of one particularly impressive field demonstration conducted at the Jet Stream Grill Restaurant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, can be viewed online. Numerous other examples of SOA "Success Stories" can be accessed through the CRI Blog, and are featured in CRI materials in print.

Finally, correlation studies between XRF and the previously-used gravimetrical measuring methods were also conducted that showed the two methods produced correlated results. "XRF testing is vastly superior due to its great precision. XRF has also allowed vacuum cleaner manufacturers to significantly improve vacuum performance, which in turn has resulted in greater customer satisfaction," said Braun.

Will accuracy and bias be determined and published if not improved?
CRI will likely run a cooperative study as soon as another laboratory joins the SOA program. For its part, Professional Testing has consistently opened its doors to any party interested in observing the SOA testing process. In addition, it has always been CRI's desire and hope that additional laboratories will earn third-party certification for the SOA program.

CRI is an ANSI-accredited product certifying body and has placed the SOA/Green Label vacuum cleaner program, which uses XRF testing, under the ANSI umbrella. According to ANSI, a certification body is "an impartial third party that tests and evaluates a product to determine its compliance with relevant standards." ANSI provides diligent oversight of the CRI protocols and testing procedures, and conducts comprehensive audits of both CRI and the laboratory on an annual basis.

Another argument put forth in the Racine Industries white paper contends that the use of XRF technology ignores the impact of customer and field testing and relies solely on laboratory-generated data, when in fact, the entire SOA program came about in response to consumer feedback. In the years leading up to the development of SOA, CRI conducted multiple surveys that showed both residential and commercial customers' top concern across all market segments was the inability to clean and maintain carpet satisfactorily.

"CRI has a policy of listening not only to what consumers say, but also to what professionals on the front lines of the cleaning industry tell us as well. Since Racine Industries' attack on CRI's SOA program went public, we have heard nothing but support from SOA Program participants who continue to use the seal as a way to differentiate themselves as superior performers," Braun said. "The Seal of Approval program pays tribute to the idea that if you can measure something, you can improve it."

As an example, Braun points to CRI's addition this year of a Platinum level of performance for cleaning systems and extractors. To qualify for Platinum-level certification, 90 percent of soil must be removed. Already, 18 systems have achieved Platinum status. They are listed, along with all the other SOA-approved products, on the CRI website.

In summary, Braun says that one of CRI's primary goals is to ensure that consumers enjoy their carpet experience, recognizing that proper cleaning and maintenance is a big part of that enjoyment. CRI lists these things as vital to the proper care and maintenance of carpet: good products, effective equipment, well-trained technicians and a schedule of regular maintenance. "The Seal of Approval program recognizes that even the best piece of equipment will likely not be as effective in the hands of an untrained technician. That is why we include a membership program for qualified Service Providers as part of SOA. In terms of accessing the best cleaning professionals, and particularly in regard to what products and equipment work best when used according to manufacturers' directions, the Seal of Approval program is invaluable, and without peer in the flooring industry. I stand behind it 100 percent," said Braun.

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