Until recently, encapsulation technology has been all but a novelty, but new advancements in this product sector are proving that the technology is an important part of the modern cleaning program.

Encapsulation solutions can best be described as polymer-based formulas that are applied to hard floors or — more often — carpet.

Rick Gelinas, president of Excellent Supply and Releasit, St. Petersburg, Fla., explains that the crystallizing polymer in encapsulation formulas is an “oil-loving” polymer, which means that it binds easily to oils, dirt, grime and old residues. Encapsulating formulas come in the form of shampoo-type products, pre-spray rinses and spot cleaners, Gelinas says.

Products containing an encapsulation polymer are also available in bonnet shampoos, dry foam shampoos, traffic lane pre-sprays and in spotters, adds Curtis Gregg, brand manager at National Chemical Laboratories, Philadelphia.

No matter how much cleaning potential a product has, it needs to be used properly to achieve the desired result. Most distributors say that agitation of the solution into the fibers and down to the floor is essential.

When you agitate the carpet, dirt particles are broken into tiny pieces, which enables the encapsulation solution to do its job, explains Mark Kling, vice president of sales and marketing for DSC Products, Muskegon, Mich.

He says the small pieces attract each other, and, ultimately, the encapsulation solution.

“As the solution dries, it encapsulates the dirt,” Kling explains. “It will harden and crack and form crystals that are removable by general vacuuming or pile lifting.”

Another benefit of encapsulation is that it doesn’t leave a residue, or if it does, it is a beneficial residue that resists stains; this is much different than many other types of carpet cleaning chemicals that may leave a deleterious residue.

Encapsulation Evolution
Encapsulation technology is not new; it has been around for a good 15 to 20 years. However, advances in the polymer field have enabled manufacturers to create a product that performs vastly better than its predecessors.

“It was mainly on the back burner because nobody really understood it,” says Gelinas. “The fact that polymer technology has changed pretty drastically has given us the ability to encapsulate better.”

Encapsulation evolved from carpet soaps that were notorious for causing resoiling of carpets, says Mark Warner, national sales manager for The Bullen Cos., Inc., and brand manager for Clausen Carpet Solutions, Folcroft, Pa.

There have been several modifications to the technology that have served as the basis for today’s encapsulator. Warner says these advancements include:

• The addition of a compound known as Ludox. This filled the grooves within fibers to prevent soiling. While that was an improvement, it caused other problems, such as interfering with the carpet’s ability to refract light, resulting in unattractive carpets.

• The development of detergent encapsulation that used butyl as an active solvent, in order to enhance the rinsability of the cleaning chemical. It was an improvement, but still led to resoiling.

• In the 1980s, chemists began addressing the resoiling problem by adding acrylic co-polymers — similar to those in floor finish. This allowed the solutions to dry to a crystalline material for easier vacuuming. It was a vast improvement over previous products, but it also led to problems such as residue, and the inability to remove product without using a stripper.

• About 10 years ago, fluorocarbon chemistry was introduced, which left a “Teflon-like” substance on the fiber which allowed dirt and soil to slide off of the fiber.

This “second generation” of encapsulation concerned the government because of the long-term health effects of fluorocarbons. It also attracted moisture from the atmosphere, which made the carpet feel slimy or greasy.

• Over the past couple of years, a “third generation” of encapsulation has emerged that uses entirely new solvents and surfactants that dry down into a powder on their own, without the need for other additives such as acrylic copolymer embrittlement agents.

“They literally strip all the soil and old residue off the carpet fiber, leaving the fiber residue-free, much like the carpet fiber was when it was new … and we all know how easy it is to vacuum soil out of new carpeting,” says Warner.

Utilization Of The Product
There are several applications well suited to encapsulation, and as the technology advances, encapsulation’s role in cleaning programs is changing. One of the biggest benefits of encapsulation is expedited dry time.

Bob Gorsky, market channel manager for corporate accounts for Windsor Industries, Englewood, Colo., says hot water extraction can be a lengthy process because of dry times.

“With encapsulation, in about 20 minutes the carpet is dry and people can walk on it,” he says. Several facility types benefit from encapsulation, including hotels, schools, hospitals, airports and other very busy facilities.

“These places want to keep their carpet clean, groomed and protected, but at the same time, they don’t have the time to put somebody out there with an extractor unless it’s late at night.”

Gregg also says the more water that is used, the more negatively indoor air quality is affected since it must all evaporate. Less water also means less chance for “wicking” or re-appearance of stains pulled up from the backing material. Finally, Gregg says low moisture cleaning can lengthen the time between cleanings, thus lengthening the life of the carpet.

Tom Cochran, president of Misco Product Corp.’s Majestic division, Reading Pa., says quick dry times absolutely can help the health of a facility’s occupants. Mildew can begin growing within four hours when a carpet is wet.

Encapsulation is seen as an alternative to hot water extraction, but manufacturers agree: there is a need for both types of cleaning.

“When we go to a distributor or they go to an end user, we give them the tools to show them that this particular process will help them keep the carpet clean and groomed and protected, and keep it looking good ... until they get to the time where they can deep extract,” says Gorsky.

By all accounts, encapsulating products will have a profound impact on the way people clean. For example, Gelinas says when the shampoo encapsulation method first came out, it was used for interim cleaning between hot water extraction cleanings. Today, some facilities that have implemented encapsulation have cut the frequency of hot water extraction.

“I have a lot of New York state using encapsulation for maintenance cleaning right now, especially in the central state area — hospitals, airports, hotels, convention centers,” says Gorsky. “It’s very easy to do and it’s hard for anyone to mess it up. It really can be used for many environments, systems and methods.”

One of the best things about encapsulators is the versatility in application and removal of the product, says Cochran. “There are many different ways you can spray it on the carpet and agitate it in, or you can put it in and extract it,” he says. “You can use it almost any way you want to use it.”

Additional Uses
While encapsulation is effective as part of a regular maintenance program and for everyday spills, it is also helpful in cleaning up substances that are potentially hazardous. Les Brodie, CDC Products, New York, explains that his products can help clean up spills such as spaghetti sauce, but they are also suited to cleaning up blood and urine. “It encapsulates these substances by separating the bacteria from its food source so it dies in an encapsulated state and is easier to clean up,” says Brodie.

In addition to using the products for hazardous spill clean-up, other companies use the technology to rid facilities of odor. Luke Bobek, marketing project manager for Chase Products Co., Broadview, Ill., uses an odor encapsulating compound, (which is supplied by Belle-Aire Fragrances, Mundelein, Ill.) in its aerosol products, air fresheners, metered air fresheners, carpet spot removers, rug and upholstery cleaners and carpet refreshers.

Essentially, the deodorizing compound found in these products traps and eliminates malodor by reducing the effect the offensive odor has on humans’ olfactory perception.

“Using products with odor encapsulators reduces the chance of cleaning the same spill multiple times,” explains Bobek.

Encapsulation is typically used as a cleaner or a spotter, but Warner foresees even more uses for this polymer-based product.

“I think that it could get incorporated into carpet sanitizers, which would be a remarkable move forward,” says Warner. “Carpet sanitizers are generally one of the biggest culprits of residues just because the disinfectant chemical that’s in it tends to dry sticky and not dry out well.”

Making Cents
To be truly viable, cleaning innovations must make financial sense — encapsulators do that, manufacturers say.

“The issue has been that this chemical is definitely more expensive than traditional chemistry,” says Warner. “The big question is, as my dad used to say, ‘Is the juice worth the squeeze?’ Well, in the case of carpet care, it was really obvious that encapsulation was necessary and people jumped at it because of the issues related to resoiling of carpets.”

While the upfront cost of the chemical may be more, it’s worth it. The biggest savings come from the efficiencies provided by encapsulation.

“You can do an encapsulation treatment in the morning before school starts, or before the hospital or nursing home or other facility opens, which is a big time-saver,” says Cochran.

Kling cites studies showing that encapsulation can clean up to 5,000 square feet per hour, though he thinks it is realistically closer to 3,000 square feet per hour, depending on the area and what machine is used. The chemical typically stretches for anywhere between 500 to 1,000 square feet per gallon, depending on the type of carpet and that saturation point.

There are other ways encapsulation saves money, besides the time/cost benefits. Brodie explains that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has blood-borne pathogen rules that require any company with more than five employees to have some way of cleaning a potentially hazardous situation. Encapsulation can do that, protecting companies from non-compliance fines.

Facilities can also benefit from the use of encapsulation technology because it improves indoor air quality, therefore improving worker attendance and productivity, Gregg adds.

While the immediate benefits of encapsulation are evident, it is also a useful tool in preventing future damage to carpets.

“Carpets are typically going to stay clean about 50 percent longer,” says Gelinas. “You can come in with a good encapsulation program on a carpet that has kind of bottomed out and it begins to get easier and easier to maintain because the polymer there is working with you instead of against you.”

Get What You Pay For
Not sure if your product’s claims are legit? Here are some hints on how to make sure you are selling a true encapsulation solution:

Take a simple test. Put a tablespoon of any product into a saucer, leave it to dry overnight and see what you have the next day, says Rick Gelinas, president of Excellent Supply and Releasit, St. Petersburg, Fla. “If it dries brittle, it’s an encapsulator,” he explains.

There are some products on the market that “dry like Smuckers jelly,” Gelinas says, and encapsulation will not occur. These products only add detergent residues — they don’t provide a way to remove soil from the carpet, he says.

Mark Warner, national sales manager for The Bullen Cos., Inc., and brand manager for Clausen Carpet Solutions, Folcroft, Pa., suggests another testing method: pour half an ounce of water into a jar lid, and a half ounce of any carpet cleaning chemical into another, and an encapsulation formula into a third lid.

Through the evaporation process, water will generally dry the fastest, followed by the more advanced encapsulators, while many of the traditional carpet chemicals will look like a gelatin.

“After two to three days, feel the residues with your finger. Many will be so sticky that you’ll be able to lift the tray,” says Warner. “Those samples are exhibiting extreme re-soiling characteristics.”

The second test Warner uses is to find a highly soiled, yet hidden spot — the driver’s side mat of a car serves this purpose — where you can apply raw chemical. Agitate it a bit, but do not blot it out.

“After about a week, check that spot,” Warner says. “One might expect to see a dark, black spot that has developed from soil adhering to the residues. A true, state-of-the-art, third-generation encapsulation chemical will remain clean, truly demonstrating how new and unique this chemistry is.”

Warner’s final test: thoroughly clean a high-traffic area using traditional cleaning chemicals. Then, clean a good sized portion of that area again with a third generation encapsulator and wait about a week.

“You’ll begin to see that area remains cleaner than the rest, truly demonstrating that it is releasing soils faster and more freely than the area around it,” explains Warner. — L.G.

Play Up The Benefits Of Encapsulation Technology
Remember a few key characteristics of encapsulation when discussing the technology with customers.

• Ask customers if they have a way to clean up potentially dangerous liquids such as blood, says Les Brodie, owner of CDC Products, New York. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements dictate that companies must have a method for cleaning hazardous spills.

• Focus on the low moisture aspect of the product, says Mark Kling, vice president of sales and marketing for DSC Products, Muskegon, Mich. The fast drying times all but eliminate the growth of mold and mildew. Ease of use and cost savings associated with encapsulators are also big selling points.

• Promote the fact that encapsulation doesn’t overwet carpet, says Tom Cochran, president of Misco Product Corp.’s Majestic division, Reading Pa. He also reiterates the sheer ease of use. “It encapsulates all the soil, dries to a crystal and you vacuum it out,” he says. “It’s a very simple process, not difficult at all.”

• A simple side-by-side demonstration comparing dried samples of a standard carpet cleaner to an encapsulating cleaner will show how encapsulation reduces the chance for re-soiling, says Curtis Gregg, brand manager at National Chemical Laboratories, Philadelphia.

It also saves time and labor, improves indoor air quality and lengthens the life of the carpet, he says. — L.G.