Carpet Care: Breaking Down Carpet Chemicals
Cleaning a carpet requires a combination of equipment and chemicals. While machines are the high-price items, jan/san distributors should remember that all of those bottles of cleaner can also add up to big sales.
“You address carpet care with almost every customer,” says Ed Hildreth, co-owner of Sound Janitorial Supply in Tumwater, Wash. “Probably 80 percent of customers have carpets and even if they don’t have carpets, they have walk-off mats that need to be maintained.”
To make the most of carpet-care chemical sales, distributors must help their customers sort through the overabundance of available products. From spotters and deodorants to absorbent powders and neutralizers, there are several categories of carpet-care products and within each type there are multiple brands and variations.
“Sometimes one of our biggest issues in this industry is we offer too many options and it makes it difficult for people to choose,” says Larry Johnson, product manager for S. Freedman & Sons in Landover, Md.
Most facilities need only a few basic chemicals to clean carpets well. To determine which are necessary for a customer’s needs, a distributor should start with an on-site evaluation. Although carpet type and traffic patterns are important, the most important thing to assess during the visit is what cleaning method is used.
Frequent vacuuming is great for preventative care, but to extend a carpet’s life, it must also be spot treated as well as deep cleaned using chemicals on a periodic basis.
The most common carpet-maintenance methods are dry, bonnet, encapsulation and extraction. Understanding which of these methods a customer prefers is key to helping them choose the right chemicals.
There are two basic types of dry carpet care, each of which include minimal amounts of water. The first involves sprinkling an absorbent compound (containing solvent, detergent and a small amount of water) over the carpet and then agitating it with a brush. The cleaner attaches to soil particles, which are later removed by vacuuming. The second method uses a detergent that is whipped into foam, worked into the carpet and then picked up by wet vacuuming.
With no drying time necessary, dry cleaning was once a popular method for cleaning high-traffic areas. The method seems to be losing favor in part because of problems with the powder reappearing after extraction.
“We still have one or two dry compounds but they’re not big for us,” says William Hanson, director for sales for Quaker City Paper Company, York, Pa. “That’s end-user driven because the majority of our customers no longer use it.”
One reason for dry cleaning’s demise may be encapsulation — a new technology that dries very quickly and leaves behind little or no residue. Users spray a crystallizing polymer onto the carpet using a pump-up sprayer or handheld bottle and then agitate it using a mechanical brush.
As the solution dries (in as little as 15 minutes) it encapsulates the dirt, forming crystals that are removable by vacuuming or pile lifting at a later time. Because the area can be re-opened to traffic in a matter of minutes, encapsulation is catching on with busy facilities, such as airports, hospitals and hotels.
The biggest downside to encapsulation is it requires facilities to purchase new equipment and chemicals.
“So far it seems like it is sold as a package — the manufacturers who have the equipment to do this are also the ones that have the chemical,” Hanson says. “When it comes to encapsulation, our experience is customers purchase the chemicals to match the machine.”
In this method, a pad or “bonnet” is attached to a low-speed floor machine, which scrubs the carpet. A bonnet cleaning solution (or spot treatment) is either sprayed on the floor before scrubbing or the bonnet is immersed in the liquid before being put on the machine. When the bonnet is filled with soil it can be washed out and reused. Bonnets are typically made of cotton or rayon but many people believe new microfiber versions are more effective.
This tried-and-true method remains popular because it is easy and inexpensive (most facilities already have the necessary equipment). However, bonnet cleaning has come under fire recently because critics say it is only a surface treatment and can leave soil and/or cleaner in the carpet. It can also flatten or damage carpet fibers.
“Bonnet cleaning is first aid for a carpet,” says Ed Corr, president of Corr Distributors Inc., Tonawanda, N.Y. “It can be effective for maintenance as long as the customer is aware that at some point they will need to extract.”
Another common method for spot cleaning and interim maintenance is a low-moisture extraction system. Instead of pads, these machines agitate the chemicals using dual brushes, which are easier on carpet fibers and don’t need to be changed. The cleaning solution dries to a crystallized residue that is then removed by vacuuming.
For deep, restorative cleaning, which should happen several times a year or more, the best method is hot-water extraction. The extractor mixes hot water with a cleaning solution that is injected into the carpet. The soiled mixture is then extracted right away.
Every major chemical manufacturer offers several extraction chemicals, including varieties that dilute at different ratios and others that include sanitizer. Some distributors recommend putting the chemicals directly into the extraction machine while others prefer spraying the solution onto the carpet and then using a neutralizer in the machine.
“The source of most re-soiling problems is not rinsing the carpet properly,” Corr says. “You can put a lot of chemical into a carpet but if you don’t neutralize it and get it out, it doesn’t do any good.”
In addition to the chemicals required for the standard cleaning methods, there are several other types of carpet-care products.
It’s important to pre-treat stains before cleaning the entire carpet. Chemicals don’t work instantly and breaking down heavy soils requires a longer dwell time than is typically allowed when using a traditional cleaner and machine. A spotter is sprayed on a specific stain, agitated and then blotted using a color-safe cloth before the carpet can be cleaned.
Spotters are available in liquid, aerosol and powder forms (liquids remain most popular). Some versions contain an enzyme that attacks organic material and is effective against most types of stains. There are also citrus-based spotters and several stain-specific spotters, including those designed for gum, tar and pet urine.
“Five years ago those specific spotting kits were used very frequently but now they are rarely used,” Hanson says. “The change is manufacturers have come out with more well-rounded spotting solutions that handle more than one specific problem.”
There are several odor-masking and odor-neutralizing products available for carpets. Deodorizers are powders, sprays or liquids designed to cover up odors. They are very popular but don’t deliver long-term results.
“What you are doing is covering up the problem and I don’t recommend that,” Hildreth says. “If you get to the source of the problem, you’ll get rid of the odor. If you use a deodorizer, you’ve just masked it.”
The most effective method of odor control are products designed to eliminate, not hide, smells. Certain extraction chemicals include bio-enzymes, which are microscopic “Pac-Men” that eat odor-causing bacteria embedded deep in the carpet. These products are effective but typically only needed in facilities with ongoing odor issues, such as nursing homes.
Most cleaning agents have a light fragrance that leaves the carpet smelling clean but not overly scented. Avoiding strong scents is important considering how many people are sensitive to smells.
To prevent carpet damage, chemical manufacturers offer low-pH products that have the added benefit of being environmentally friendly. There are now Earth-friendly alternatives to almost any carpet-care chemical.
The most popular of the newer green options are hydrogen peroxide cleaners, which can be used for several purposes. Depending on the dilution ratio, peroxide can be used for spotting, bonnet cleaning and extraction. It can also be used on glass or as a general purpose cleaner, which can dramatically reduce the number of chemicals in a janitor’s closet.
“Our end users want to consolidate the number of chemicals they have on the shelves,” Hanson says. “The advent of the hydrogen peroxide based items could earn you business because you’re able to show the customer some economies or efficiencies.”
Distributors can help customers whittle down their carpet care choices by offering bundles that include the essentials. For most facilities this includes an extractor, spray bottles and spotting brushes. The key chemicals typically include a spotter, a routine cleaning chemical and an aggressive cleaner for infrequent deep cleanings.
“You can put together a pretty good package without going overboard,” Johnson says. “The more products you put in front of an end user, the more possibilities there are for mistakes. Put a good program together but keep it simple.”
Becky Mollenkamp is a freelance writer based in Des Moines, Iowa. She is a frequent contributor to Sanitary Maintenance.
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