In certain circles, carpets get a bad rap. They get stained, and cleaning them seems to only make them dirtier. They can smell. Some people even believe they aggravate allergies. These perceptions may explain why hard floors are often the surface of choice today.

The truth is, carpet is a fundamentally good surface. But carpet is extremely difficult to clean and problems can arise with improper care.

“Carpets are the most misunderstood thing in the country,” says Dan Mannix, divisional manager for CDC Products Corp., Long Island, N.Y. “Everybody has a fairly similar opinion on how to clean tile floors. But if you ask 20 people how to clean a carpet, you’ll get 21 different answers.”

For decades, chemical developers ignored carpets. The cleaning products that were available were often confusing and ineffective. History is finally changing. In recent years, there have been many innovations in carpet-care technology.

“There was no evolution for so long,” says Mark Warner, national sales manager of The Bullen Cos., Folcroft, Pa. “That’s why there is a lot going on now — because there wasn’t much going on for a long time.”

New and Improved
The most important — or, at least, the most popular — new technology is hydrogen peroxide-based products. These cleaners use oxygen to destroy stain molecules.

“That’s the new wave today,” says Liz Taylor, director of corporate marketing communications for Rochester Midland, Rochester, N.Y. “The hydrogen peroxide keeps working until the stain molecule is eliminated. And as it destroys the organic matter, it eliminates the odor.”

Rochester Midland’s Proxi™ Spray and Wash is a stabilized, alkaline-based formulation of peroxide, which allows the spotter to stop working once the stain disappears.

Although these products use natural elements, they are powerful enough to work as all-purpose spotters for tough stains.

“They are ideal for organic-based soils such as [soda], food, juices, urine, dirt and soil,” says Kurt Peterson, vice president of sales at Nilodor Inc, Bolivar, Ohio. “It even works well on problem stains such as Kool-Aid and wine.” Nilodor’s newest carpet care product is OxyForce RTU Carpet Spotter, a hydrogen peroxide-based spot and stain remover.

Most of these products are sprayed on the stain and then left alone. There is no rubbing, blotting, scrubbing or rinsing. The products dry to a powder, which can later be vacuumed away. This method reduces the likelihood of re-soiling, which is one of the biggest frustrations in carpet care.

“There’s no residue left behind to attract dirt,” Taylor says. “That’s been the problem in the past. Any residue left in the carpet will encourage re-soiling. There is none with this.”

Response to this newer technology has been overwhelmingly positive.

“The response from both distributors and end users has been fantastic,” says Steve Hipp, president of Athea Laboratories, Milwaukee, which recently introduced its hydrogen peroxide-based Hydro Power Carpet and Stain Remover. “Stains that have been around for years in carpeting come right out. Stains that they have tried numerous other spotters on, that are ground into the fibers of the carpeting, come right out.”

You’re Surrounded
Another up-and-coming technology is encapsulation. Aimed at reducing re-soiling, this chemistry has evolved over the past decade.

“I just came back from doing a show aimed at professional carpet cleaners,” Warner says. “The biggest buzz in the industry — what everyone is talking about — is encapsulation chemistry.”

Bullen now offers a third generation of encapsulation chemistry in its Stay Clean carpet cleaner. The chemical uses surfactants and solvents that dry to a crystal.

“The crystals continuously break down in size until it is a size that can be easily vacuumed,” Warner says. “The goal is to restore the fiber back into the condition it was in when it came from the mill.”

Peterson says that in early 2005, Nilodor will introduce a line of products that use encapsulation chemistry.

“We believe these new products will fit well with our philosophy of carpet-care maintenance, which is based upon dry soil removal and low-residue cleaning methods,” he says.

Like hydrogen peroxide and encapsulation technologies, most new carpet care products are focused on reducing carpet re-soiling. AmRep launched three new carpet products at the recent ISSA show; all three work on long-term soil elimination.

AmRep’s Clear-Spot Citrus Gel clings to carpet fibers, rather than pushing the stain into the backing, where it can wick back up to re-soil. Cloud Nine Carpet Refresher eliminates odors and dries down to an invisible powder, which will not attract dust that can create new stains. Bull’s Eye Odor Counteractant is a flash-off foam, with similar chemistry to Cloud Nine, meant for heavy-duty treatment.

“It’s very difficult to find an enzyme-based product that will tackle all the odors you find in the marketplace,” says Bob Sherman, product manager for professional products group for AmRep, in Marietta, Ga. “These are chemically reactive, so they react to all sources of odors.”

Another line of products focused on eliminating re-soiling is CDC’s Carpet Care System, which includes five products that use three-dimensional technology. In addition to cleaning the length and width of carpet, these products clean the depth of the fibers.

“Most carpets that have had many cleanings end up with a barrier midway down that are residues of shampoos that have not been cleaned,” Mannix says. “They prevent a two-dimensional cleaner from getting to the bottom of the carpet. Three-dimensional cleaning guarantees the product will penetrate all the way down, loosen and remove the soil, and prevent the stain from coming back.”

Greener Pastures
CDC’s products have been approved by Canada’s environmental certification program — going green is another big trend in carpet care chemicals. Many manufacturers are introducing variations of existing chemicals — or entirely new products — that are environmentally preferable.

“We take pride in our products in the sense that we make them all fit a distinct environmental profile,” says Sherman. “That is a goal that is growing.”

While green has been the trend in hard floor care for quite a while, it is a relatively new movement in carpet care.

“The tremendous emphasis [on green] has been on all-purpose cleaning products, glass spray and wipe, and some bathroom cleaners,” says Robert Allen, Ph.D., vice president of business development for Pioneer Eclipse Corp., Sparta, N.C. “As far as carpet, I didn’t see anybody working on carpet until now. Green Seal is working on protocols for carpet cleaners, but they’re not in place yet. They know it’s coming, but there has not been a great deal of emphasis on carpets.”

At the recent ISSA trade show, Pioneer Eclipse introduced four new carpet chemicals. Their carpet-extractor and pre-spray cleaner, extraction rinse, soil release bonnet buff, and all-purpose spotter are part of the manufacturer’s EnviroStar line, which meets standards set out by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Design for the Environment (DfE) program.

“These are as green as you can make products,” Allen says. “They meet the requirements for the DfE, Green Seal — basically any place in the world. They perform to such an extent that we’ve discontinued our line of non-green products. We think this is another indication that green chemistry is here to stay, gaining momentum, and now we’ve expanded into carpet care.”

Sales Strategies
Each new development in carpet care brings with it a new opportunity for distributors to sell their customers on the benefits.

“We’re in a green world,” Mannix says. “If you don’t jump on this bandwagon, you are making a mistake and it’s going to pass you by.”

If customers aren’t interested in the word “green,” try selling them on improved indoor air quality (IAQ). Many environmentally preferable products, including hydrogen peroxide-based cleaners, do not release harmful toxins into the air.

“The new concerns about IAQ and how much time we now spend indoors is driving innovations for better and more environmentally friendly carpet-cleaning chemicals,” Hipp says.

Taylor agrees. “People are looking for ways to use less chemicals,” she says. “People have been looking for something strong enough to get rid of stains and spots, but they don’t want to have to put on a moon suit to clean a spot in the carpet.”

Another strong selling point with all of these new chemicals is how well they work. The products are much easier to use than previous cleaners, so they require less training expense; the ease of use also saves time and money. Less re-soiling also means less repeat work.

“This new technology enables users to reduce labor costs associated with conventional spot and stain removers,” Peterson says. “[Customers] like the time savings, ease of use, and the fact that no training is required.”

Becky Mollenkamp is a Des Moines, Iowa-based freelance writer, and a frequent contributor to SM.