In order to effectively clean carpet, it’s important for carpet cleaning professionals to know what type of carpet they are working with and what chemical is recommended for each carpet type.

The premise of matching carpet chemicals with carpet types may sound simple, but it’s harder than one might think, says Tom Cochran, president of Reading, Pa.-based Majestic Carpet Solutions.

“That’s where people often miss the boat,” he explains. “Every manufacturer claims to have the best chemicals in the world, but what carpet type is that chemical going to clean? I always advise building service contractors (BSCs) and facility managers to identify the type of carpet that is to be cleaned first. This tells you what chemicals and what equipment to use.”

Carpet Types
Nylon, the most preferred synthetic material, and another synthetic — olefin (polypropylene) — account for nearly 90 percent of all carpets used in commercial applications, says Mike Tarvin, technical director for Multi-Clean, Shoreview, Minn.

Nylon is durable, economic, resilient and easy to clean and maintain. Olefin, an indoor/outdoor fiber is highly resistant to stains, mold and mildew. Both nylon and olefin also are less likely to harbor bacteria.

Wool, a natural fiber is somewhat expensive and is not used much in commercial applications, except in Class-A offices, such as law firms or high-end hotels. Wool carpeting is also used in high moisture areas, and depending on the pile, can be used in heavy traffic areas.

Each carpet type has different wear factors.

“Wool is less resistant to traffic and is more absorbent,” says Brent Crawford, president of Core Products Co., Inc., Canton, Texas. “Nylon and olefin fibers don’t absorb water so they’re used a lot more in commercial settings, schools and hospitals.”

Nylon and olefin also are less likely to harbor bacteria. Schools, hospitals, airports and office buildings, along with retail facilities, use nylon or different blends with vinyl cushion backing because water can’t go down through the backing or come up through it.

Nylon and olefin fibers also have quick dry times, which allow for less down time. For instance, after cleaning and extracting with a hot water extractor, along with the use of fans, the carpeting will be dried between 20 and 30 minutes.

Carpet Chemicals
Choosing wisely from the many carpet cleaning chemicals on the market today requires some research. Time well spent ensures good results, says Mark Marzahl, director of technical services for Racine, Wis.-based Von Schrader Co.

Carpet cleaning chemicals can be loosely divided into several categories: cleaners, odor controllers, protectants and specialty chemicals, which are designed for specific tasks. There are also chemicals used for extracting soil, pre-spray chemicals such as carpet spot and stain removers, dry cleaning solvents and spot removers, absorbent powder extraction chemicals and neutralizers.

Most formulated products are safe for just about all types of carpeting, says Gerald Mitchell, chemist with Spartan Chemical Co., Inc., Maumee, Ohio.

“This is due to the fact that with carpet, we are essentially dealing with polymers which make them very durable,” he explains. “Cleaning compounds used on carpets are fairly innocuous to the different types of polymers that compose carpeting today.”

However, it is important to always check with a carpet manufacturer for safeguards and guarantees, says Mike Sawchuk, vice president and general manager, Enviro-Solutions Inc., Peterborough, Ontario.

“Some manufacturers recommend a limit on the pH of chemicals,” he explains. “They also might communicate a cautionary word about pH affecting the dye in a carpet.”

Both nylon and olefin carpets are durable and chemical resistant and can tolerate a range of solvents with a high or low pH.

Natural fibers such as wool need to be treated slightly different, namely with mid-range pH cleaning compounds, says Geoff Greeley, director of marketing and training for Racine Industries, Racine, Wis.

Using chemicals with a neutral pH on wool is recommended because alkaline and acidic chemicals have a tendency to burn or turn fibers brown.

It is also advised to avoid using heavy solutions such as ammoniated or caustic chemicals on carpeting, says Les Brodie, owner of New York-based CDC Green Products.

“These can burn fibers,” he says. “And don’t use a very wet emulsion on a wool product. Use a chemical that won’t harm protectants.”

Some other factors that professional cleaners must take into consideration when selecting an appropriate chemical include the types of surfactants that are in the cleaner; the type of soil that has invaded the carpet; and the residues that might result.

“Does the chemical leave behind a tacky or sticky residue that creates resoiling,” asks Mitchell. “Or is the residual chemical more of a polymer or crystal that can be removed with normal vacuuming? If the carpet has been treated with a protectant for stains and soils, or contains the factory applied protectant as many do, the pH should be below roughly 9.5 to prevent stripping of the fibers during cleaning.”

The Trend To Green
In today’s environmentally-conscious world, the green movement has placed its stamp on many product offerings, including carpet chemicals.

Green technology has produced chemicals in recent years that are as good as, if not better than, traditional carpet chemicals.

“Today’s green chemicals compare favorably to the pioneering greens,” Crawford says. “When they first came out they had been lower performing than the traditional chemicals. But, traditional chemicals haven’t really changed much. They use the same solvents, the same surfactants that have been around for many years. And they still have volatile organic compound (VOC) problems.”

Many green carpet chemicals are entirely bio-based says John Vlahakis, owner of Winnetka, Ill.-based Earth Friendly Products. Products’ surfactants are made from corn and coconut oils, as well as essential oils, such as sage and don’t contain any VOCs, he says. Green carpet chemicals can be used in carpet extraction machines, as well as stain and odor removers, which can be used on all types of fabrics.

To successfully clean carpet without damaging carpet fiber, cleaning professionals also need to be cognizant of the machines they use in addition to chemicals.

Matching a machine’s brush with the carpet fiber to be cleaned is also critical says Tarvin. He recommends avoiding grit brushes because they’re too abrasive and will fray carpet fibers.

If cleaning professionals are using a low foam cleaner, Mitchell says extraction cleaners with a standard wand and pressure vacuum is your best suit.

“This minimizes the foam in the recovery tank,” he says. “Rotary scrubbers work best and are the least detrimental on fibers when a high foam cleaner is used. The cleaning chemical then becomes a lubricant as it cleans and emulsifies and suspends the soils contained in the carpet.”

When it comes to using the right cleaning products, manufactureres interviewed agree that knowledge up front about what carpet fiber is being cleaned and what chemical is best suited for an application, the better the end result will be.

Jordan Fox is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer.