Carpet challenges

13th of September 2011
Carpet challenges
Carpet challenges

Which types of carpet are the easiest to clean and which present the greatest headaches for the professional carpet care company? Ann Laffeaty looks at the chief challenges being faced by the industry today.

A carpet in a commercial or hospitality facility is meant to provide an ambiance of warmth and luxury. Whether that carpet is made from wool, natural sea grass or synthetics its main function will be to enhance the visitor’s experience and improve the appearance of the building’s ingress.
However, any carpet will fail in this aim if it is grubby and soiled, and it is therefore the task of the carpet care provider to keep floor coverings looking clean and attractive. However, the cleaning task changes dramatically depending on the type of carpet chosen. So which carpets are the hardest to clean?

According to Prochem’s national sales manager Paul Robinson there is no doubt about it: carpets made from materials such as natural sea grass and coir present the biggest challenges for the carpet care company.

“These materials are very absorbent and tend to hold on to wood-based stains,” he explained. “Some natural carpets also tend to shrink or ‘brown out’ from the jute.”

He says their tendency to shrink means that wet cleaning is not advisable for carpets made from sea grass, coir and other natural materials. “However they don’t respond well to dry cleaning, either, because you can’t really get the dry cleaning compound out afterwards,”  he adds.

And the solution? Ideally you don’t clean them at all, says Robinson. “Such carpets
are very expensive to clean in terms of product and machinery and it is a highly labour-intensive process - and in the end the customer does not really get the result they want,” he said.

According to Robinson most other carpets are fairly easy to clean given the right training, machinery and products. “It is all about understanding the particular issues involved,” he said. “Most carpets tend to be made from wool, nylon or polypropylene and every fibre has its own challenges. Wool holds on to water-based stains but releases oil quite effectively, for instance, while polypropylene tends to hold on to oil-based stains. Nylon is very greedy and holds on
to both.

“The condition of the carpet can also have an impact on cleaning. If a carpet is very worn, sometimes the cost of cleaning will be more than the carpet is worth which means it will not be cost-effective to take on the task at all.”

According to managing director of Chemspec Richard Suddall it is more about the colour of the carpet and the way in which it has been made that dictates how hard it is to clean.

“The lighter the colour, the more difficult a carpet is to clean because there is no hiding place for staining and soiling,” he said. “If a carpet is beige, light blue or pale pink for example you will have to do a much more thorough job than if the carpet were, say, a traditional multi-coloured Axminster in a British pub.

“Sometimes these carpets are cleaned only once or twice a year and it will become sticky underfoot and start to smell before customers even begin to notice that it is dirty.”

He said woven carpets can also present a challenge to the carpet cleaner. “These have a lot of tension in the backing and if you wet them, shrinkage can be a problem,” he said. “The jute in the warp and weft can also cause browning which means that a shade from the backing comes through to the carpet pile.”

Besides the colour of the carpet and the material used to make it, Suddall claims there are three other factors that can affect its cleaning: namely fading, abrasion and wear. “There is a theory that a new carpet should be cleaned after only a few months to maintain its condition,” he said. “Frequent cleaning won’t harm the carpet – particularly if a detergent-free cleaning product is used.”

Synthetic easiest to clean

Chemspec offers a range of DFC (Detergent Free Cleaners) made from natural ingredients that are already in the food chain, says Suddall. He claims the easiest carpets to clean are those made from synthetic fibres. “These tend to release stains more readily,” he said. “However, the ability to clean a carpet well depends greatly on the skill of the technician.”

He agrees with Robinson that carpets made from products such as sea grass, coir, coconut and sisal can be difficult to clean. “Vegetable materials tend to change when wet,” he explained. “The reaction depends on the material – while some will shrink, others will go brown or perhaps they won’t retain their dye very well.”

However according to Suddall, carpets made from natural materials can be dry cleaned quite effectively using the company’s Dry Power compound. This is based on wood flour with added surfactants and solvents and can be sprinkled on to the carpet and brushed in using a cylindrical brush machine, then removed.

ServiceMaster technical manager Ian McCormack agrees that 'natural' carpets, can be problematical to clean. “They suffer from all sorts of problems such as colour loss, fading - even growing,” he said.

“Antique floor coverings also require expert attention, but we pre-test these first and then clean them in a way that is sympathetic to their make-up. For instance we may use an acid cleaning process on wool which stabilises the dyes and leaves the fibres soft to the touch.”

He said cut-pile polypropylene carpets can also present a challenge for the carpet cleaner. “These flatten with traffic and remain crushed after cleaning. Some mechanical lifting can be achieved but the results tend to be poor compared to a wool carpet.”

He adds that most modern carpets are fairly straightforward to clean. “Wool carpets respond particularly well since they tend to crush less and the fibres plump back when wetted,” he said. “Cut pile carpets hold less soil and stains than loop-pile carpets, and polypropylene carpets are virtually ‘stain-proof’ but have a great affinity to oil-based soiling.”

Among the ServiceMaster Clean range of products is woolsafe UltraClean P. “Although this is quite alkaline, it does not require an acidic rinse since it is neutralised by the carpet,” said McCormack. The company also offers Solvoil, an oil and grease remover that is VOC free.

Intensive cleaning agents

According to manager of CEBE Reinigungschemie Dr Jan Reimers carpets that contain wool in the pile and jute or cotton in the backing pose a major challenge for carpet care companies.

“In such cases the potential for moisture storage, cellulosic browning and possibly even shrinkage are great,” he said. “This means that the cleaner must not only consider special chemicals but also the amount of moisture that may be used, and this will affect both the cleaning result and the time spent on the job.”

In his opinion, hard-wearing carpets consisting of a nylon pile and synthetic backing pose the fewest cleaning problems. “Carpeting laid down in commercial sites is generally composed of entirely synthetic material and in general one may use any cleaning method on these, whether it involves low or high moisture,” he said. “In addition you can apply more mechanical action and use more intensive cleaning agents which makes the whole procedure easier.”

He says universal carpet cleaning products can only be used on carpets that are not moisture-sensitive. “Of course there are exceptions depending on the effectiveness of the product in terms of stain removal, but it is up to the cleaner to judge whether or not simplifying the product line is worth this trade-off,” he said.

According to Dr Reimers carpets made from wool or a wool blend require greater care and factors such as the age and wear of the carpet also need to be taken into account.

“If the wear is heavy and the quality of the carpet is low, the cleaner will be confronted with a difficult situation since the carpet may be clean but its optical appearance may not be satisfactory,” he said. “This is not something the cleaner can rectify to any great extent since even a velvet carpet can only be restored to a certain extent with the help of a pile lifter, for example.”

According to Dr Reimers, the most important point is that the technicians carrying out the cleaning task should be trained sufficiently to be able to discern subtle differences in the make-up of the carpet. “If this is done correctly, then the actual cleaning process will not be a problem,” he said.

•Read more about latest developments in carpet care


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