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Sensory carpet cleaning21st of September 2012
It is one challenge to remove the visible soiling from carpets – but how do carpet cleaning systems remove other assaults on the senses such as unpleasant smells and stickiness underfoot? Ann Laffeaty finds out.
A stained carpet can give a commercial or institutional facility a grubby look, so the carpet cleaner’s top priority will always be to remove any visible soiling. But an unpleasant odour can also have a detrimental effect on a company’s image. And a carpet that is sticky underfoot will feel unpleasant and create the impression that the facility is not entirely clean.
So it is at least as important to remove bad smells and stickiness as it is to remove stains. It is also more difficult according to Bio-Productions’ managing director Mike James.
“Cleaning the visible soiling from a carpet is a relatively easy process compared with eliminating odours since you simply clean what you see,” he said. “It is when the soiling penetrates deep down between the fibres and into the backing that you have a problem.”
According to James substances such as milk, urine, vomit and wine will all leave behind an unpleasant odour. “You may have made an excellent job of removing the stain but if there is any organic matter left deep within the fibres it will be colonised by bacteria,” he said. “This will cause a recurring smell which you can only eradicate by removing the substance feeding the bacteria.”
He claims biological products are the best solution for eliminating carpet odours. The company’s Micro Clean contains a 'cocktail' of around 20 bacteria that produce enzymes to degrade the organic soiling.
“If you use a chemical on an organic stain it will simply mask the smell - and you will have to keep re-treating the carpet when the smell returns,” he said. “Also, if you use the wrong chemical on a soiled carpet it will change the chemical make-up of the stain and may even set it permanently.”
He says odours caused by organic soiling can be a particular problem in environments such as care homes, nurseries and bars. “We have also been asked to help out in murder scenes where large amounts of blood have been spilt,” said James.
He claims a chemical product may alter the 'feel' of a carpet since surfactants are used in their make-up. “It is difficult to remove all traces of the chemical after cleaning and the surfactant residue can cause a stickiness underfoot,” said James. “This residue will attract and hold the dirt from your shoes – as a result of which your carpets may need cleaning again.”
Extraction machines will avoid this problem to some extent, he says. “These will completely remove the chemical residue and leave the carpets dry.”
Smell important factor
According to James any carpet 'stickiness' caused by sugary substances such as jam, honey and beer can be eradicated by biological products. However he adds that enzymes are not a complete panacea in terms of carpet cleaning.
“Biological products cannot remove non-organic substances such as ink, paint or adhesives for example. But most substances spilt on a carpet are either foods – or in the case of urine, vomit etc were originally foods - which means that the bacteria in a biological product will be able to colonise and eat it.”
CEBE Reinigungschemie manager Dr Jan Reimers says smell is an important factor in the customer's perception of whether or not a carpet is actually clean. “In fact it is often more the smell than the actual level of cleanliness that determines whether or not the customer is satisfied,” he said.
Removing odours from carpets is not necessarily difficult to achieve according to Dr Reimers. However he says problems arise when the smell permeates deep down.
“It is not always the carpet that influences the difficulty of the removal, but what lies underneath it such as absorbent parquet flooring,” he said. “Urine stains can also cause a problem on wool carpets since urine changes its pH with time and may have a permanent discolouring effect.”
According to Reimers the most important process in any odour removal regime is to identify and locate the source. “If this can be done successfully, then removal is possible,” he says. “After that it is simply a matter of applying the right product.”
The company’s BioFresh uses enzymes and bacteria to remove organic odours. “In the case of urine, the bacteria digests the urea residues and converts them to water, carbon dioxide and ammonia,” said Reimers. “The key to success here is allowing for sufficient dwell time.” CEBE Reinigungschemie also offers Ultra Fresh, a tea tree oil-based odour-neutralising product said to be particularly effective after water damage; and OdourEx, a modifier that changes the structure of odour-causing molecules.
He says the texture of the carpet can be altered via the cleaning process. “Synthetics will stiffen if there is too much residual cleaning product, and wool and silk will harden after cleaning or washing,” he said. “Here it is important to groom the pile with an appropriate brush before and after drying.”
He adds that carpet stickiness is usually a result of cleaning products left behind by the previous cleaner or from using the wrong product. “In these cases the carpet needs to be thoroughly rinsed to remove the residue,” he claims.
Rug Doctor’s commercial sales supervisor Helen Sacre agrees that stickiness can often result from using the wrong product. She says her company’s own carpet detergents are designed to avoid leaving any sticky residue.
“We understand that as well as smelling clean the carpet also needs to feel clean,” she said. “Also the stickiness left by some products will attract and hold the dirt which means the carpet will require cleaning more often.”
Odour control is particularly important in the care sector, says Sacre. “It is essential for providing a fresh, clean environment for nursing home staff, residents and guests,” she said. “Shag pile carpets can be a particular problem because of the length and density of the pile.”
Rug Doctor’s Odour Remover can be sprayed directly on to the carpet and uses an enzymatic action to attack odours such as mildew, smoke and vomit. “We also offer a product called Urine Eliminator which breaks down the hard urine crystals and eliminates the underlying odour,” says Sacre.
Chemspec managing director Richard Suddall agrees that identifying the cause of the problem should be the first step when treating carpet odours or sticky stains. “Only then can you come up with a plan - whether it is an enzyme product or a disinfectant,” he said.
Chemspec offers various chemical and enzyme based products for removing odours and sticky residues from carpets. “The difficulty is that the more absorbent the carpet surface, the more readily it will soak up the odour,” said Suddall. “Natural fibres such as cotton, wool, jute and sisal are particularly susceptible to odours.”
Chemspec manufactures various products designed to deodorise the carpet either before or after cleaning. The company’s Air Neutraliser can be applied to the carpet as a pre-treatment and is said to work particularly well on cigarette smoke odours in hotels.
“Smoking is not outlawed in all countries – and some people ignore the bans anyway - so it can be a challenge to remove the smell of smoke from hotel rooms,” said Suddall. “Air Neutraliser will neutralise stubborn odours, but since it is not biological it would probably not work on yoghurt or milk based products. Here you would need something to kill off the bacteria that causes the smell.”
Chemspec offers a strong disinfectant - Formula 429 - for use in flooded areas and trauma scenes. This is said to kill bacteria physically rather than chemically. “If someone commits suicide in a hotel room, for example, you will need to disinfect the whole room,” said Suddall. “Formula 429 is very powerful but not hazardous which means that you can use it without gloves.”
When it comes to sticky spills, these have to be identified before a cleaning plan is devised says Suddall. “If it is a sugary substance from fizzy drinks - such as that which often collects in the front of a cinema after a screening - you will need a thorough wet clean,” he said. “A dry compound or foam would not work here: you would need to inject, extract and flush.
“Among the stickiest of substances we have to cope with is the energy drink Red Bull which can be a big problem in nightclubs. Here it is best to use an enzyme product such as our Enz-All which attacks sugars and proteins. You should pre-treat the carpet with the enzyme product and then flush out the stickiness with an extraction system.”
However he says there are always cases where a carpet is beyond cleaning. “In some situations – such as if the underlay is soaked and the smell is getting worse - you may have to work quite hard to identify the problem and tackle it. You may need to carry out an assessment, lift the carpet, throw away the underlay, seal the tongue and groove floorboards and then treat the carpet itself.
“But in some cases - such as if the soiling has soaked into the woven backing - you might decide that the best solution is simply to throw the carpet in the skip.”