Carpets - the mechanics of spot cleaning

5th of November 2015
Carpets - the mechanics of spot cleaning

Ann Laffeaty asks carpet care manufacturers about the mechanics of spot cleaning and finds out about the latest products on offer.

Removing a spot or stain from a carpet can be a highly technical business. Many factors need to be taken into account before tackling the task. For example, the cause of the stain; its chemical make-up and its age all have to be factored in. The technician also needs to know what the carpet is made from and whether or not it could be damaged by a chemical compound or water.

Various experts recommend dry compounds, extraction machines, liquid products or even household bleach. But all agree that the best way of tackling a carpet spill is to attempt to remove
it immediately.

“The sooner it is removed, the less chance it will have of causing permanent damage,” said Racine Industries consultant Geoff Greeley. “This is most critical when removing substances that could bleach or dye the carpet.”

He says many spotting kits include specific directions for removing various types of spots. “While these instructions are usually good, the challenge is that most of the time the spot or spill or stain is not identifiable,” he said. “That is why all kits include directions for ‘unknown spots’. In my experience, it is best to follow the steps for unknown spots in all situations.”

According to Greeley, the key to successful spot removal is to dissolve the substance in a controlled manner so as not to drive it further into the carpet. “While spot removal can be very technical, this doesn’t mean that the uninitiated can’t give it a try,” he adds.

In the first instance, he says, it is best to attempt to remove as much of the spot or spill as possible without using liquids or cleaning chemicals.  “In the case of a wet spill, white paper towels can be used to blot up the liquid,” he said. “You can even apply a layer of towels and then step on them to draw out as much of the liquid as possible.

“In the case of a dry spot, you should scrape away as much of the substance as you can with a blunt knife or spoon. Then apply some plain water to a clean, white microfibre towel and blot the spot.”

He says a dry extraction compound such as the company’s Host Dry Extraction Carpet Cleaner can then be applied to the area. “This will absorb the rest of the spot, drawing it into the compound.”

Some spot removal chemicals can become sticky and attract dirt if they are not properly rinsed out or removed, according to Greeley. “Using a dry compound as a poultice is a good way to prevent this problem.” Host also offers a spot remover for use on petroleum oily-type soiling, plus Host Prep for removing animal fat spots and food stains.

Spot-cleaning can be highly effective for removing stains such as coffee, blood, wine and crayon according to Dione Pereira, who is regional director of contract cleaning company Nviro. “It is often the quickest and most appropriate solution in buildings such as offices and schools that need to be fully functional throughout the day,” he said.

He agrees with Greeley that spots and stains should first be tackled using dry white towels or cloths. “However if there is a substantial spillage, you need to avoid spreading the stain more widely which means you should change the cloths as soon as they become saturated,” he said.

“After this you could try treating the stain with a mixture of vinegar, water and a gentle non-bleach detergent. But you should always perform a patch test first to ensure that the chemicals won’t damage the carpet.”

He says there are several risk factors to take into account when spot cleaning. “Using inappropriate chemicals or a stain remover could damage the carpet or spread the stain,” he said. “Also, the colour of the carpet may change if the right treatment is not used, and in a worst case scenario this may be irreversible. The best way to avoid recurring spots is to make sure that someone cleans up the spill immediately.”

Competence essential

Expertise and patience are two of the main requirements when spot cleaning a carpet according to Dr Schnell Chemie’s marketing executive Franz Felbermeir. “Almost 90 per cent of stains are water-soluble and can be removed with lukewarm water directly after they occur,” he said. “But the operative needs competence to choose the right absorbent cloths and dirt-specific chemistry.”

He says a moist cloth, sponge or brush can be used for removing residue and that any rubbing should be avoided. “Also, oil and water-insoluble stains need to be treated with special stain-removal agents,” he adds.

New from Dr Schnell Chemie is Quick Tric, a tenside-free concentrate for removing drink stains, sugar solutions and protein-containing stains such as milk and mustard. For oily and greasy stains the company offers tenside stain remover Rapido, while blood and coffee stains can be removed with an acidic maintenance cleaner such as Milizid in combination with a tenside-containing agent.

“For the removal of water-insoluble stains such as ballpoint pen, paint, glue or chewing gum we recommend the use of water-soluble solvents,” he added.

According to Felbermeir, the main risk when removing spots and stains is that the stain-removal substance may coalesce with textile fibres in the carpet. “These will then only be able to be removed with difficulty or not at all,” he said. “Talking to an expert beforehand will help.”

Regional account manager at Truvox Craig Manson says a general purpose carpet-spotting product will remove the majority of spots and stains. “This can be sprayed on, agitated and then extracted with a carpet cleaning machine,” he said.

“However the result will be dictated by the length of time the stain has been in the carpet; the construction and material of the carpet and the chemical make-up of the stain. In some cases, specialist chemicals or expertise will be needed.”

He says scrubbing in a circular motion could cause damage to the carpet and that some chemicals may discolour it. “The use of too much water could also be a problem since this could make
the colours bleed into one other,” he said. “It might also create new stains from the carpet backing as well as giving rise to unwanted smells. It is therefore important to use appropriate spot-removal chemicals and remove them afterwards with an extraction machine.”

Truvox makes a number of compact carpet-spotting machines including the Hydromist Lite for occasional spot cleaning, and the Hydromist 10 and 20 HD heavy-duty spotters.

Prochem marketing manager Peta Tilley says anyone tasked with spot-cleaning needs to have a good understanding of the carpet’s fibres and their absorbency.“For example, wool and other natural fibres are particularly prone to absorbing dyes and could create a lock within the fibre, creating a new colour,” she said. “Nylon could also be deemed to be a re-dyeable fibre while synthetic fibres such as polyester or polypropylene are less likely to absorb staining, although this depends in the spill.”

She says spot cleaning requires both skill and patience. “Scrubbing or rubbing a spill can seriously affect the likelihood of removing a mark,” she said. “But spot removal is highly effective once the technician understands what the spill is, what fibre they are attempting to remove it from and which product to choose.”

Prochem offers a range of spot and stain-removing products including B144 Stain Pro for water-based protein spills such as tea, coffee, food, drink and blood, and E840 Citrus Gel for removing fake tan, candle wax, syrups, medicines and other oil-based spills. “Formulations are becoming more ‘stain specific’ and this makes them more effective,” said Tilley. The company offers a one-day training course on advanced stain removal techniques.

Operations director at Julius Rutherfoord Chris Parkes says the method of spot removal to be employed should depend on the stain. “A few years ago we were awarded a school contract and had to clean the carpet of chewing gum during the summer holiday,” he said. “We used a steam machine and a solvent remover followed by a wet extraction machine to give it the final clean finish.”

He adds that deep cleaning is advisable at least once a year. “This lifts and opens up the carpet pile and removes contamination,” he said. “Over time, contaminants will build up on and within the surface from airborne particles as well as dust and fibres from the natural wear of the carpet.”

According to managing director of CEBE Reinigungschemie Dr Jan Reimers, only a minimal amount of expertise is required when using an all-purpose stain remover. “However for certain types of stains - such as coffee, for example - special products and approaches are necessary which means that an experienced technician would be needed,” he adds.

Ask the right questions

“Experience and asking the right questions can go a long way towards identifying a stain. When attempting to remove it, patience is required since this reduces the risk of damaging the fibre through excessive mechanical use. And patience is also needed when applying enzymatic products where dwell time is a must.”

He says that when removing spots it is essential to know the materials used to make the carpet as well as its backing and substrate. “This eliminates the potential danger of damaging the carpet,” said Reimers. “Of course applying an appropriate product is also important. If the wrong product is used, the stain may be fixed and become impossible to remove. For stains that require the application of a bleach-containing product, too, there is the risk that the dye of the carpet will be partially or completely removed.”

CEBE’s classic Spotting Kit comprises chemicals such as acetic acid, ammonia, neutral detergent and a volatile solvent. “Using this kit requires a great deal of knowledge regarding the impact of each chemical in regards to the fibre type, backing and adhesive,” he said. “For the layman we also offer a Destainer Kit containing standard stain-removal products plus some specialist products for removing coffee and chewing gum.”

He adds that spot-cleaning is becoming easier due to changes within the industry. “Spot-removal products are not necessarily becoming more effective, but they are more user-friendly,” he said. “And at the same time, the tools used for removing spots are becoming more efficient.
“Compact extractors are now available that apply the product and quickly extract it, leaving no residue. This has made things a lot easier for the carpet cleaner.”


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