The red carpet cleaning treatment

3rd of October 2014
The red carpet cleaning treatment

Some carpets are special – either because they are particularly old, particularly valuable or because they are made from unusual or hard-to-clean fabrics. So does this mean they require special treatment when being cleaned? Ann Laffeaty finds out.

Carpets can vary dramatically. Traditional fibres such as wool have been joined by an increasing number of synthetic materials as well as ‘natural’ floorings such as sisal and coir. This means that carpet cleaners need to know exactly what they are dealing with when beginning a job. But how do they cope with more unusual fabrics, or with other ‘special case’ carpets – ones that are highly valuable, antique or excessively worn, for example?

Joe Walsh, operations director of contract cleaner Grosvenor Services, says natural carpets such as sisal, sea grass and coir can be very problematical to clean. “They can present all sorts of problems such as shrinking, colour loss and fading,” he said.

“Antique carpets also require particular care and attention and we always pre-test them first. And loose strands can be a problem with old carpets, and extra care needs to be taken if using any cylindrical or rotary brush-type equipment.”

He says a fine fabric detergent is required when wet-cleaning delicate or antique carpets. “This should be designed for the effective extraction cleaning of delicate fibres,” he adds.

“We also provide a dry carpet cleaning service that involves micro sponges which are brushed into the fibres with a counter-rotating brush machine. This attracts the soiling which is then removed with an industrial upright vacuum cleaner. This uses no moisture and eliminates the possibility of colour runs, shrinkage and any damage to delicate fibres.”

Prochem sales manager Phil Jones agrees that carpets made from sisal, seagrass and jute require specialist cleaning. “These carpets require dry or low moisture cleaning since water could cause the natural lignin dyes to become evident, or even cause shrinkage,” he said.

According to Jones, antique carpets are another special case. “Delicate carpets and rugs made from fibres such as silk, rayon or bamboo should be cleaned using a dry method,” he said. “However, the cost of dry cleaning is more expensive than other methods, in terms of time and product.”

He says the operator needs to identify the level of soiling and any stained areas before deciding on a cleaning method.  “The age of the product would also have to be considered, if, for example, cotton fringes of rugs are worn or brittle.”

According to Bio-Productions managing director Mike James, both low-cost and expensive carpets can be potentially difficult to clean. “Some cheaper carpets have very unstable dyes, and colour-bleed from these can be a nightmare,” he said. “Expensive rugs, too, require specialist treatment. And berber-style carpets with a ‘slub’ in them can be difficult to clean.”

Highly specialised

A slub is a section of yarn that has been deliberately left thicker than the rest of the pile to create an irregular effect, explains James. “These slubs will take the form of, say, brown flecks in an oatmeal-coloured carpet,” he said. “Brown dyes tend to bleed very readily so when the carpet is cleaned, this bleeding effect will leave behind an orange-coloured stain from the slub.”

According to James, rug cleaning is another highly specialised task. “Some silk and afghan rugs have a fine, highly patterned pile with a lustre to it,” he said. “These need to be cleaned with solvents very carefully by hand. It is actually closer to restoration work than cleaning.”

While training is important, says James, a carpet cleaner can successfully clean almost all types of carpet provided he or she has good cleaning equipment and good cleaning agents.

“The equipment should be designed to minimise the risk of damage,” he said. “If the cleaning action is too aggressive it may ‘scrub’ the carpet and damage the fibres. Similarly an extraction system that is too weak will be unable to recover most of the water and cleaning solution that has been ‘injected’ into the carpet.”

Truvox International marketing and product manager Natalie Dowse says carpets that are heavily soiled or have not been cleaned for years often require special treatment. However, they can still be brought back to life.

“Systems that use polymeric carpet cleaning solutions are particularly effective in these circumstances,” she claims. “The solution is applied by a three-brush scrubbing machine and will release sticky soil from carpet fibres while also trapping the soil as it dries. Once the carpet is dry, vacuuming completes the process by removing the dried, encapsulated dirt.”

According to Pacvac marketing manager Vicki Fosselius, wool carpets can be among the most difficult to clean. “Fabric type and stain – plus the cost and condition of the carpet - play a major role in the cleaning challenge,” she said. “The fabric determines the kind of cleaning methods that can be applied - for example, wool carpets must be approached carefully to avoid damage, whereas solution-dyed nylon can be cleaned more aggressively.

“And cost can make a difference since some of the cheaper carpet products may not have been treated with the best grade stain-resistant materials and are therefore more susceptible to stains.”

Contract cleaning company Julius Rutherfoord has had to tackle various ‘special’ carpets over the years. “For example, one of our clients is the creator of a children’s social network site and most of the flooring in its headquarters is AstroTurf carpeting,” said the company’s general operations manager Andres Balanta. “Synthetic grass can be vacuumed, broom cleaned or spray buffed using the bonnet buffing system.

But with this type of carpeting, contaminants from airborne particles will build up over time and deep cleaning needs to be carried out at least once a year. This will lift and open up the carpet pile and remove any contamination.”

Balanta continued: “For delicate carpets we use a dry pre-treatment compound together with a treatment agitator machine and an upright vacuum. The powder consists of thousands of micro-sponges which contain a safe solvent to remove greasy soiling. It also contains a neutral shampoo and an anti-resoilant plus antibacterial properties to eradicate dust mites. As the powder is brushed through the carpet it absorbs soil and leaves the carpet clean. When vacuumed away, the carpet is ready for use.”

He says carpets in schools can be a special case – purely because of the high levels of chewing gum often retained within them. “A few years ago we were awarded a contract to deep clean the carpets of a school  - and you could not see the carpet for the chewing gum,” he said. “The school had not thought it was possible to remove it. We used a steam machine and chewing gum solvent remover, followed by wet extraction machine to give it the final finish.”

He agrees with the general consensus that the age and condition of a carpet add to the cleaning challenge. “If a carpet is very worn it may be more cost-effective to replace in the long term since cleaning will not be able to rectify extensive damage.”

According to ceo of the UK’s National Carpet Cleaners’ Association Paul Pearce, broad-loom carpets woven from natural wool, viscose or bamboo also require special treatment. “Cellulose fibres are being increasingly used in carpets but they can be hard to tackle because they just don’t clean,” he said. “You can’t use water on them because it distorts them, and you can’t use certain chemicals on them either because these may discolour the carpet.”

He says over-wetting and the prolonged drying of carpets can be a problem when cleaning organic fibres such as wool. “Here you may create a mould problem,” he said.

However, he says that it is only badly-maintained carpets that present a real challenge. “Most carpets can be cleaned properly using the right equipment and provided operators have the right understanding of how to do it. If a carpet is not vacuumed regularly – and if the facility manager fails to have it spot-cleaned – the carpet will cause cleaning problems, whatever it happens to be made of.”


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