Do I need stain protector?

December 13, 2011

As I go about my daily carpet cleaning jobs there are many questions that I get asked with a fair amount of regularity. Today I’m going to address the question of post cleaning stain protectors. You chose your new carpet carefully, did your due diligence in selecting a cleaner, and now after he finishes the job the question of stain protector comes up. In a perfect world I would say, you did your homework in selecting a reputable cleaner, so going on his recommendation would be a safe bet. Well as we all know the world is not always perfect.

Even some of the best cleaners out there often overlook some of the more subtle tools of our trade. I recently heard a manufacture rep. say that only about 50% of cleaners offer stain protectors. My own experience tells me that of that 50%, only about half of them apply the products properly. When not applied properly the products don’t work, and you the customer, have wasted your money. Now that said, let’s talk about the products that are correctly applied.

Most of you have heard of the big brand names such as Scotchgard, Teflon, Stain Shield etc. These are good products that can be valuable tools in helping to keep your freshly cleaned carpet looking clean. Just as important though, they can keep that occasional red wine, coffee, juice etc. spill from leaving permanent stains. Thus when properly applied, I highly recommend protectors in your high traffic areas.

That may be plenty of information for most people, but I know how much some of you like to know how things work so here is a simple explanation of the intricacies of stain protectors. Stain protectors are primarily designed to work on nylon carpet, but using them on any other fabric is a perfectly safe and acceptable thing to do.

The majority of stain protectors are all Fluorochemicals. When applied properly Fluorchemicles can repel both water and oil based soils which can be very beneficial to the life and appearance of your carpet.

Fluorochemical protectors work by lowering the surface energy or tension of the carpet or furniture. Surface energy or tension is the attraction of molecules in a water-based solution. Think of putting a drop of water on a non-porous counter top, the reason it beads up is the result of low surface tension. So by lowering the surface tension of carpet, the result is similar,  the spill beads up and doesn’t soak into the fabric.

Some protectors also contain what are called acid dye blockers. These have all the advantages of fluorochenicals plus they can repel those Kool-Aid and food dye stains. If you were to take one individual strand of nylon that makes up carpet an look at it under a microscope you would see what are called the dye sites (kind of like pores). Acid dye blockers get in and fill / clog those sites creating a negative charge at the fibers surface, thus blocking the food dyes from attaching to the fiber (food dyes are also negative). As you can see, making carpet stain resistant is all about chemistry and it can be a very effective tool in extending the life of your carpet.

We often only think of using protectors on carpet, but don’t forget that they can also be used just as effectively on upholstery.

Thanks for reading and next time we’ll talk about those recurring spots.

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Carpet Types

June 26, 2011

When buying new carpet most consumers have a hard time trying to figure out the difference between all the different fibers, and which one would be best for them. There are many different fibers available on the market today, but for this article I am going to stick with the most common types found at your local carpet stores. There are also many different variations of certain fibers and again I will try to keep this as non- technical as possible.

The majority of carpet today is made of one of four materials: wool, nylon, polypropylene (Olefin), or polyester.

Nylon

First discovered in 1938 by DuPont chemists, it is the most commonly used fiber in carpet today. Rated as one of the longest wearing fibers, it is also very cleanable, stain resistant, resists abrasion, moth proof, and non-allergenic. All of these pluses make for a very durable carpet. Nylon comes in two types, type 6, and type 6.6. Some retailers will swear 6.6 is better, but many studies have been done by chemical engineers and they find little overall performance difference between the two.

The leading brand names in nylon that you have probably heard of are; Invista (formerly DuPont) and Mohawk (formerly Solutia Wear Dated). Invista makes Stainmaster, and Mohawk makes Wear Dated. Both Invista and Mohawk have done a great job making their products stain and wear resistant; but buyers beware. Like anything else there are different qualities of each, and the better the quality the better the carpet. In Stainmaster there is Extra Body II, then Tactesse, then Luxerell Stainmaster as their top of the line.   A good salesperson will be able to show you examples of each which is why I always recommend a reputable retailer over a “big box” store.

When buying nylon carpet I personally recommend looking at the newer “soft nylons”. The manufactures did a pretty good job in making the fiber very soft in order to try to duplicate the feel of wool. They cost a little more but the quality is definitely better and most people are very happy with the choice.  Names to look for in soft nylon are Tactesse and Luxerell by Invista, DuraSoft by Mohawk, or Anso Caress by Shaw.  Here again is where you will need the help of a knowledgeable salesperson.

I clean more nylon than any other fiber type and with proper care it will  look and feel great for many years.

Wool

If you want the most luxurious feel and look possible wool carpet is still your best choice. It comes in pretty much every style and color, commercial or residential, with the best wools coming from New Zealand.

Appearance aside wool has many other advantages including:

  • Natural flame resistance (very important in commercial settings where smoking is permitted).
  • When the proper color is chosen for the environment it is excellent at hiding soil.
  • Wool is a very strong, yet still flexible and resilient so it springs back well.

Wool will stain much easier than synthetics so if you tend to spill a lot of coffee and red wine, or if you like to wear your boots in the house, and only vacuum on special occasions, then wool may not be for you.

Wool is not hard to maintain but when it comes time to clean it, I cannot emphasize enough, the importance of choosing a well trained, experienced carpet cleaner. With a little bit of care your carpet will always say; luxury and style live here.

Still my personal favorite.

 

Polyester

Polyester first entered the carpet industry in the 1960’s. Although it was a fairly durable fiber there were many other problems with it. So much so that many retailers stopped selling it and we really didn’t see much of it for quite a few years. Now jump forward to the mid 1990’s and we had the birth of the “new polyester”. The new polyester fiber is called PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate), and it is definitely not the polyester of old.  It is stronger, more abrasion resistant, and is very resistant to staining. I have cleaned it in many homes and very seldom come across a spot or stain that I can’t get out.

The fiber is partially made from recycled plastic containers, and this is what they’re talking about when people say their carpet was made from 7up bottles. Recycling does not affect the PET’s performance so it can be recycled over and over again.

When considering Polyester carpet you will also hear about a material called PTT. Although it is similar to PET, PTT is actually not considered polyester. It has been sold under various names, but currently it is called Triexta. It is a very soft fabric that kind of combines all the best qualities of nylon and polyester. If your carpet gets a lot of heavy use from kids, parties, pets, spills, etc. this may be a material you want to consider. Keep in mind though that since this is still a reasonably new fiber it will probably go through a few changes so you need a carpet professional who really stays on top of those changes. Again look for a reputable retailer.

Olefin (Polypropylene)

Anyone who knows me has heard me say that, just because something is not expensive and often gets a bad rap, doesn’t mean it does not have a place. Olefin is the most stain resistant fiber out there and tends to wear well when used in low pile carpet. The main problem with it occurs because they have to add oil to it during the manufacturing process. This oil stays in the fiber so after it’s installed in your home it will soil and mat down faster than other materials. The fact that it easily mats down is the reason you only want it in low pile styles. It is also a very heat sensitive fiber and melts easy. Even something as simple as dragging a piece of furniture on it can generate enough heat to leave a burn, and if you smoke this is not a good choice. On the other hand, if you only need new carpet to last a few years and it is going to take some heavy abuse, then take a look at Olefin. It costs less than the other materials and it may suit your purpose just fine.

I hope this bit of information will make your shopping a little less confusing. Remember to only buy from a reputable, educated and informed carpet store and your new carpet will be a happy purchase.

Next time we’ll talk upholstery.


Carpet Cleaning Methods

June 5, 2011

Being a responsible home owner, you have decided that it’s time to have your carpet cleaned. You spent a lot of money on your carpet and want the job done right. Some people say dry cleaning is best, others say steam cleaning is the way to go, then your mother says “don’t worry honey, I’ll bring over my shampooer and do it for you”.

As a long time industry veteran I can tell you that the “best method” depends on which professional you talk to. I can also tell you that his idea of the “best method” is the very method that he happens to use (surprise, surprise). In my day to day I use every common method there is, along with some not so common methods, to safely clean all types of carpet. With no particular bias, let’s talk about if there is really a “best method”.

 Steam Cleaning

Properly called Hot Water Extraction this is the granddaddy of carpet cleaning. Commonly a pre spray detergent is applied, then using either Truck mounted or portable equipment, the carpet is rinsed with high pressure hot water, and simultaneously vacuumed to remove the soap, water, and soil.

This is the method that most carpet manufactures recommend in their warranties, but be careful. When not done properly, as it often is not, it is the method most likely to damage your new carpet. There are many different machines, tools, soaps, and attachments out there, so the consumer needs to ask questions of the company. Every carpet mill has standards that must be abided by when cleaning their carpet. It’s true that most manufactures recommend Hot Water Extraction but they also are specific on what kind of detergent to use.

This is the method that I most often use and when done with quality equipment, an expert operator, the proper detergent for the job, and a proper rinse, very good results are usually the norm.

Encapsulation

This method of carpet cleaning is becoming more and more popular in commercial carpet maintenance. The encapsulating cleaner (a liquid cleaning agent) is sprayed on and then worked into the carpet using a type of brush machine. The encapsulate then surrounds the soil particles, releases it from the carpet fiber, and crystallizes so it can’t reattach to the carpet. The encapsulated soil is then removed by normal vacuuming.

Since it’s a low moisture system, dry time is very fast. This method is designed to be used fairly frequently as part of an overall maintenance plan in commercial settings.  Often every third or fourth cleaning has to be done with Hot Water Extraction in order to thoroughly rinse the carpet.

Shampoo

Probably the oldest of cleaning methods, it’s also the simplest. A high foaming carpet shampoo is scrubbed into the carpet using a rotary brush machine. The dirt releases from the carpet fiber, sticks to the shampoo, and that’s that.

I know what you’re thinking and you’re right. All that dirty soap is left in the carpet, so even though the carpet looks a little better, it is very temporary. That said, this can be a quick fix when a very fast, short lasting, job is called for.

Absorbent Pad or Bonnet Cleaning

Like encapsulation cleaning this method works better on commercial carpet, but many companies are using it in residential settings. A dry-solvent or water based cleaner is sprayed onto the carpet. Then a thick pad made of cotton, rayon, or polyester is attached to a rotary machine and used to agitate the carpet. The idea is that the dirt is released from the carpet and absorbed up into the pad (just like when you use a towel and cleaner to wipe the kitchen counter).

This method is often laughed at by “we steam clean everything” firms, but I have personally cleaned many thousands of square feet of carpet this way and got great results. I only like this on low pile commercial carpet though.  

 Absorbent Compound

Usually uses some type of powder that contains detergents, solvents and some type of very low moisture. A specially designed brush machine is used to agitate the powder into the carpet where it breaks up the soil and absorbs it (by now I’m sure you are beginning to see the common theme here). Vacuuming is then used to remove the soil saturated powder or compound.

Many of the absorbent compounds on the market are considered “organic” and very safe to use. The only problem may occur if the brushes cause the carpet to fuzz up. I always test first in a closet.

Absorbent compound generally do not do a very good job of cleaning, but like previously stated they are very safe. There are some carpets out there that you can’t get wet without ruining them (sisal and rayon to name a couple). If you happen to own this type of carpet, don’t let it get visibly dirty. Absorbent compound cleaning every couple of months is the only way to go.

So there you go, carpet cleaning in a nutshell. As you can see there are different ways to clean carpet and each one has it’s place, thus the need to seek out  a qualified professional.  Finally no matter which carpet cleaning method is used vacuuming should always be the first step.

Next time we’ll talk about the different materials used to make carpet.

Remember

Avoid Uneducated, Uninformed, and Sometimes Downright Unscrupulous Carpet Cleaners!