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10 Ways Things Can Go Wrong With Your Chemicals

December 9, 2003
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You've made your monthly truckmount payment, the oil change on both truck and truckmount have been completed, the water tank is filled, the gas is topped off and you're ready to go.

But wait! Did you check that list of chemicals? Sure you don't have to stop by the supply store to replenish your inventory? If you have all your ducks in a row then you are well on your way to making money and putting bread on the table.

Whoa Nelly! The chemicals in the van: are you sure they are the right ones? Labels can look so similar these days it's easy to make a mistake. Chemicals are the livelihood of your operation; it's worth double-checking. Murphy's Law happens time and time again: "Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong."

Let's examine 10 items that can lead to problems.

Labels
It is amazing how labels can seemingly change overnight. Never assume that the label copy says today what it said yesterday. Whether or not the product has the same color, picture, type, paper stock and bottle shape, always read the directions. If there has been any type of change, most likely the chemistry inside has been changed. I know; I've done it. Be careful; anticipate that product changes can occur due to environmental concerns and that use rates may be altered.

Dilution of Teflon
Higher concentrations of Teflon must be diluted in a prescribed manner; you should not approach it as if you were diluting regular cleaning chemicals. With Teflon it's different: you pour the Teflon into the initial container first, then you slowly blend in the water. The water, of course, is as soft as possible.

Now what can happen if you were to do it the opposite way? Latex emulsion can develop into larger particle size and create large white spots that can look terrible on a dark fabric. Also, the product's performance is somewhat diminished.

Teflon Storage Temperatures
Once you have accomplished mixing the juice, the question comes up as to how will you store the fragile blend. Think again if you plan on keeping that sensitive emulsion in your van in the heat of the summer with temperature escalating to the 100-degree-plus temperature range. That would be out of question. Instability of the emulsion can result in larger particles, just as milk sours at high temperatures. A temperature between 40 degrees and 90 degrees is a must.

Teflon Freezing
Winter is here. If you think you are storing Teflon at freezing temperatures and then letting the product thaw, you would have to have your head examined. Here again the emulsion would break up and separate, becoming worthless, though claims are now being made on the new Teflon as to its freeze/thaw stability.

But I'm of the old school where any product may have a tinge of instability. Even with strong claims on stability, I would store it under controlled conditions of 40 degrees to 90 degrees. In fact, I would consider it to be a marvel if I accidentally exposed Teflon to freezing temperatures and found out it was still good.

Surfactant Mixtures
It's been told time and time again: you do not mix anionic detergents with cationic surfactants. Read your labels to make sure you are not intermixing products that would crosscancel each other. Not to beat this point to death, but compare it with touching a pair of metal pliers on the positive and negative anodes/terminals of a car battery. You may have experienced a sparking effect that you will always remember. I might also add don't do this at home.

Powder Pre-wet/ Pre-slurry Your Powder
Remember to water re-wet your powders in order to dissolve as much as possible before you put them in your 5-gallon feeder container. If you find that your powder cleaners do not solubilize quickly, simply place the amount to be used in a 1-gallon, wide-mouth container (approximately 3 to 4 cups) and shake with water. Different formulas will respond in various ways; you may not get the entire amount into solution.

But that's alright; the sludge or slurry has been wetted out and is for the better in going into the water of the 5-gallon container. The slurry will solubilize that much quicker then if you were to dump all the powder directly into 4 gallons of water. I have seen carpet cleaners dump the powder directly into the waterless 5-gallon container, then take their high temperature/pressure hose and supposedly blast the dry powder into solution. They assume that with all that energy being expended the cleaner has to dissolve. That's not the case. A sludge will often present itself at the bottom, or else un-dissolved cleaner particles will set up in the corners or rim at the bottom of the pail. It doesn't take much mental awareness to realize that you have not achieved total solubility and the function of the product has diminished.

More Labels
Make sure that every container has a label and to go one step further put a date on it. Trust me, it may seem odd, but at times it will help. Even if you are to use a container for just few minutes as a preliminary mix, put a label on it. Not only will you save a bundle of potential problems but also you will be following the law that requires every solution have a label on it. It follows the rules of safety and it makes sense.

MSDS Sheets
As we all know, MSDS stand for Material Safety Data Sheets, and if you don't I strongly suggest you enroll in the earliest possible class on carpet cleaning. Say you were to be pulled over by the police due to some type of leakage coming from your van, and were asked to show your MSDS sheets. If you ask, "What are those?" you are in deep trouble. Even if it's a water leak coming from your radiator and you were stopped, the police still have the right to inquire about your chemical status.

Make sure that you have special packet and place for your sheets. You will be glad that you did. It would be unfortunate if you were to be fined or, even worse, put you out of business because you did not understand the concept of MSDS.

Chemical Storage
Store your chemicals in a secure fashion, not loose on the floor. Yes, it's just a few blocks to your next job. But that is the wrong type of thinking. Take the drivers' training school example of box of cleaning tissues stored on the back window. With an abrupt stop on the expressway, that tissue box will move forward like a bullet and could inflict severe damage to your head. And that's from a box of tissues; imagine the destruction that would be caused by a 1-gallon container of chemicals flying through the air.

The Importance of pH
pH. Two letters that do not say anything nor sound like anything but could well be considered as being the most important two letters in you professional carpet cleaner life. I've referred to them as being green and red signals as to whether you use the product or not. You must carefully read your labels to determine on what fabrics the product can be used, be it an Oriental rug, an upholstered chair, a wool carpet or other item. Often, you will find listed on the label the pH level of the product when it is diluted. This is your best indicator as to whether the cleaner is suitable for use on the fabric you want to clean.

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