Cleaning & Restoration Association News

Stain Resistant By Any Other Name:"Spots," "Stains" and "Soiling" on Stain Resistant Carpets

Most carpet cleaning customers-and many carpet cleaners-have some knowledge of the terms "spot" and "stain," and at least a basic understanding of the term "soiling." But they may not always grasp the differences among the terms.

As we've discussed, spots and stains are as common with carpets as is soiling. But soiling is generally present over large areas of the carpet while spots and stains may be very localized.

When I was still doing warranty work for DuPont on STAINMASTER carpet, it was common to get a claim from a consumer of a "large stain at the entry to the family room." An on-site inspection would reveal the complaint centered on a large soiled area, often at the entry to a room or other area. In the customer's mind, this was a stain on a carpet with a "no stain" warranty. They want it corrected.

Soiling occurs on all surfaces in homes or businesses, even with little or no traffic. The air we breathe is actually quite dirty, and the soils suspended in the air will eventually settle out. If your customer thinks that only walked on areas get soiled, remind them of how often they "dust" hard furniture surfaces, such as tables and cabinets. In time, this dust accumulates on flooring surfaces. On carpets it's hard to see because it settles into the carpet, but may become visible as the carpet reaches its soil "saturation" point. A good place to see this buildup of soils or dust is under beds.

It's the heavy accumulation of soils deposited in high traffic areas that triggers the customer's call to you to remove that "spot" in their carpet.

Soil buildup is normal and can be combated by regular vacuuming of the carpets. Stain warranties do not apply to soiled areas and "anti-soil" warranties are ambiguous at best. The one that I am most amused by states, "Our new carpet will actually repel soil." Will there be a cloud of soils hovering above this carpet? Can't we just go in with a vacuum tool and clean up this "soil cloud?"

You may have noticed that slightly oily carpet, such as at a kitchen entranceway, is darker in appearance and will trigger the call for cleaning sooner. If you find distinct traffic soil patterns throughout, you may be looking at a carpet that received little or no vacuuming. This situation calls for aggressive pre-vacuuming using a high efficiency vacuum with a powered agitation brush. Increasingly, carpet manufacturers discourage the use of "beater bars" because they may distort carpet face fiber, particularly if there is no cushion or padding.

The question remains, "How much should I vacuum before I begin cleaning?"

While additional soils may be present, they are bound to the fiber by electrostatic forces or some type of sticky "cohesive" film. Proceed with your cleaning by releasing the electrostatic bond or dissolving/emulsifying the sticky films. Next comes soil removal by adsorption processes, such as bonneting or dry compounds.

When dealing with potential customers, keep in mind that soiling is not always the same as spots or stains. Since the IICRC defines soil as "any matter which is foreign to the construction of the carpet," some spots and stains may be classified as soil. But "stain resistant" warranties do not generally apply to soiling. And while stain resistant carpets will get soiled, they should clean more easily than non-stain resistant products since they are treated to weaken the electrostatic charge that binds much of the dry soils.

So when your customer laments that their "stain resistant" carpet got dirty, introduce them to the realities of dirty carpets and educate them about soiling versus staining or spotting. Take care to clean these carpets with agents that will not diminish the stain resistance of the fiber, usually no pH over 10 and no cationics. Don't forget to offer your customer the opportunity to renew that factory protection with a topical application of carpet/fiber protector applied according to package directions.

These carpets usually clean better than nontreated ones, leaving you looking much more like a "hero."

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