Carpet Cleaning or Rocket Science?

I just returned from the Carpet and Rug Institute's annual membership meeting in Dalton, Ga., where the latest news is that cleaning and maintenance is the No.1 consumer concern affecting carpet selection.

The buzz words that have everyone talking are X-Ray fluorescent technology, or XRF.

Professional Testing Laboratories of Dalton has partnered with KeyMaster Technologies of Kennewick, Wash., and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration on an entirely new technology for evaluating cleaning equipment and methods. And the CRI intends to use this technology in building a body of science about cleaning and maintenance of carpet though their Carpet Cleaning Equipment Seal of Approval Program.

"So just where did this XRF technology come from?" Good question, but first, a little background. Back in 2001, NASA and KeyMaster Technologies began working to improve a hand-held X-Ray fluorescent analyzer that detects the presence of elements, such as sodium, aluminum and silicon, in various materials. According to Fred Schramm of the Marshal Space Flight Center's Engineering Directorate, "NASA needed this capability to conduct quality control for critical aluminum alloy parts used in the space shuttle program. Having a portable chemical analyzer enables NASA to conduct field analyses on larger components like reusable solid rocket motors."

Under an exclusive license granted by NASA in 2004, KeyMaster now owns the rights to use and market this XRF analyzer.

Space-age Technology Comes to Dalton
In 1995 the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification entered into a contract with Gary Asbury, president of Professional Testing Laboratories. Under the terms of the agreement, Asbury and his staff were to develop a reproducible method for:

  • Uniformly soiling standard cut- and loop-pile test carpet,
  • Cleaning it with different methods or variations thereon, and
  • Evaluating the results using a spectrophotometer, which measures light values reflected from carpet pile as an indicator of cleanliness.

    The only problem with this approach is that it doesn't quantify physical soil removal to comply with the IICRC S100's definition of cleaning, which is, "Locating, identifying, containing, removing and properly disposing of soil."

    Enter XRF technology. Keystone partnered with the PTL staff to use the NASA-enhanced hand-held analyzer for detecting and quantifying soil removal down to four decimal points. Talk about accuracy.

    So exactly what is XRF? Various chemical elements, when bombarded with X-rays, fluoresce or reflect back some of those X-rays. This creates a unique signature for that element, which can be graphically portrayed by KeyMaster's NASA-enhanced hand-held analyzer. The XRF analyzer is a compact piece of electronic wizardry that simply measures the amount of soil applied to ensure uniformity and, following cleaning, the precise amount of the soil removed.

    Asbury and PTL already had the carpet-soiling process perfected, but they needed a "soil" mixture that was quantifiable. Working with KeyMaster scientists Lloyd Starks and Dr. Robert Shannon, the PTL staff created a "designer soil," which mimics actual soil found in carpet.

    "This new testing methodology is a great technological leap for the flooring and floor care industry," says Gary Asbury, PTL president. "It is our hope that this test protocol with be adopted as a standard for cleaning performance."

    This is already beginning to happen. In recent months, both vacuum and extraction cleaning machines have been tested, and results have been every bit as dramatic as anticipated.

    Enter the CRI. The CRI Maintenance and Cleaning Subcommittee, under the leadership of Bob Cannon, Dr. Al Leudtke and Carey Mitchell, has spent considerable time and energy identifying and resolving consumer misperceptions about carpet. Many of the urban myths surrounding carpet have been successfully resolved; however, consumers continue to have the perception that carpet is difficult to maintain and clean.

    CRI began its campaign to resolve consumer concerns about carpet maintenance and cleaning in 2001 with its Green Label Vacuum and Seal of Approval programs.

    "Some consumer perceptions about carpet cleaning were based on fact," CRI Senior Technical Director Ken McIntosh said. "In recognition of this, the CRI has developed its Seal of Approval program for cleaning and spot-removing chemicals.

    "It's a three-pronged evaluation," McIntosh said. "The CRI SOA program involves testing a chemical's effect on carpet dyes, its cleaning efficacy, and its re-soiling potential. Problems identified are referred back to the product manufacturer for correction. Already, the CRI is publishing a list of SOA products that clean well but don't harm carpet. As with the CRI SOA program for vacuum cleaners, the direct benefits to CRI member manufacturers and to carpet consumers already have been enormous."

    The next step in the CRI SOA program is to begin testing cleaning equipment. The development of XRF technology has come at the perfect time for the CRI carpet science program. In early 2005, preliminary figures on the percentage of soil removed by various types of equipment will be ready for publication.

    According to Dr. Michael Berry, former deputy director of the National Center of Environmental Assessment of the U.S. EPA, and a leading authority on indoor environmental quality issues, "In my 30 years' experience, the XRF technology is the first scientific approach to quantifying carpet cleanliness that I will stand behind 100 percent," he said.

    Hard facts and figures on XRF technology will be discussed at the Connections Conference and Exhibition in Orlando, Fla., April 18-20. Go to for program details.

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