Troubleshooting Olefin Berbers

Cleaning olefin berbers can be a challenge

When I first began writing this column 10 or so years ago, one of the first things I addressed was the cleaning of olefin Berber carpets, as they appeared to offer such a challenge to the on-site cleaner. Now we’re in a new millennium, but the problems with Berber carpets seem to continue. This may become more of an issue as more and more consumers become enamored with Berber.

The complexities of cleaning Berber carpet can generally be traced back to fiber type, the level of maintenance on the carpet, the density of face fiber, and even the cleaning process being used. The cleaning-related problems most commonly encountered are slow drying and the wicking of soils or spots during the drying process.

There are many cases in which the customer’s concerns are related to performance issues, such as crushing. Not much we as cleaners can do about that. While olefin does have some negative properties, such as crushing, it also has properties that are very desirable, such as color fastness to sun and bleaches, and an inherent dislike of watery stuff like coffee, wine and red soda pop. Staining is generally not a problem with olefin.

Fiber type is a major factor since polypropylene/olefin seems to be the primary fiber used for Berbers with a few styles of Berber carpet available in nylon. You may recall that nylon absorbs about 4 percent of its weight in water, while olefin absorbs about one-one hundredth of one-one thousandth of its weight in water. Consequently, much more of the water used in wet cleaning will work its way down to the backings of an olefin as compared to nylon. (Some 40 times as much water can run off an olefin as off a nylon.) Olefin, a relatively non-resilient fiber, will exhibit much more crushing than an equal-weight nylon. This presents a situation where fiber identification should be a part of the pre-qualification portion of your on-site sales call. We can get it clean, but we cannot make it stand back up.

The density of the face fibers will affect the degree of crushing and the amount of particle soils that will accumulate at the base of the fibers. The denser the placement of the face fibers (the more ounces per square yard), the more difficult it will be to get the soils loose from the carpet during regular vacuuming. Frequency and thoroughness of vacuuming will impact the amount of dirt in the carpet when you arrive. The more dirt present, the more you will have to remove with your pre-vacuuming step. The more dirt remaining after you pre-vacuum, the higher the likelihood of soil wicking during the drying process. Given the low absorbency of olefin, the likelihood of liquid spills going down to and maybe into the backings, only to wick back during the drying phase, will be more of an issue on olefin than on nylon.

The cleaning process selected, the skills of the operator, and the drying enhancement step taken may be major factors in satisfactory drying times. On the surface it would seem that very-low moisture systems (VLM) would provide shorter dry times than “wetter” processes like hot-water extraction (HWE). Drying enhancement measures may include utilizing drying fans of some sort, such as ceiling fans or turbo dryers, aided by dehumidifiers or central air conditioners, or even something as simple as opening windows and doors if conditions permit.

In a nutshell, if proper cleaning procedures are followed, including dry vacuuming, before applying any watery materials to the carpet (it is easier to vacuum dust than it is to vacuum mud), the proper implementation of the fundamentals of soil suspension (TACT) will allow maximum soil removal with minimal water being used. The more water used, the more potential problems exist if the water and soil are not sufficiently recovered. HWE may require “extra” dry vacuuming passes to ensure the customer’s satisfaction. There is no question that air movement will shorten the drying time, and the bottom line is the same as 10 years ago: Get it clean and get it dry. ‘Til next month, see ya!

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