Cleaning Agents and Carpet Cleaners

January 13, 2003
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Leave the chemistry to the professionals.


It always amazes me how many of the “carpet maintenance” problems I am called out on are really just the result of poor work practices.

When I first arrive at the problem site I start with a walk-through and get a look at the problems that are being encountered. The problems usually are rapid re-soiling, wicking of soils during drying and “permanent stains” (a redundant phrase, I know, but an oft-used one).

I also try to do is get a look at the janitor’s closet and, when everyone is relaxed and off guard, I ask to see the measuring cup. The common response is, “We don’t use one. Our techs use the “glug” method of mixing chemicals.” You know the one: you add a glug or two to your sprayer or bucket.

While some of the problems I see result from using the wrong cleaning agent, many other times the proper product is being used but in an improper dilution ratio. Keep in mind that modern cleaning agents are a complex formulation of raw ingredients designed to perform a specific function such as wetting, suspension, agglomeration, etc. A trained chemist in a laboratory has determined the optimum concentration of these ingredients to achieve maximum cleaning effectiveness.

In some cases the proper mixture will result in a synergistic effect (the sum is equal to more than the parts), while improper dilution may result in less effective cleaning. Besides the problems noted above (rapid re-soiling, wicking of soils, stains) you may also see dull colors, fiber damage and recurring spots that are then labeled as stains.

I am somewhat heartened that I am increasingly finding wall-mounted “dilution stations” that take the actual mixing of the chemicals out of the technician’s hand, instead delivering to them a diluted product with no individual measuring required. Not only will fewer problems be encountered by using properly diluted products, but actual chemical costs will be reduced and equipment malfunctions, such as clogged hoses and jets, will be encountered less often.

The increase in wall-mounted stations has been primarily in commercial maintenance companies and in-house cleaning applications. But the benefits that these larger companies enjoy as a result of using the stations are also of value to smaller cleaning companies. Besides being available as wall-mounted systems, there are also styles that attach to the end of a garden hose and some that are built into the cleaning machine itself. Products designed for use with this type of dispensing systems include pre-sprays, rinse aids, disinfectants, deodorants and spotting agents.

Another situation I regularly encounter is the amateur chemist who wants to add a little of this and a little of that to a chosen cleaner to make it do more or smell better. Please resist the temptation to second-guess the chemist in the lab; if the product could have been engineered to do what you are trying to get it to do, it would have. Take my word for it.

Keep in mind that if you are using a branded product and following the label directions, when a problem arises from that usage the chemical manufacturer has product liability insurance to help with your predicament. In many cases they will send an expert to aid in correcting the problems. That said, if you have created a “bathtub” mixture, the manufacturer has no legal obligation to help you. You’re on your own.

Read and follow label directions for the best results, and tell those around you to do the same. Think of it: no more listening to your helper asking you how to mix a product. Or else you might want to look into investing in a dispensing system. But at the very least, buy and use a measuring cup; it will pay off in the long run. Until next month, see ya!

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