Discolorations in Rugs from Urine and Mold

I love pets. As a "kid" I grew up with dogs, cats, horses, cows, ducks, chickens and quail. At one time I was "supporting" 13 outdoor cats - I'm a sucker - for strays - two indoor cats, three dogs and two horses.

I love pets. As a “kid” I grew up with dogs, cats, horses, cows, ducks, chickens and even quail. At one time I was “supporting” 13 outdoor cats – I’m a sucker for strays – two indoor cats, three dogs and two horses.

I also love rugs. I owned a rug store for 5 years, and have accumulated quite a few Orientals and other wool and synthetic rugs that cover the hardwood and tile floors in my home. Unfortunately, rugs and pets don’t mix! No matter how careful I was in keeping my pets out of certain rooms, accidents happened.

Animal-urine odor, stains and discolorations are reported as one of the most common consumer complaints with textile furnishings. You can make a lot of money in your cleaning business by becoming a deodorization and decontamination expert. Keep in mind, however, that dealing with urine problems is never as simple as pet owners think or some product manufacturers claim!

Years ago, Dr. Steve Spivak wrote a classic article entitled “Pet Peeves.”  His insightful comments then are just as true today. 

Two things to remember:

  1. It’s the pet owner and their darling pet that are responsible for damage resulting from pet “accidents.” Don’t assume the blame when you can’t make your customer’s furnishings look or smell like new. The stain or discoloration was there to begin with, and is purely their fault, not yours. As a professional cleaner, you can attempt to clean, deodorize or remove spots and stains, and/or recolor the fabric; but if your actions can’t remedy the damage, that’s unfortunate. It’s the pet that caused the problem, not your effort to improve a difficult or impossible situation. Cleaners are not responsible for circumstances beyond their control, although many times, pet owners try to shift that responsibility to them.
  2. There are some great products and procedures available for professionals to use for decontaminating and deodorizing, but remember there is no magic one-step treatment or product you or your customer can use to completely eliminate pet stains or odor. When the fabric has been stained or discolored by pet urine, it takes a lot of time and effort to attempt to reverse the damage.
Urine components have the ability to stain (dye) and/or bleach (discolor) fibers, especially fibers like nylon or wool. When theses fibers are manufactured they are contact-dyed with acid dyes.

When urine, feces or vomit are first excreted from the body, they are highly acidic, just like the dye solution used to fix color on nylon and wool fiber. If customers act quickly, removing urine’s yellowish stain can be accomplished with almost any cool, neutral detergent solution.

If they don’t act quickly – and who has time to follow their animal around all day – then more complex oxidizers and professional techniques usually are required. Keep in mind also that the age of the animal, and the amount of water, and food or medications it has ingested, can affect the color of the stain.

If the contaminating substance has not been diluted, neutralized and extracted quickly, then as bacteria in the urine multiplies and produces enzymes, the deposit becomes highly alkaline (smells like ammonia, doesn’t it?), and actually “bleaches” color from fibers.

It’s the ammonia that causes the loss of color in rugs, not necessarily the presence of the yellow pigment in the urine itself. The loss of dyes caused by prolonged exposure to ammonia is another story entirely.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the yellow color can be removed with a simple cleaning solution. Correcting color loss caused by alkalinity can only be accomplished by adding color or spot dyeing fibers.

OK. So how to we solve the customer’s problem?  First, you must locate all areas of discoloration. Discolorations from animal urine may show up readily under high

To avoid having to inspect for urine exclusively after dark, close the draperies or blinds, or alternatively, invest in some black plastic sheeting that you can tape temporarily to the customer’s window or door frame.

Remember, too, that if the customer has been using household spotters, optical brightener residues that these products leave behind may be mistaken for extensive animal urine damage. Urine usually reflects a yellow or yellow-green color, whereas optical brighteners glow white or blue-white.

Once you’ve pinpointed the areas of concern, it’s time to begin the decontamination process. Here’s the step-by-step color restoration procedure I teach in my Color Repair class:
  1. Thoroughly clean affected areas on the rug both front and back. Then, flush spots completely with water and extract as much moisture and contaminant as possible (I highly recommend the Water Claw spot lifter).
  2. Ensure that the urine spots have been properly neutralized with an acid spotter.
  3. Rinse again. A mild oxidizing bleach may be required to remove residual yellowing from the urine deposit. Be careful working on natural fibers! There are products available that have been specially formulated for wool and silk.
  4. Check pH of the affected area to ensure that it is between 4 and 7 for nylon or wool rugs.
  5. Adjust your dye bath to a pH between 2 and 3, then evaluate the amount of color loss or gain.
  6. Find the missing primary color or colors to determine what color is required in the dyeing process. Make the appropriate dye bath by mixing dyes in concentrate and then adding them to several ounces of hot water a little at a time until the desired shade is reached.
  7. Apply missing colors one at a time, using either an eye dropper or an air brush. Start in the center of the color-loss area and apply the dye sparingly in a circular motion.
  8. Ensure that dyes penetrate all the way to the primary backing.
  9. Feather dye into the area surrounding the color repair spot and blend the color into the outer perimeter of the spot. Start light and deepen the color as needed. Don’t over-apply color to avoid a dark ring.
  10. Apply any toning dyes or finishing dyes after the missing primary color(s) has been replaced to dull the color to the proper level of intensity.  
  11. After the dye repair is performed, use a groomer to align carpet yarns.

Now that you’ve cleaned, neutralized and repaired the discoloration in the rug, there’s a very important basic fact that your customer must understand concerning the territorial nature of animals: If animals are present, urine will be present.

It is very likely that the animals will return (even after deodorization and re-coloration) to remark their territory. It’s simply part of their psychological makeup. If the animal smells his peculiar scent, he’s happy; otherwise, he’s not. Never guarantee urine stain removal, discoloration correction or odor removal if the animal is still present in the home!

Now let’s discuss discoloration from mold. Since mold is not water soluble, it may create a stain in carpet that may be bleached safely with hydrogen peroxide. Just like urine, the bacteria that feeds on the waste products of mold off-gases ammonia. Ammonia can remove color from carpet or rugs, causing a discoloration that requires re-dyeing.

The steps for repairing the discoloration are basically the same as for urine or feces. However, keep in mind that the mold may have “digested” the rug’s cotton or wool fibers causing permanent damage. In this case, the only solution is to repair or reweave the damaged area.

So, are you ready to tackle color correction for rugs? Not as easy as it seems, is it? Before you jump into this lucrative add-on service, I recommend you get more intense training, specifically from the IICRC; for more information on available courses, go to www.iicrc.org.  

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