Carpet/Rug/Upholstery Cleaning

The Numbers Game

February 6, 2013

I define an “expert” as one who masters the details of her or his profession. And part of that expertise includes keeping up with changes in their industry. 

As an IICRC-approved Senior Carpet Inspector instructor, I spend over two weeks annually in Dalton, GA. When touring carpet mills and technical laboratories, I get to see my carpet manufacturing mentors, including Carey Mitchell, Lee Phillips, Gary Asbury, Lew Migliore, Charlie Rollins, Alan Buttenhoff, Jason Long, Greg Raborn, Chris and Cindy Boland, Bill Doan, John Garger, Jim Burnett and Werner Braun. In past years, this list included Cy Gant and Chris Davis, and others too numerous to mention. These industry icons individually have helped me piece together some interesting industry trends and statistics over the years. 

Another major source of information is the WFCA, World Floor Covering Association. They publish a lot of great stats on what the industry is doing. Every firm should be a member of WFCA, typically through their regional trade association or through the International Cleaning and Restoration Association (ICRA). WFCA helps carpet cleaners predict trends that they’ll be seeing on the floor in the future. 

Most of the news for cleaners is good – cleaning should get easier and make us look better – but some presents some interesting future challenges. 

Anyway, Floor Covering Weekly presents some statistics regarding where carpet goes. As you can see, carpet and rugs still lead as the consumer-preferred floor covering by some 53%. And rug and modular tile manufacturing is booming! (See Chart 1)

I’ve also been compiling some informal and highly subjective statistics since the early 1970s when I became interested in fiber market share. Knowing what fibers I’m likely to encounter, and studying their characteristics, helps immeasurably in determining what I can clean and what presents challenges. Understanding fiber characteristics also helps me explain inspection situations that are fiber-related. 

OK. Over the years since I’ve been immersed in the cleaning and restoration industry, things have changed quite a bit. For example, when I began as a full-time cleaner in 1971 (not including the time I spend as a child laborer in my father’s firm!), I used to know every home in my market that had cotton carpet installed (yikes! permanent stains, ground-in soil, days to dry). I’d detour blocks around those houses so that the occupants wouldn’t see the sign on my truck. I’d even keep several of my competitor’s business cards with me to refer them to those customers with cotton carpet (good way to eliminate competitors!). 

Thankfully, between 1965 and 1970, cotton-pile carpet decreased by two-thirds. By 1980, it was all but gone! Nylon, on the other hand, saw a dramatic increase in market share. Professionals should know why that was the case.

The following chart is a loose interpretation of what’s happened to fiber market share over the last 47 years or more. (See Chart 2)

Of course, cleaners also are accused of all sorts of mischief involving the heat that truckmounts generate. Those accusations include melting fibers, causing hot-melt seaming tape to release, shrinking carpet – to name a few. Of course, all this misinformation is bogus. Heat considerably increases cleaning efficiency, but cleaners should understand that it simply is not possible to maintain water temperature above 212°F (100°C) at sea level in a non-pressurized environment.

Testing done by several truckmount manufacturers over the years confirms that the highest temperature that even the industry’s most efficient heaters can produce on the carpet is about 160°F (71°C). Now, using the chart below (thanks to Shaw Laboratories), compare that temperature to the softening and melting points of popular carpet fibers. (See Chart 3)

Well, enough for now.  If I were the industry Czar, I’d make it mandatory that all industry instructors visit the carpet Mecca (read “Dalton”) at least every other year, and interact with true manufacturing professionals. You might just learn a thing or two that would make sense of some of the industry’s most perplexing cleaning, inspection and carpet performance issues.

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