Absorbents: Get the Stain Out!

August 3, 2010
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Absorbing a staining material is likely one of the oldest methods of spot-and-stain removal in the carpet and rug cleaning industry. When Junior spilled his fresh-squeezed juice onto the Pazaryk 3,000 years ago, his mother likely used another cloth to blot up the spill.



Absorbing a staining material is likely one of the oldest methods of spot-and-stain removal in the carpet and rug cleaning industry.

When Junior spilled his fresh-squeezed juice onto the Pazaryk (Image 1) 3,000 years ago, his mother likely used another cloth to blot up the spill.

Modern moms are also likely to use paper towels or absorbent cloths to soak up a variety of spots and spills. Has there been any advancement in the last 4,000 years of carpet cleaning history? Are absorbents a helpful tool for today’s carpet cleaner?


Let’s start with some low-tech applications.

You, the cleaner, probably are not going to be around when a stain occurs, so you may not think of blotting up a stain as a key step in your stain removal process. But consider removing candle wax, melted crayon or similar staining material. You cover the spot with an absorbent material – a clean, white cotton towel or maybe brown Kraft paper like a grocery bag.

By the way, don’t use any printed part of a paper bag. You could end up with “Kroger” in reverse print in the middle of Mrs. Piffleton’s carpet. Can you guess why I know this?

Apply a little heat to the absorbent cloth or paper. This melts the wax, which is then absorbed into the towel. A simple bit of carpet cleaning magic, but one your client will appreciate. If there is some color left, a volatile dry solvent and possible a reducer can finish the job.

Microfiber has been well known in European cleaning circles for several years, but has only recently begun to achieve a large following of American carpet cleaners. What is so special about microfiber?

Microfiber is composed of very low denier (small diameter) fibers consisting mostly of polyester (80% or more) and the remainder a polyamide (nylon). By way of comparison, human hair has a thickness equal to about 20 denier. Silk fibers range from 8 down to 1 or 2 denier.

Microfibers have a denier less than 1. Some microfibers are as small as .01 denier, hundreds of times smaller than a strand of hair.

Since it requires many of these thin filaments to make a fabric, the material has a lot of surface area and is extremely absorbent. The shape of the fiber also increases the surface area. It can hold a lot of water has room to trap dry soil, plus the polyester portion attracts and absorbs oils, an excellent combination for removing soils from many surfaces.

Absorbent microfibers have many cleaning applications including bonnets for use in carpet and upholstery cleaning. Restoration contractors find them useful for contents cleaning. Because of their shape, the fibers act like small squeegees pulling dirt off surfaces. Being able to hold more soil means they don’t have to be flipped over or changed as often.

Absorbent powders are another useful tool for the carpet cleaner. These can be used to keep stains from wicking back onto the tips of carpet tufts following cleaning or spot removal. When the type of stain or the carpet fiber or construction leads you to believe wicking is a possibility, simply sprinkle on a product that will absorb the stain. Anything that wicks up will now be absorbed into the powder rather than being left on the surface of the carpet. The dry powder can be vacuumed away later.

By a variation of this principle, a cleaner may simply place a few white paper towels over a stain that has been treated. These are then covered with something heavy. The idea is that any liquid remaining behind will wick into the paper towels.

There are potential hazards if you skip the professionally formulated product. If you use paper towels, be sure to place several layers over the spot, and be careful what you select to weigh down the towels.

One cleaner used only a few paper towels and then selected a large family Bible from the coffee table to place on top of the stain. There was sufficient moisture to saturate the towels and continue to seep into several pages of the Bible causing the ink to run. When the homeowner noticed the damage to the Bible, he informed the cleaner. The very old Bible was appraised to evaluate the damage.

It turns out it was a third edition of the original Guttenberg Bible, printed on the first press with movable type. The value was in excess of $150,000! The sum was far beyond the cleaner’s ability to pay. The client knew the Bible was a family heirloom but had no idea of its actual value.

The honest cleaner confessed the value to his customer. The customer was simply glad that the family history in the center pages of the Bible was preserved, and did not press for payment.

Absorbent products are available that can remove oily stains from concrete and even stone. A paste is made from absorbent material mixed with solvents, penetrating surfactants and other ingredients. This is applied like a poultice over the stain. As it dries, oil is dissolved and absorbed. A day or two later, the dried material can be swept up and placed in the trash.

Carpet cleaning techs are familiar with polymers that repel or resist stains. A new twist on protectants is polymers that absorb liquid stains. Image 2 shows samples from greige good (undyed with no factory applied protectant) carpet. One piece is a control sample for comparison. The other three pieces were each treated with an encapsulating polymer and allow to fully dry. Later they were submersed in artificially colored red fruit drink for five minutes and then rinsed with water. The polymers helped prevent staining in part by absorbing the liquid staining material.

The technology of encapsulating polymer protectants is still new and may be developed even further in the future. Even commonplace and long-established methods can give rise to interesting new gadgets, processes and applications.

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