As the Wheel Turns: Machines Used for Encapsulation

October 11, 2006
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Up until the introduction of extraction cleaning, the majority of carpet cleaning was done with a rotary machine and a sudsy shampoo solution. Synthetic detergents had replaced most heavy re-soiling coconut-oil-based shampoos but, as we would tell our customers, "Why would you want to stir the dirt up and then leave it in the carpet?"

So the shampooing of carpet was mostly abandoned for much of 30 years. It is only in the last few years that a type of shampooing, now called encapsulation, has reappeared in such a way to gather the full attention of the professional industry. Some may resent my calling this shampooing, because after all, encapsulation does represent some important changes and improvements.

The biggest change is in the chemistry. Encapsulation chemistry uses special types of polymers and surfactants to suspend the soil in the carpet. This prepares the soil to be vacuumed out later, and coats the fibers to resist re-soiling. There is much discussion about this technology but one thing is for sure: encapsulation does work and is here to stay. With this in mind let's review the equipment choices you are faced with when employing the encapsulation method.

Please understand that, while I have my favorites, I believe there is a place and reason to use any one of these machines for encapsulation.

Single-Disc Rotary Machine

This machine has a motor on top of a drive block or a brush block and is driven by gears or belts. It can work two different applications for encapsulation.

Bonnet cleaning. A well-formulated encapsulation formula is perfect when used as a bonnet cleaner. Bonnet cleaning is generally not recommended by the major carpet manufacturers. In spite of this, it continues to be a popular method, especially for commercial carpets. The advantage of using bonnets on the single-disc machine is aggressive agitation and some degree of soil extraction/removal at the time of cleaning. A portion of the soil absorbs into the bonnet while some of the chemicals stay behind to suspend and encapsulate the remaining soil. I have seen a commercial carpet with heavy traffic maintained with this system over a five-year period. The carpet looks very good.

Rotary shampoo. The machine used for this is the single disc rotary with a solution tank attached. The solution is fed down to the brush, usually nylon, and scrubbed into the carpet. With an expert behind the wheel to control the amount of Encapsulation chemistry applied, and to control the passes, this can be quite effective. I would not suggest this as the primary piece of equipment for the Encapsulation system but if you already have the equipment, it will work.

Oscillating Disc Machine

This piece of machinery is sometimes referred to as an orbital or vibrating-head machine. It uses an offset bearing that spins inside a shaft, causing the pad driver to vibrate rather than spin at a high speed. The bottom plate is usually round and 15 to 20 inches in diameter. While less common, there are also square bottom plates available.

With its thorough vibrating motion, this equipment can offer excellent cleaning using encapsulation. If using a cotton towel or bonnet, a disc designed to help float and move the machine may be required between the bonnet (or towel) and carpet. This somewhat limits the pickup zone on the bonnet, but it can still be very effective with encapsulation technology.

Three-Headed Planetary Motion Machine

You have probably heard this machine called a Cimex, which is actually one of the brands. It comes with a solution tank, a drive motor that drives a round disc to which is attached three smaller round brushes or drive blocks. The large disc turns while the three small ones, which are the contact point with the carpet, turn in the same direction. Each time the machine is turned on, the heads switch direction to preserve brush life. This may be hard to picture, so go to your local distributor to see one work.

The three smaller brushes or drive blocks working together are very good at agitation and at dispersing of the encapsulation chemistry in an even manner. For high production and effective cleaning, this type of machine is hard to beat.

Counter-Rotating Cylinder Brush Machine

With two cylinder brushes that rotate in opposite directions, this machine is excellent in both agitation and speed. Some of the different versions come with solution tanks, small catch basins to pick up soil and even pumps for spraying solution. These machines may be available in sizes as small as 11 inches to the large 20-inch machine. Some new models have multiple speeds to deal with different carpets and situations. The slowest speed is for cleaning the most difficult areas and provides the most aggressive agitation. The normal speed is for most encapsulation cleaning situations, and the high speed with the appropriate attachment will serve as a pile lifter.

With this method, you normally use a sprayer to apply the encapsulation chemistry to the carpet. This gives you the advantage of applying just the right amount, and doing it evenly, depending on the soil load and type of carpet you are working with. It also gives the advantage of giving some dwell time on the carpet.

That's a short description of the most-used machines for encapsulation cleaning. It is important to note I have not covered every option, including cylinder brush machines that attach together and the large walk-behind scrubbers.

I hope this has given you some good options to choose from when deciding on your equipment purchases. There is a wide variety of machines to choose from, and there is the decision on whether to use a bonnet, brush, or pad. But we'll save that for another day.

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