Carpet Inspection Misimpressions

May 18, 2006
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I became a carpet inspector about 12 years ago strictly by accident. I was invited to attend an IICRC-approved carpet inspector course being held in Chattanooga. I never intended to become an inspector, but I thought it would be an interesting course to observe.

Well, after a grueling week of classes and many mill tours, I realized that all the information I'd absorbed was extremely beneficial to me as the owner and operator of a fabric-cleaning firm. The rest is history. I've been performing inspections ever since!

During the past few months I seem to have been flooded with an unusual number of carpet inspections (the majority from carpet mills like Shaw and Mohawk). As I've dealt with consumers from all walks of life and toured their homes, from modular to multi-million dollar, listening to their complaints, problems and misperceptions, it occurred to me that the frustrations that consumers voice about their carpet have as much importance for professional, on-location cleaners as they do for carpet inspectors.

Consumer complaints about carpet typically fall into five categories that trigger the need for carpet inspections:
1. Specifying
2. Manufacturing
3. Installing
4. Maintaining and cleaning
5. Carpet myths and misperceptions.

Let's talk a bit about carpet specification, in the hope that you can learn a few things that may help you or a friend the next time you select new carpet.

Color and pile design or style; that's what every new carpet salesperson is taught is most important. Never mind all those technical details that affect long-term performance. Just lead the prospective customers to the waterfall display that contains the color range and carpet style they are looking for, let them pick one out, assure them that it's "bulletproof" and a "great deal," and write the order.

That's not selling, that's order taking. And it's one of the foremost reasons why IICRC-certified inspectors get calls. I'm not trying to beat up on carpet salespeople, but a little education about fiber characteristics wouldn't hurt them, would it? Hmm...here's a thought: why not share your knowledge with them? Wouldn't that be a great way to establish a relationship and possibly get some future referrals from them?

If I could train carpet salespeople in their craft, I'd start by suggesting that they hold a quick conversation with every potential consumer about his or her lifestyle:

  • Size (square footage) of your home?
  • Where do you plan to have the carpet installed?
  • How much traffic does the area(s) get?
  • Occupants? How many adults, children, pets?


Only after holding that 2-minute conversation would I bring up the subjects of color, style and, heaven forbid, cleaning and maintenance. In the process, the salesperson would be establishing his or her credentials as a knowledgeable professional at the same time. The result of taking a little time to establish customer needs and salesperson professionalism is a higher close ratio, and happier and more repeat customers.

But I digress...

Specification-related consumer complaints arise from several sources. The first is failure to understand fiber characteristics - most consumers have no clue that there is a difference between nylon, wool, polyester and olefin. But let's face it; every fiber isn't right for every floor covering application. To allow consumers to select carpet based on color and style with no consideration about fiber content is a recipe for disaster.

Typical comments in this area include:

"The traffic areas of my olefin Berber look completely worn out after six months of traffic." Wear is defined by carpet manufacturers as loss of 10 percent of face-weight. Hardly ever happens. But non-resilient fibers, such as olefin, that are crushed by normal foot traffic simply won't spring back like nylon will. I spend a huge amount of time explaining this one to home and business owners. Professional cleaners get beat up about this all the time because you can't make those traffic lanes look "like new."

Similarly, polyester fiber that loses crimp after a few months of vacuuming and traffic simply looks distorted in high traffic and pivot areas. "My carpet is wearing out (matting, crushing)," is the common complaint. Not so: crimp loss simply is a characteristic of polyester. Again, you can't fix it with cleaning.

You don't see any spots on your polyester carpet, do you? That's the trade-out with olefin and polyester; great spot and stain resistance, distorted traffic areas in six months to a year.

"Well, isn't that a defect?" Nope, fiber characteristic. And cleaning only makes it clean, distorted carpet fibers.

"But I never would have bought it if I had known my carpet would look like this!" Hey, life's a trade out: superior spot and stain, even bleach-resistance, is the upside; uglied-out traffic lanes in a few months is the downside. Take your pick.

"Well, why didn't the carpet retailer let me know about this when I bought it?" Probably he didn't know, or worse case, he just didn't care. Or maybe he told you, but you were so focused on color and style that you didn't (want to) hear the facts of carpet performance.

"How about those yellow spots that my dog/cat caused on my nylon carpet?" Those are not spots or stains, I reply, they're discolorations - as in color gone! When urine exits the animal, it does so as an acid, but over time, bacteria feeding on urine contamination produces ammonia...pH 12...that damages dyes over time. Get the picture?

"But isn't the carpet manufacturer supposed to use urine-fast, urine-proof dyes?" They do. That would be solution-dyed olefin or dispersed-dyed polyester - but you have to accept all the distortion problems they bring on.

"But the olefin Berber was a lot cheaper." Don't forget your basic lesson in "life-101": price plus quality equals value, i.e. you get what you pay for. Point is, nothing's perfect in life: not children over 2 months of age (except my grandson), not pets - except mine, of course - and not carpet fiber. Fiber selection, like life, is a series of trade-outs. What's the consumer's priority: Appearance retention? Stain and bleach resistance? Environmental friendliness? That's why retailers have to ask a few questions to match the carpet to the consumer's needs.

Next, since nylon has some 62 percent of the total carpet fiber market, what about nylon 6 versus 6,6? Distortion, color loss, appearance retention; much of this is a function of the quality of the nylon itself. While carpet manufacturers downplay the difference between the two "types" of nylon, over time, consumers and inspectors alike can see the difference.

Here's the deal: Type 6 nylon is easier to dye - as in shorter time and lower temperature - and therefore less expensive to manufacture. And just as it's easier for dye chemists to dye it, so also it's easier for a 3-year-old with a sippy cup of Kool Aid to do the same thing. Type 6 nylon also fades and distorts more easily too. Type 6,6, on the other hand, is harder to dye - it requires higher temperature and longer dwell time. But once dyed, it's also harder to stain and it doesn't fade or bleach as easily.

"OK," you ask, "how do I tell the difference between Type 6 and Type 6,6 nylon?"

Well, you can't, at least not by looking at it, or even with burn testing. Your best bet, indeed, the consumer's best bet is to look for branded nylon products; DuPont's Stainmaster or Solutia's Stain Blocker on the label usually indicates that they're getting Type 6,6 nylon. You can verify by obtaining a copy of the warranty from the retailer.

"Just look at my beautiful, expensive wool carpet; it looks faded and worn out in all the high-traffic and pivot areas. What's wrong with this carpet? I bought the best, most expensive...I bought wool! Why, it looks worn out! It must be defective."

Of course, the trained inspector and carpet cleaning specialist knows what the homeowner's seeing is pooling, not wear. It's a characteristic of wool fiber. Too bad she wasn't told about that characteristic when she purchased the carpet (or rug, for that matter). Unfortunately, the shading (pooling, water marking) isn't going to change, even with careful cleaning and grooming.

Last, but far from least, carpet retailers fail to communicate about pile design or style. Take a frieze style compared to a Saxony carpet. Frieze styles have yarns with higher twist per inch, or TPI. This causes a random lay of the pile - sort of a pebbly appearance - and traffic on the "knees" of the yarns. Friezes hide distortion in traffic areas well; they make carpet cleaners look like miracle workers.

Saxony styles, by way of contract, have yarns with less twist, which create a more uniform texture on the wear surface. Any shading, pooling, water marking becomes glaringly apparent, along with wear (thinning out of fiber density). This is more difficult for professional cleaners to correct on Saxony, and it's a source of many consumer complaints. Defect? No, just a characteristic of the carpet's pile design or style.

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