Cleaning & Restoration Association News

Light It Up

July 12, 2004
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Light can have many effects on the carpet.


Light plays a big role in carpet cleaning. We all look forward to its warmth, its spiritual impact, and to show us the way as we roll through a six-carpet cleaning day.

Light can make a carpet look fantastic, or it can interfere with the great job you thought you did the night before. How many times have you had to revisit a job the following morning? Was it the wand strokes that stood out like a zebra's stripes, or the stains that somehow were invisible under tungsten or fluorescent lighting? Blame the portion of electromagnetic spectrum of pure energy known as light. Infrared and ultraviolet light, invisible to the naked eye, can also play havoc on dyes and pigments exposed for long periods of time.

How often have you entered a home and found a piece of upholstery or carpet exposed to the sun shining through a window? Color change, known as fading, is evidence of what can happen on exposure to the sun. The effect of this exposure in northern states may be lessened because of the angle that the sun's rays attack the fabric. On the other hand, in Phoenix the sun's rays are more direct, and the temperature is higher. This combination, called "sun rot," delivers an exposure that literally cremates the fabric.

Keep in mind that white light contains all the colors of the spectrum. And just to reactivate your brain cells, these colors are red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet.

At the extreme end of the color scale are the more energized ultraviolet and infrared wavelengths. In order to enhance cleaning characteristics, we need to formulate carpet-cleaning products with dye components known as optical brighteners. It makes sense then that, with an energizing dye based on ultraviolet interaction, these products would literally make the room jump at you.

Unfortunately, it also had a negative effect on the carpet fiber. Shaw Industries, one of the largest carpet manufacturers, immediately advised that cleaning with an optical brightener would cancel their carpets' warranties. A "home run" of an idea quickly "struck out."

In addition, optical brighteners weren't the panacea for brighter carpets. In one instance, an optical brightener was used to clean all of a carpet except for the area under the coffee table. Sometime later, when the coffee table was moved, the area under the table was very clean; the surrounding areas, however, had a brackish look, as though a hundred college students had danced on it with dirty feet.

There are other ways in which ultraviolet waves can affect your carpet cleaning. When optical-brightener cleaning is performed at night, any problems that may exist won't be recognized until the next morning when the sun shines through the window, bringing in all the ultraviolet light. Obviously, indoor lighting will not activate that UV-sensitive spot. And yes, optical brighteners are difficult, if not impossible, to remove. It will require extensive chemistry to remove sensitive dye brighteners. They are literally locked-in dyes. It doesn't take much light to see that you should avoid optical brighteners, no matter what the reason.

Needless to say, current carpet cleaning formulations do not introduce an optical brightener.

Another aspect of light reflection that keeps many people buffaloed is the problem of shading. It is really quite something. At first, the carpet appears to be wet in a helter-skelter way. There is no design, no pattern, nor sequential manner in which this appearance is produced. But it is not wet. The appearance is a result of the way the fiber rotates to reflect different light patterns, just one more way that light can affect the look of a carpet. Light's impact is so well recognized that carpet fiber manufacturers have developed the trilobel fiber specifically to reflect more light, helping the carpet to keep its new appearance longer.

A carpet's performance depends on construction, fiber type, the quality of the installation, cost and scheduled maintenance. We well know the harmful effects of dirt and soil, but you may not have known this: once it is noticeable that a carpet is soiled, its destruction has already begun; at this point, light of any type will not bring back its original luster.

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