Pre- and Post-Cleaning Carpet Treatments

December 10, 2004
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Understanding your treatment choices leads to better decisions.


As you meander down the aisles of your supplier's showroom, you are presented with a wide array of products designed for such specialized purposes as spot removal, odor control or correction, color correction, and sanitizing.

These products may not be widely used in your day-to-day cleaning endeavors, but when you need them, you definitely need them.

Pretreatments
A larger amount of space will be probably be dedicated to the common pretreatments, which are more widely used than the specialized products. The most common are the category that may be referred to as pretreatments, preconditioners or traffic-lane cleaners. These products are applied and allowed to dwell prior to the technician performing the actual cleaning process. They will normally contain a couple of different chemical types, at least one of which is designed to dissolve the greasy, sticky films which bind the soil to the carpet and prevent the removal of many soils through vacuuming. These emulsifiers, also known as detergents, may have their effectiveness boosted by a solvent, which may be a natural material such as d,limonene or a petroleum byproduct such as glycol ethers or "butyl" agents. These pretreatments work during the dwell-time portion of the process to chemically liquefy the films that bind the soils, surrounding and suspending particle soils so they can be removed during the rinse phase of the process.

As detergents don't work instantly, optimal dwell time is 15 minutes to 20 minutes for hot-water-extraction procedures. When being used with very-low-moisture systems, less dwell time may be needed due to the comparatively high amount of agitation which is common to VLM systems, e.g. encapsulation, absorbent pad, dry compound, foam and cylindrical brush, as well as the plain old ordinary rotary brush.

Pretreatments should be selected on such properties as pH (generally less than pH 10 measured at use dilution), rinsability and the nature of any remaining residue. The ideal pretreatment will rinse easily and leave a non-villainous residue that won't contribute to re-soiling conditions. Any residue should be dry, powdery, or crystalline in nature.

Post Treatments
Products designed to be used after the cleaning process to perform specific functions as neutralization, fiber/fabric softening, sanitization, odor control/correction and stain/ soil repellency are post treatments. One of the most common categories is acid rinses, formulated for neutralizing alkaline residues and to soften the hand of cleaned fabrics. Anti-staining and soiling products are commonly sprayed on the fabric surface to assist the carpet owner in keeping the carpets cleaner.

These treatments have proven to be the biggest, and least expensive to implement, profit center available to the cleaning industry. One caveat: the carpet must be vacuumed on a regular basis for these products to achieve their maximum benefit. In other words the protector will not throw spilled coffee back into the mug.

Anti-soil and stain treatments generally come packaged as fluorochemical-based products effective primarily against particle soils, with some available with acid dye-blocker additives effective against colored spills such as beverages. Not as prevalent today as in years past are silicone stain repellents, which basically waterproof the fabric or fiber. Laboratory testing conducted by Dr. Barbara Regan at Kansas State University in 1986 indicated that the silicone protectors worked well at preventing stains from water-based spills but would, under some circumstances, contribute to a re-soiling problem, especially if over-applied.

Which brings us to the topic of label directions. To achieve maximum effectiveness with any of the products you use, it is best to follow the label directions relative to dilution and application rates. The chemists that develop these products have spent months if not years in their labs determining the optimum conditions for their use. Over-use or under-use of any of the products may compromise the results of the application. I guess we have all dealt with the homeowner or maintenance person that thought, "Hey, if one cup was good, two cups must be twice as good!" Uh huh. Say goodbye to profits and hello to foam! Spending 98 cents on a measuring cup may be the best and most profitable move you'll ever make.

Until next month, see ya!

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