ICS Magazine

The Science of Encapsulation: Polymer Chemistry Optimizes Cleaning Potential

December 3, 2012
heiferman carpet cleaner
Carpet cleaning is like any other industry where optimizing your technology will be a key to business survival. 
That is exactly what polymer chemistry is all about. And according to John Droske, director of POLYED National Information Center for polymer education, “Approximately 50% of all chemists will work with polymers at some time in their career.”
A polymer is a small chain of molecules joined together in a repeating fashion to form a single layer molecule. Polymers are developed to make products with unique physical and chemical properties. There is a major effort or focus from an economic standpoint and polymer chemistry is driving or supercharging many different scientific disciplines.
Jan Shulman, Formulation Chemist at Rohm & Haas, works with polymers and detergent formulations. She states: “Polymers are key to making products work better.”
Encapsulation carpet cleaning products and equipment used to employ the chemistry has seen many advances. Advancements in polymer chemistry make low-moisture encapsulation a real winner for interim commercial carpet maintenance in addition to residential carpet cleaning applications. There are some amazing encapsulation products used for more than low-moisture cleaning. Many professional textile cleaners who employ extraction systems have learned the tricks of the trade concerning dry times and what form of residue, if any, is left in the carpet. When dealing with carpet cleaning clients, a concern often voiced is how long the carpet takes to dry and if it will feel the same or get dirty faster after cleaning. Many professionals will add encapsulating polymers to their acid rinses or use encapsulating hot-water extraction (HWE) products to achieve that squeaky fresh clean left by the anti-resoiling polymers that help to keep the carpet cleaner and healthier longer. Today’s textile cleaning professional is consistently searching for healthier ways to maintain and clean textiles with systems that limit or cancel inappropriate sticky residues that contribute to resoiling and possible poor indoor air quality issues. 
Low-moisture encapsulation cleaning is a superior performer when it comes to avoiding wicking of spots and premature resoiling. Encapsulation systems and products help textile professionals deliver a cleaner clean. Professional textile cleaners consistently look for new technologies and methods of cleaning in order to achieve ultimate, healthy clean carpet. Today’s advanced generation polymers dry to a crystalline state for removal with high efficiency vacuuming. These crystalline polymers along with surfactants attract and surround the soil (polymers encapsulate both the detergent and soil). The encapsulated soil dries and is crystallized into a dry non-sticky residue that’s easy to remove with commercial grade vacuuming equipment. We begin to see encapsulation is the chemical process that crystallizes soil and detergent for removal then leaves an anti-resoiling polymer behind to avoid wicking and does not allow soil to readily attach, leaving the carpet cleaner longer.
Current advancement in encapsulation products use green solvents and surfactants that dry to a crystalline state without additional chemicals such as embrittling agents. This means even cleaner carpet for a longer period of time.
Encap low-moisture cleaning is not the answer for all cleaning or maintenance situations. For a properly developed maintenance plan in both commercial and residential, there is a need for both low-moisture interim cleaning systems like encap and restorative cleaning or hot-water extraction. Hot-water extraction systems inject detergents into the carpet at elevated temperatures simultaneously using a vacuum system to extract soil and spent cleaning solution. To expedite drying, specialized air movers made to dry carpet are used to get quick drying times during extraction cleaning. The hot-water extraction system gives a sanitizing effect to the carpet when employed by trained professionals who understand a clean and healthy carpet is a clean and quickly dried carpet.
For the professional who is searching for more information on low-moisture encap cleaning, there are many sources you can go to. The IICRC has great hands-on education, your local trade association has many learning opportunities available, the Low Moisture Carpet Cleaning Association (LMCCA) would be more than happy to speak with you and there are also many classes that are product specific sponsored by manufacturers and distributors in the industry that you can attend.
My best advice to my friends and students is to continue your education. Accepting newer processes and different ways to clean using more than one technology is the sign of an advanced thinker who can change and adapt - the sign of a true business professional. Remember - “unleash the power of education.”  
*Sources: POLYED - National Information Center for Polymer Education, Bridgepoint Systems, University of Wisconsin, American Chemical Council, Chemical Heritage Foundation, Scotts-Tuff, Rich Galinas (Releasit), Dick Wittaker and Dow Chemical.