ICS Magazine

Bathtub Chemistry

June 28, 2000
An industry veteran voices his opinion on the reoccurring topic of mixing different cleaning agents to improve job results.

While “surfing the net,” more and more online resources, such as bulletin boards, can be found for carpet and upholstery cleaning professionals and newcomers. Certainly the ICS Bulletin Board at icsmag.com is a shining example of a first class bulletin board with diverse participants. With hundreds of posts appearing monthly at icsmag.com, users know that the answer to any question is just a few keystrokes away. One reoccurring subject is the question of how to mix different cleaning agents to improve job results.

Mixing Products

What I refer to as “Bathtub Chemistry” is all too common throughout the industry. The IICRC addressed this practice by requiring Carpet Cleaning Technician (CCT) instructors to warn against mixing cleaning agents unless the manufacturer’s label indicates as such. The reasons for this position may be chemical related, health related or legal in nature. Combining cleaning agents may result in a compound with no cleaning capabilities. In addition to the mixture possibly generating hazardous fumes, there is also the legal liability of the cleaning agent(s) manufacturer to consider.

One area where the mixing of chemicals is often considered is in odor abatement or removal. Quite often the cleaning technician will consider adding a disinfectant to the cleaning solution to assist in the odor correction by killing bacteria related to the odor. The hitch here is that many cleaning agents are anionic and many disinfectants are cationic in nature. The mixing of these two agents will render a solution with no disinfecting power and very little cleaning power.

The solution may undergo “reverse saponification” [to convert into soap], which may cause oily, sticky and hard-to-rinse residue. This may lead to prematurely soiled and shiny traffic lanes, and a repeat cleaning of the affected areas. If you feel you need disinfecting properties in a cleaner, ask your supplier for a product that meets your needs.

Actually, carpet related problems might be easier to deal with than health related problems. Mixing the wrong products together may result in a gas that can cause major health concerns. Not too many years ago, a cleaner that mixed a common color correction product with a common acid ended up in the hospital with chemical pneumonia. Not the type of thing you want to inflict on an employee, a client, or yourself. It’s better to follow the directions on the label for proper usage and dilution ratios, as well as application techniques, to avoid health problems. Wear the proper personal safety equipment when handling or applying chemicals.

The risk of damaging a client’s furnishings increases if you vary from label directions. But if you do cause damage, it should be covered by the chemical manufacturer’s product liability insurance, if you have used the product in a manner that is recommended on the label. Failure to follow label directions will diminish any manufacturer’s liability. At the same time increasing your liability.

The best route to take would be to shop for a cleaning product formulated the way you want it to be. If you want to use enzyme action for cleaning, then buy an enzyme product. Likewise, if you want a cleaner with d-limonene, then buy one formulated that way. Adding d-limonene to a product formulated without it may or may not work. Trying it may cost you dollars or disappointment. There are trained chemists in labs that get paid to put these things together. My experience causes me to believe that they do great job, trust me! Buy the cleaning agent you need from a supplier and save yourself some headaches.

Thanks for listening! Until next month, seeya!