Every once in a while I can’t help but talk about some of the most effective gadgets or “tools” in the chemical world. This month’s column has to do with chemicals used for boosting your cleaning performance. But first, a little history.
Some of you may not have yet been born when I started cleaning carpets. Back in 1974, we had little of the chemical technology available today to help us perform our job. My brother and I started cleaning just after “steam cleaning,” or hot-water extraction as we know it today, was invented. Our cleaning chemical was a powdered formula we put in our little extractor, and that was pretty much it. Over the next couple of years we struggled on, learning little by little, muddling our way through, working hard and doing everything we could to make our customers happy. But we knew we were missing something.
Finally, the opportunity came and we attended a carpet-cleaning course in Fresno, Calif. It was an exciting time for us and we learned a lot, but came away just a little disappointed. The teacher was trying to be generic and, while she used quite a few different chemical products and produced some good results, the labels were actually taped over, with just the instructions visible. That didn’t quite cut it; I wanted to know what I was using and where to get it.
The lights were finally turned on in the late 1970s when we sponsored an upholstery-cleaning class taught by the venerable Lee Pemberton. Lee had a background in the dry-cleaning industry and had developed as a topnotch carpet- and upholstery-cleaning expert. He is also one of the most revered instructors in our industry.
There were 30 professionals there, young and eager to learn the power of chemistry in cleaning. After a few hours with Lee we all felt a little like mad scientists, mixing a little of this with some of that to come up with a combination of products that did amazing things on light soil, heavy soil, delicate fiber to indestructible nylon and everything in between.
While almost 30 years have passed, some of those products and additives Lee introduced to us that day are still in use. Couple these products with the advances that have been made in cleaning chemistry, and today we have some great options when it comes to our carpet- and upholstery-cleaning challenges.
Everyone has come across that traffic lane that looks more like a dirt road than carpet. Apply your very best combination of pre-spray and high-temperature cleaning rinse combined with high pressure, and you still leave the dreaded “traffic lane gray.” Thankfully, there exists an additive that will increase the available oxygen in our solution and remove the dinginess that nothing else quite can.
This booster additive can be described as color-safe bleach or oxygen bleach. It usually includes sodium percarbonate. It is often a powder substance with a combination of ingredients. Once mixed with your cleaning solution, the resulting new solution will now contain hydrogen peroxide.
When using these oxygen bleaches it is important to remember that they only remain active for a short period of time. I suggest the highest and best performance is attained in the first hour, and it is best to use a fresh formulation if your time exceeds this.
An oxygen bleach can be effective in many high-soil situations. There is one situation in particular where I hate to be without it – olefin (polypropylene) fibers, both upholstery and carpet. This fiber has a consistent propensity to darken in traffic lanes and where worn. You will find you get 10 or even 20 percent more brightness out of these fibers when you use an oxygen bleach.
Other uses for color-safe bleach boosters are fringes on rugs; light-colored cotton fibers on upholstery (use with a buffering agent for safest results); polyester carpets; dirty outdoor carpet, and even wool dhurries (if you are trained). These same products also provide alkalinity that will boost the pH and/or stabilize the pH of carpet-cleaning pre-sprays. The boosted pre-spray maintains a steady pH near 10 even when diluted. This added alkalinity helps emulsify oils and grease. The result is not only brighter colors and whiter whites, but faster and more complete removal of difficult, oily soils. Experience and caution are always your fallbacks as you consider the cleaning agents you might use on any fiber.
While we may think of the machines and accessories we use as our real “tools,” we can do as much or more with the right chemical agents by applying them with experience and care. Just as a surgeon wields a scalpel with great precision and care, we should use our chemical tools to make the difference between acceptable and impressive.