ICS Magazine

Protectors: Is There Beauty in Their Protection, or Protection in Their Beauty?

December 4, 2000
Understanding the properties, usage and characteristics of carpet and upholstery protectors, especially fluorocarbon resins, plays a large role in delivering better service to your customers and to your own safety.

The year 2000 will be noted as the “year that was.” One item in particular is discontinuance of a great product manufactured as a fabric protector. There is also another company that manufactures a carpet protector called Teflon™, an extremely stable plastic material that has been emulsified and is recognized as a fluorocarbon resin. Its capability to reject chemicals is so thorough that during the WWII it was secretly manufactured for use in the Manhattan Project, the code name for the development of the atomic bomb.

Teflon™ can produce a chemical film that has a high resistance to adhesion. However, the resin must be put into solution. To achieve this complex chemical process requires surfactant technology to emulsify its particles. Simply put, it means that the small fluorocarbon particle is surrounded by water. Another way to look at it is its resemblance to milk, where fat is evenly distributed and surrounded by water. I might add that like milk, the Teflon™ emulsion is sensitive and requires special storage and handling. Why all this fuss about the makeup of an emulsion? How are we going to apply this most difficult, slippery, inert compound in the world? Only by spray.

Teflon’s chemical structure is recognized as tetrafluoroethylene and most likely this was the derivation of its trademark name. It was developed by accident when its original research was intended to be involved with a refrigerant. Fortunately, Teflon™ became one of the most inert compounds of its time, a compound that wouldn’t react to any aggressive solvents, acids, or alkalis. The only time it tends to break down is when it is exposed with molten metal salts or hot fluorine gas.

Why all this commentary on a product that we all know as a simple protector? Only to have a fuller understanding of not only the effects of Teflon™, but also how it and other fluorocarbon resins behave in the carpet industry. The main emphasis is: What other compound is able to deliver the dirt, oil, and grease resistance so desirable in carpet protection properties? Once applied, we have a protector that delivers. But, there is another feature that is sometimes forgotten and that is the ability to add longevity to the carpet.

I do have my concerns that many carpet cleaners feel all there is to delivering performance is to quickly spray the protector and that is that. Quite the contrary. Communication is necessary, especially on maintenance, where vacuuming is a must and on a regular schedule. Without proper dedicated vacuuming, the prime features of the protector are lost. Dirt and grime will eventually grind into the carpet. These are what make a carpet ugly out. Vacuuming is what keeps it fresh in appearance.

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Teflon™ was categorized as the slipperiest substance known. Its friction performance was similar to wet ice rubbing against wet ice. And in case you are wondering, why isn’t the carpet slippery upon product application? Simply put, the product is not on a hard surface but on protruding fibers that tend to detract from the potential slip.

There are several factors you may want to consider about fluorocarbon resin. As tough as I have described it, in its liquid state, it requires a certain amount of kid-glove handling. First of all, it’s classified as an emulsion that breaks down readily upon freezing and tends to sour out at elevated temperatures. Fluorocarbon emulsions are more stable when their pH is slightly acidic. The lower pH emulsion enhances carpet protection and locks in more readily with the fiber. Proper preparation is important to achieve maximum adhesion. Something to think about is that a neutralizing solution that is on the acid rinse side would be added insurance to improving fiber protection.

There is the tendency to apply more than is required, which defies my thinking. Because, if the addition of two “glugs” is better than one, then the cost of the application goes out of sight. We’re not talking about the cost of gasoline—we’re talking about basic carpet protectors and they’re not cheap. Overapplication will flake out when dry due to its crystalline structure and will break loose, like shattered glass. These shards will be easily vacuumed, which results in customer disappointment and a waste of time and money. Follow the labels closely and you won’t go wrong. This includes applying the correct gallon per square foot ratio.

On the opposite side, trying to get more miles to the gallon also reflects poor results. This approach will weaken the structure of the protector and produce poor results.

Let’s consider a scenario where everything is done as well as could be done. There will still be customer complaints as to the protection not performing as they thought it should. Why? Because a few uncoated fibers are all that is required to allow the spilled liquid to seek them out and of course, create a stain. An immediate response is to blame the product for the poor performance. Unfortunately, the customer has the right to complain, mainly because of poor application. Every square foot must be coated, slowly, and at a proper spray pressure with a correct tip.

Safety is another issue that you must concern yourself with when working with these protectors. An air protection nose mask should always be used when spraying small particles into the carpet. I used to think that an application so close to the carpet was relatively safe, until the report from 3M came out about polymer particles floating into the air, a subject that I will comment on in the next issue of ICS. It does stand to reason that when you spray a fluorocarbon emulsion into the carpet, there will be particles similar to cigarette smoke floating in the air. Excessive exposure to these particles can be a matter of concern as recognized by 3M, who pulled the plug on one of their best selling stain repellants.