ICS Magazine

Take Conditions Into Consideration

January 11, 2005
Make sure the customer understands what you can and cannot do before you start the job.


Mrs. Piffleton called me today, wanting to know if I cleaned Oriental rugs. Of course the answer was yes, so we made an appointment to inspect the rug and give her a quote. Pretty simple, eh?

When I arrived at her home she showed me a very nice machine-made, Chinese-style rug, 9 feet 6 inches by 11 feet 6 inches, not a collector's item but a nice rug. The face yarns were wool, the foundation yarns jute/cotton. The fringe was clean and undamaged. An all-around nice rug. She then proceeded to show me the areas of her concern: two areas about 2 feet wide extending about 2 feet into the rug, with an end point that was somewhat semicircular. There was one such area on each end of the rug right where you walked onto the rug from the hardwood floor.

She said that the areas had become increasingly soiled during the three years she had the rug. She had bought the rug for $1,800 at a big box retailer. I patiently explained to her that her "soiling problem" was a combination of soil and pile reversal or shading, assuring her that the shading did not indicate any defect in her rug. I also informed her that the condition would be more noticeable after the cleaning, when the luster was restored to her rug. We made arrangements for me to pick up the rug and take it to a nearby plant that uses the submersion process for cleaning.

Her problem of pile reversal or shading is a very common condition with any cut-pile textile, including velvet upholstery and clothing fabric. The shading/reversal condition develops in broadloom, installed carpets as well as loose rugs. Rumor has it that the oldest existing rug, known as the Pazyryk rug, discovered in Siberia in 1947 and dating to 450 B.C., exhibits some shading. This condition is also referred to as watermarking, although it is not necessary for the rug or carpet to be exposed to water for the condition to develop. The condition usually appears as light and dark areas in the carpet or rug with an irregular shape and orientation, with the light and dark areas changing from light to dark depending upon the direction from which they are viewed. In other words, if you see a dark area surrounded by light areas and you move so that you are viewing the areas from the opposite side of the room, you will see light areas surrounded by dark areas. Hope I haven't confused you.

This condition is sometimes referred to as watermarking or pooling because if you look across a large area or room that has the problem it will look as if there are large wet areas in the room. The condition is not correctable. But rug and carpet manufacturers are quick to point that this is not a defect but a characteristic of cut-pile rugs and carpets. Something of a mystery existed for years about the cause of this phenomenon but research conducted by Wool Rugs of New Zealand in the late 90s disclosed that static electricity generated by yarn movement related to foot or wheeled traffic on the carpet or rug was a major contributing factor in pile reversal.

While this condition may develop in residential goods, it is most common in commercial products, where densely placed pile yarns contribute to the condition. The denser the pile, and quite often the more expensive the product, the more the condition will be encountered. So whether cleaning rugs or carpets, residential or commercial, you should be aware of the condition and when it is encountered take the time to educate the carpet owner that this is not a correctable situation.

Remember, what you tell your customer before you perform the cleaning service is education; what you tell them after the fact are excuses. And we all know that excuses are kinda like...noses: we all have them and they all smell!

You may also find a form of pile reversal in some residential hallways, especially with fibers such as polyester or olefin. It will look like a snaky pattern, which may be lighter in color to almost white. The problem may not be visible until after the cleaning and then, according to the uninformed customer, you caused the problem. So tell them before you begin. Take the time to thoroughly inspect all areas to be cleaned with the customer, pointing out and explaining potential problems as you go. This is where a quote attributed to the magnificent Barry Costa, "Inspect to know what to expect," comes into play.

I hope this bit of advice helps you, especially you newbies, to be more successful in this great business of carpet maintenance and cleaning. Until next month, see ya!