Cleaning & Restoration Association News

Working With Color Loss Situations

May 3, 2001
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Sun fade, fume fade or shading — educate yourself and your customer before starting the cleaning job.



Color loss situations are quite common in the carpet cleaning profession, but their discovery might sometimes come as a surprise. You know the scenario: You’re cleaning the pretty pink, nylon Saxony. But when you move the sofas in the living/family room or the dressers in the bedroom, you find the carpet under this furniture is burgundy colored. When you show it to the consumer, you hope their reply is, “Oh we know that. The carpet is only five years old, but we noticed it was changing color when it was about three years old. We didn’t know what to do so we didn’t do anything. We have sun-blocking film on the windows and try to keep the drapes closed.”

Well, as a matter of fact, there’s not much that could be done. Color loss like this is really quite common. If you’re a professional carpet cleaner, then you probably see it about once a month. This color loss may be the result of sun fade or fume fade.

Color loss may also take the form of spots where bleaches have been used or spilled, or even from animal waste or vomit. There’s not much you can do for color loss unless you are a skilled dye technician. An experienced dye technician can probably correct all of the conditions I’ve described above. However, the correction is also dependent on fiber type. Unlike nylon and wool, some fibers don’t dye well on site.

The color loss condition described above is interchangeably referred to as fading or sublimation, which is defined as color loss from the fiber by vaporization. Sounds like the same thing to me. The light spots where the bleach came in contact with the fibers are called bleach spots!

Sun Fade is defined in Clean Care Seminars’ CRIS Glossary as “the gradual, irreversible loss of color intensity due to exposure to sunlight.” It’s more common in the Sun Belt states than in colder climates. Sun fade is characteristically present only in the areas exposed to direct sunlight. It won’t appear in shaded areas, such as behind or under furniture. Sun fade can be slowed by usage of UV blocking films or glass, or by blocking sunlight with draperies or shades. The greatest potential for sun fade is from a southwest or southern exposure while a northern or northwest exposure has the least. Nylon and wool may also completely degrade to a powder from extended exposure to UV rays present in sunlight. It’s not uncommon to see carpet between a sliding glass door and an interior window treatment first lose color and then become a pile of powder.

Fume Fade is defined by the IICRC as “color loss, which is not the result of sunlight but is caused by various gasses passing across the surface of the carpet.” These various gasses may include ozone, especially in the Sun Belt, or oxides of nitrogen from industrial pollutants, or from gas- or oil-fired heating systems. Fume fade differs in appearance from sun fade in that it will occur throughout a home or room, even in areas behind furniture where sunlight doesn’t penetrate. One thing about this condition is that it makes it easier to know where to put the furniture back. Just put it back on the darker spots that match the furniture shape.

While blocking sunlight will slow the rate of color loss in sun fading, it will serve no advantage in cases of fume fade.

Shading The color loss situations, which I have discussed above should not be confused with shading, which isn’t actually color loss, but is an apparent lightening of color in trafficked areas. Once again from the CRIS Glossary: “This apparent lightening of color is the result of a change in light reflection from fibers/yarns which are bent from the crushing of traffic. The sides of these bent fibers reflect more light and appear brighter and lighter than the yarn ends which absorb more light and appear to be duller.” This apparent lightening of color will occur only in trafficked areas of carpet and not in areas of carpet out of traffic lanes or under furniture. Shading will be less of a problem in loop pile goods such berbers and more prevalent in cut piles such as Saxonies or plushes. In one fiber, which was very popular years ago, the traffic lanes sometimes actually looked like light-colored rivers running through the carpet. The only prevention for this condition is to not walk on the carpet. There is no dye system that will correct it. Shading is a characteristic of cut pile textiles, including carpets, and does not constitute a defect. It will be more noticeable in darker colors. Keep all of this information in mind next time you see one of these color loss or apparent color loss situations and inform your customer of the facts before you agree to clean the carpet. What you tell them before you start is information what you tell them after is an excuse. Until next month, Seeya!

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