What was the fiber content of the last five carpeted surfaces you cleaned? Was it nylon, olefin, polyester, triexta or wool?

Do you follow the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC) S100 Standard and Reference Guide for Professional Cleaning of Textile Floor Coverings for cleaning carpet?

Of course, there is no carpet cleaning police department. Neither I nor any of my IICRC senior carpet inspector colleagues arrest anyone.

I do not clean a lot of residential carpet; I never have. Along with performing carpet and other flooring inspections and teaching IICRC-approved classes, I run the maintenance division for a large commercial flooring contractor in Cleveland.

Being a carpet inspector helps keep me on my “A” game and in the loop of what is happening out in the real world of carpet care and maintenance. I see carpet that is not being maintained the way it is supposed to be, such as vacuuming and spot removal, let alone cleaning as often as it should.

Let’s pick on vacuuming, as an example. I will bet you that in the next 10 homes you go into, the vacuum in five of them will not be working properly. Something will be wrong with it so that it will not be working the way it is supposed to, such as a full filter, a clogged hose, worn brushes, broken belt, etc. And people wonder why their carpet is not performing the way it is supposed to.

Become an educator

Suppose for a moment you clean the carpet in one of those homes where the vacuum is not working properly. How long do you think your cleaning will last? How soon do you think your customer will call and say that your cleaning did not last very long?

Now they want you to come and re-clean the carpet (at no charge), and then threaten to call the Better Business Bureau or the local TV station and report you for fraud if you don’t. All this because they are not following the manufacturer’s care and maintenance guidelines or the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) suggested care and maintenance recommendations.

Do you discuss with your customers about these things, their responsibilities? You should. It shows you care about your customer and your customer’s carpet. You want them to have it as long as possible, and you are helping by educating them on things no one else does. Lord knows the dealer does not, the installer does not, and they certainly will not find what they need to know on the Home Shopping Network.

Do you remember back when you took a carpet cleaning class and the instructor talked about performing fiber identification prior to cleaning a carpet? This was so you would not use certain chemistry and damage a fiber or the stain resistance of a fifth-generation nylon carpet. I feel it is time for you to dust off those manuals and understand why it may be more important than ever to know which yarn is which, so you have greater success in keeping satisfied customers.

Time will tell

Over the years, much marketing hype has been tossed at our customers saying that all that is needed to clean their new Mohawk “SmartStrand” carpet is plain hot water. For many carpet cleaners, it has not worked and they stand there looking ignorant in front of their customers. What is worse, some cleaners are being blamed for causing a customer’s carpet to resoil rapidly and/or have spots wick up they did not know were there.

Why?

The Society of Cleaning and Restoration Technicians (SCRT) Northeast Ohio Chapter held a four-hour, hands-on meeting in January at D&R Carpet Service. D&R is the commercial flooring contractor where I manage the maintenance division.

Prior to the meeting the SCRT purchased four pieces of residential-grade carpet: An olefin/nylon berber, a nylon saxony, a PET saxony and a PTT (triexta) saxony. I put them into a weekly rotation so that each one would be soiled in the warehouse.

Scores of foot traffics traversed the carpet on a daily basis. Everyone from the office staff and warehouse manager went back and forth over the carpet numerous times each day. Truck drivers, installers and our own maintenance staff walked on the carpet as well. The maintenance staff even cleaned some of their equipment on the carpet. We did nothing in trying to keep the carpet clean. We did not even vacuum them. Soil from the floor of the warehouse and other large pieces of debris were being ground into the carpet.

This probably sounds like your customers, who do not vacuum their own carpet as often as they should.

We looked at the carpet during our four hour meeting. It was interesting to see which carpet soiled the most and fastest. Can you guess? The olefin/nylon berber blend was the culprit. The PTT/triexta soiled the least and looked cleaner than the rest.

Time will tell if PTT fiber will outperform nylon, still the most popular fiber used in carpet today, in soil and stain resistance and texture retention.

At the end of the testing, I saw that the carpet was soiled but not “grungy dirty” like so many rooms of carpet you may see in a day. 

Following protocol

During the meeting, the attendees did a lot of burn testing. By process of elimination, we discovered which carpet was which. We found the nylon carpet by using formic acid, but we still had to determine which one was PET and which one was PTT.

While we were vacuuming and then using a counter-rotating brush machine, one of the pieces of carpet was shedding. Shedding is common with carpet made with PET because most are made with staple filament yarn. PTT does not, because it is made with continuous filament yarn. Burn testing PET or PTT will not tell you the difference between the two.

I figured I would perform one more test to be certain: A water test. From everything I have been reading and in discussion with others in the industry, water will bead up on PET because protector is applied to it by the mill, whereas water will absorb readily into PTT because Mohawk does not apply protector to SmartStrand, the PTT product. I dripped purified water on the PTT and PET and found that water absorbed readily into one and beaded up on the other, the carpet that shed.

Following the S100 carpet cleaning standard protocol, we vacuumed each piece of carpet. We then applied an encapsulating traffic lane cleaner and used the brush machine to work the detergent into the pile. After several minutes of contact time, the carpet was hot water extraction cleaned using a high-performance portable machine with an encapsulating acid rinse.

Interestingly, each piece of carpet cleaned well, with equal effort on all four. Like any other cleaner with prejudices about olefin, I thought it would have been the more difficult carpet to clean; it looked fine and was as easy to clean as the nylon carpet.

The next carpet I know that can be challenging is the PET carpet; it cleaned easily as well. The PTT carpet cleaned nicely except for some oil-based spots that we had to spend some extra time on, but we removed them. So in the end, all carpeted samples cleaned up well with no extra effort.

Simple soil testing

There are several other factors involved in this rudimentary soiling test: The type and amount of soil, the type and amount of foot traffics the carpet received and the age of the soil.

In addition, there was not much of an oily component to the soil. It is always easy to clean recently soiled carpet. Year of age, oxidized, oily soils are more of a challenge. 

A common problem that can occur from hot water extraction cleaning any type of carpet is wicking of spots, especially when cleaning triexta. Remember when I was relating about how we determined which carpet was PET and PTT? I dripped water on both of them. What happened on the PTT? It absorbed in readily, and so will beverage spills at your customer’s home.

Even if a recent spill is properly blotted by your customer, we know that some of the spill can penetrate through the carpet. I believe that the penetration of spills will occur more often on carpet made with triexta. If that is the case, you may be faced with more call-backs due to spots wicking up to the surface. Mohawk knows that this is an issue as they write about it in their warranties.

Practical application

I feel the bottom line to this whole article is this: It is always a good idea to perform a fiber ID test on the carpet you are about to clean. No matter how many years you have been in the industry, you really cannot tell the fiber content of the carpet by simply looking at it. When you know the fiber content, you will be more aware of certain idiosyncrasies of the carpet, such as how it may respond to cleaning.

You should also follow the protocols in the S100 Standard and Reference Guide for Professional Cleaning of Textile Floor Coverings. Following the S100 means you can remove more soil from carpet and it will remain clean longer.

Following the S100 will increase customer satisfaction. Increasing customer satisfaction will increase your profits.

Mark Violand has been in the cleaning and restoration industry for 36 years. He is an IICRC certified carpet inspector and approved instructor. His reputation precedes him as Northeast Ohio’s “go-to” floorcovering inspector, working for carpet, resilient, wood and laminate manufacturers and floorcovering retailers. He teaches the Carpet Cleaning Technician, Commercial Carpet Cleaning and Maintenance and Carpet Repair and Reinstallation Technician courses. Violand is also the manager of the maintenance department for one of Northeast Ohio’s largest commercial flooring contractors. Contact him at Mark@Mark4Floors.com.