By James B. Smith

As cleaning professionals, we help customers get as much life from their carpets as possible, but when should we advise them that a carpet should be replaced? Before synthetics came on the market, this was an easy question to answer; it’s time to replace the carpet when the face fiber is gone. The life-cycle of natural fibers is that small fragments gradually break free, revealing the carpet’s backing over time. However, in the process of wearing, wool carpets maintain their aesthetics. Synthetics, on the other hand, begin to permanently appear soiled as the fibers experience wear. We call this condition being “uglied-out.” In addition to fiber wear, factors like color loss and delamination are other signs that it’s time to replace the carpet.

Synthetic fiber wear 

The ugly-out condition of synthetic carpet is primarily due to the surface of the synthetic filaments getting scratched. That scratch causes the filament to reflect light differently, which makes the carpet look soiled. The soiled-like effect can be referred to as “apparent soil” or “traffic lane greys.” Since the apparent soil is not due to dirt, attempting to clean the carpet will have little effect, and detergent residues may contribute to dulling the appearance.

Lighter colored synthetics will ugly out quicker than darker ones, but two other factors are involved in how long this will take:

  1. The first wear factor is the hardness of the fiber or its ability to resist scratches. Nylon and Triexta are reported to be the most resistant. Olefin/Polypropylene is the weakest. Polyester is somewhere between those two; however, not all polyesters are made the same.
  2. The second wear factor is how much sand is allowed to stay in the carpet with the amount of traffic. Commercial synthetic carpets that are not properly maintained could be in unacceptable condition in as little as six months.

    replace the carpet apparent soil

    The clean-looking rectangle in front of the door is actually a reflection of light from the kickplate, demonstrating that the soiled area is actually apparent soil.

Evaluating the amount of real soil verses the apparent soil can be done by taking photographs with a flash and then without one. The right amount of light can greatly diminish the distortions made by apparent soil, so by comparing these two photos, you can evaluate how much of the soil is real verses apparent.

Modern products and techniques provide some strategies to reverse traffic lane greys. For example, you can find products designed to help restore the fiber’s “sparkle,” and some of these products will also reinstate dyes to restore color loss. Additionally, some professionals report that bonnet cleaning loop pile carpets with a fluorochemical encapsulant and a micro-fiber pad can help to fill in the scratches and reduce the appearance of apparent soil.

Color loss

Another reason to replace a carpet is color loss. This primarily happens with nylon and wool face yarns. Color loss can be related to either natural causes, such as sunlight or atmospheric gases, or chemical causes from spills or inappropriate cleanings. Natural color loss will normally not have a different pH compared to the unaffected face yarns; however, harsh chemicals will leave residues that can be discovered. Since nylon and wool are generally dyed with acid dyes, the common culprit is alkalinity. Wool carpet that is acid-dyed should have a measurable pH between 2.5 to 5.5; a pH value over 10 is an indicator of improper cleaning. Frequently, color loss can be corrected by reapplying the missing dyes; however, when the color cannot be restored, it is time to replace the carpet.


replace the carpet delamination


Another sign a carpet should be replaced is delamination. On tufted carpets, delamination occurs when the secondary backing separates from the rest of the carpet. This causes ripples or ridges in the surface of the carpet, which could result in trip-and-fall accidents. Premature delamination could be due to issues inherent in the manufacturing or installation of the carpet, or problems with the specification, usage, or maintenance. However, all tufted carpets will eventually delaminate provided something else does not end their life prematurely. Once a carpet has delaminated, it should be replaced.

Proper maintenance

For a carpet to have a long life, it needs to be properly installed according to the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) installation standards. In addition, minor carpet repairs for problems such as unraveling seams, elongated tufts, permanent stains, and physical damage should be addressed with properly trained and credentialed professionals.

To prolong the life of a carpet, end-users should evaluate their maintenance programs in terms of both frequency and type of equipment. There are a wide variety of vacuum cleaners on the market that have different functionalities and cleaning capabilities, so it is important for customers to research the right type of vacuum for their carpet. In addition, it is impossible to overstate the importance of using properly maintained walkoff matts. Finally, properly applied protectors that help carpets resist soil and staining are well worth their cost. According to the CRI, “Carpet that is properly selected, installed, and maintained lasts up to 10 years or longer.”

In conclusion, it is time to replace a carpet when it has lost its face yarn, when its aesthetics are not restorable, or when it has delaminated. It is more cost-effective and environmentally responsible to properly maintain a carpet than to prematurely replace it, so let’s help customers do what is necessary to reduce wear and keep their carpets looking good.

James “Jim” B. Smith is an IICRC-approved instructor and senior practicing inspector and a part of the voting consensus of the IICRC S1OO cleaning stan­dard. His educational studies come from Texas A&M University and the University of Houston. He has been in the cleaning industry since 1975. For more information, visit his website at, call (972) 334-0533 or (800) 675-4003, or email [email protected].