Overcoming Olefin Berber Cleaning Challenges


Gather a group of cleaning pros together, ask them “Which type of carpet do you hate cleaning?” and the answer will probably be: olefin berbers.

Why? There has to be a good reason.

Since most cleaning today is done via hot water extraction with a traditional floor tool, cleaners find the berber style (whether wool, nylon or olefin) to make the physical action of cleaning difficult.

When the cleaning tool (wand) skips and jumps over the carpet, overwetting occurs and this leads to a carpet turning ugly a day or two later, in addition to the inevitable recurring spots.

To overcome this challenge, changing your cleaning direction can help, as well as the use of wand glides and using different cleaning tools, such as electric rotary extractors.

Using a bonnet machine with an absorbent pad can help remove more moisture and soils.

An airmover used immediately after cleaning each area dries the carpet faster and leads to less wicking.

Remember: If the Berber you are cleaning is olefin or has high olefin content (many Berbers are olefin blended with nylon), olefin resists water.

This means your cleaning solution may follow the yarn shaft right down to the backing of the carpet, resulting in overwetting and potential wicking of soils and spots.

After determining if a Berber is an olefin Berber, you might consider using less moisture in your cleaning process (perhaps one of the various low moisture cleaning methods).

Olefin’s characteristics

Since most Berbers have a high olefin fiber content, that”s what we will highlight in the remainder of this technical bulletin.

As most carpet cleaners know, olefin fibers like oil.

If oil is tracked onto an olefin carpet from the garage, street or anyplace that has high oil content, you have a tough job to contend with.

That’s why olefin is a bad choice near floors with high oil content … olefin loves oil, but resists water.

It can also stain from atmospheric oils, such as from cooking oils.

Olefin does have some good characteristics. It’s naturally stain resistant. Most water based spills have no effect on olefin. It’s extremely colorfast (due to solution dyeing).

Some good places to put olefin carpet: A room where water is tracked in, around a swimming pool, a room where the kids love to spill Kool Aid, laundry rooms, etc.— all because olefin is resistant to water and chemicals.

Olefin has weak resiliency and is a weaker fiber compared to nylon, and will matt and flatten down in traffic lanes in a short period of time. Abrading creates another problem as this can look like soil.

Remember these negative characteristics so you can explain this to your customers or facility management. There’s really nothing you can do as a cleaner if matting or abrading occurs.

Cleaning results

Your typical cleaning process is often going to disappoint you when it comes to olefin berbers.

(Remember: Dry vacuuming before cleaning will give you better cleaning results.)

After all, isn’t it true that most carpet isn’t cleaned until it looks really soiled?

There are many olefin-specific preconditioners on the market today.

Typically, they have more surfactancy, emulsification ability and solvency to remove oily soils, and higher pH.

You can use virtually any chemical on olefin without fear of harming the fiber.

Using higher heat helps strip oily soils from the fibers.

Although you can spill or apply normal chlorine bleach on an olefin carpet and have no color loss, it’s not recommended to use bleach to remove oil tracking.

But you can use other bleaches— safely.

Add oxygen, reduce problems

Many olefin carpet, especially Berbers, suffer not only from oil tracking, but also wicking.

The use of oxygen in your cleaning process helps with this problem.

We’re talking about either liquid peroxide or sodium percarbonate (a powdered-type of peroxide).

Liquid peroxide is low on the pH scale, and safe for many fibers. Some strengths are harmful to bare skin.

Sodium percarbonate is very easy and safe to use, except when high alkalinity is a concern.

The problem is the end result of mixing sodium percarbonate in water: Alkalinity is released, which activates and accelerates the peroxide element so better bleaching can take place.

That’s why you shouldn’t use it on stain resistant carpet or natural fibers.

You can use it on any olefin carpet because the pH level does not matter.

Although fluorochemicals may be added to olefin at the mill, stain resistent acid dye blockers are not used. Thus, no warranty concerns and the freedom to use stronger chemistry.

The results you will get with this product will amaze you. It will add oxygen to the carpet fibers and thus bleach away that dull appearance or yellow sheen typically found in light-colored olefin carpet.

Some peroxide-based products can be applied to olefin carpet and allowed to dwell, giving the chemical more time to “bleach” the carpet.

Oxidizers also attack smaller soil particles, a huge plus in your cleaning system.

Prespray and rinse away worries

Another tool at your disposal is the use of encapsulation presprays and rinses.

An encapsulation presray/rinse helps hinder the return of ugly traffic lanes and recurring spots.

It means your chemistry actually continues to have benefit after the carpet is cleaned.

Using an encap rinse by itself does have anti-soiling and anti-wicking properties, but not as much as the “one-two” punch of preconditioning and rinsing with encap chemistry.

Some companies produce an anti-wicking agent (using the same encap principle) that can be applied after cleaning, if you prefer to continue to use your traditional rinse.

Parting thoughts

Each carpet fiber has its own characteristics.

Instead of trying to fight against them, accept them and work with them.

It”s easier to cruise down a hill than to run up one … olefin (especially in berber carpet) can be quite a mountain to climb. Choosing the right tools and chemicals makes carpet cleaning an easier journey.

Remember that cleaning is all about balance, whether speaking of pH, surfactancy, emulsions, types of soils, etc.


Cleanfax Staff

Cleanfax provides cleaning and restoration professionals with information designed to help them manage and grow their businesses.

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