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Should You Forgive Your Carpet?
By: Doug Berjer

Many church facilities have carpeting installed in their sanctuary areas for a variety of reasons.  Carpets offer an elegance and style to any room that very often cannot be duplicated by hard surface flooring.  Carpeting can also help prevent slip-and-fall accidents, a big concern in any facility open to the public.

Plus carpeting helps insulate facilities, which can be a key factor for a large church facility.  However, along with these and other benefits, one of the most important for a church’s sanctuary is that carpet significantly reduces noise levels.

They not only reduce noise, carpet actually absorbs it.  Further, many flooring experts and many church administrators also believe carpeting over time can be easier to clean and maintain and less costly than hard-surface floors.

However, along with regular vacuuming, carpeting in a large sanctuary area typically needs to be thoroughly cleaned once or twice per year using the extraction method.  With this method, cleaning solution/water is applied to the carpets and then extracted, all in one pass.

Some extractors actually recycle this water, helping to speed the cleaning process and reduce water consumption. As the moisture is removed, so are both surface and deeply embedded soils. This is why cleaning professionals consider this the most thorough and effective way to clean carpets.

However, a mysterious phenomenon known as “carpet reversal” sometimes occurs when carpets are cleaned. This problem often appears in areas such as church sanctuaries, hotel ballrooms, convention centers, or wherever large amounts of carpeting are installed.

While the name carpet reversal may seem to imply that the carpet has somehow reversed itself, it actually refers to the way carpet fibers stand up and reflect light. When carpet reversal happens after carpet cleaning, some areas look darker than others, as if that area never fully dried.

Carpet reversal goes by a few other names, including “pooling,” “watermarking,” and even “puddling.” These names all imply the presence of water or moisture on the carpet. But in reality, this issue has nothing to do with drying after cleaning. 

The carpet is dry as are all the surrounding areas.  What is actually happening is that the carpet pile has changed direction in those specific areas. This causes light to reflect differently on the carpet, giving it an odd appearance.

Unfortunately, because carpet reversal often develops after a carpet has been cleaned, carpet cleaning technicians are frequently “called on the carpet,” so to speak, by clients who blame the technician for what has happened.

Before taking this step, church administrators should know that carpet reversal is not caused by any fault or error on the part of the cleaning technician.

And, unless the extracting equipment used to clean the carpet is working improperly, it is not caused by the equipment used to clean the carpet. In fact, despite extensive study into this phenomenon, no one—not even carpet manufacturers and flooring experts—is exactly sure what causes this issue.

Along with not blaming the technician or the equipment used, church administrators should know a few more things about the carpet reversal mystery:

• The carpet cleaning process used (extraction) does not cause this problem. Carpet reversal can occur after other carpet cleaning methods have been used.
• The carpet itself is also not the culprit. Carpet reversal can happen to all kinds of carpeting no matter what quality and construction level, including nylon, wool, polyester, and other frequently installed carpets.
• While improper installation can result in a number of carpet care problems, carpet reversal is not one of them.
• Carpets suffering from carpet reversal are not damaged; the condition does not result in premature wear or decreased durability.
• While carpet reversal can be minimized in some cases, for the most part, it cannot be corrected.

Misidentified Carpet Reversal
Carpet reversal is often confused with other carpet issues that may produce a similar appearance. For instance, many church facilities notice that over time, their sanctuary walkways develop what are known as tracks or pathways.

This issue occurs in busy walkways where carpets can become flattened or crushed by heavy foot traffic over time. In some cases, the track or pathway will look darker than surrounding carpet areas. 

Maintenance personnel can often correct this issue with more frequent vacuuming (and vacuuming in different patterns), carpet extraction, and actually raking the walkways with a carpet rake. A carpet rake actually lifts the nap of the carpet, helping restore it to its original look. However, because this issue is caused by traffic, in most cases the carpet will start to show wear in these tracked areas over time, regardless of preventative action.

Another carpeting issue called “foot marking” occurs in some plusher carpet piles. This refers to areas where people walking on the carpet have left behind foot markings or long, dark areas, similar to the trails left behind by a vacuum cleaner. In a busy church facility, foot marketing can be excessive and cause some areas to appear lighter or darker. 

Unlike tracking, carpets marked in this way are not suffering from premature wear, and usually maintenance personnel can rectify the issue by taking some very easy steps. For instance, and at the top of the list, very often just vacuuming carpets in different directions can eliminate this problem.

Minimizing Carpet Reversal
While carpet reversal often cannot be corrected, in some cases steps can be taken to make it less noticeable. If the issue occurs immediately after carpet extraction, it sometimes helps to extract the carpet one again especially in the immediate problem areas. This sometimes reverses the reversed carpet pile, minimizing the pooling look.

Vacuuming and raking the carpet can also help minimize the problem, at least temporarily. However, once people resume walking over the problem area, the issue often reappears as the carpet pile returns to the reversed position.

In a worst-case scenario, church officials may want to replace carpets suffering from carpet reversal; however, administrators should keep in mind that carpets showing signs of reversal are not damaged in any way—the issue is purely cosmetic.

Although the problem can be unsightly, especially in large, open areas, the carpet in question can still provide years of service. A little “carpet forgiveness” may be the best way to deal with the problem.

Doug Berjer has written extensively on cleaning, carpet cleaning, and water conservation issues.  He has worked for a large JanSan distributorship in St. Louis, Missouri, as their equipment specialist and has also worked as the operations manager for a large building service contractor that specialized in servicing shopping malls and anchor store retailers throughout North America. He is now brand manager for CFR, Continuous Flow Recycling extractors and Tornado Industries, both based out of West Chicago, Illinois.

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