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"Capillary Action" and Other Carpet Spotting Problems
By: Robert Kravitz

When it comes to maintaining carpet in a church setting, the most important thing church administrators must ensure is that it is frequently vacuumed. Most soiling (as much as 80 percent) on carpet is dry soils sand, grit, etc. and these are best removed with a vacuum cleaner.

But eventually carpets must be cleaned, especially if they become spotted. According to Don Davidshofer, a carpet cleaning veteran and now product manager for Powr-Flite, a leading manufacturer of professional carpet cleaning equipment, carpets are most thoroughly cleaned using carpet extractors. 

He says, "How frequently extraction must be performed can vary from once a month to once a year. It all depends on the amount of foot traffic over the carpet, how well it is maintained on an ongoing basis, and if spots are removed as found."

And it is the spots Davidshofer mentioned that we plan to focus on today. Spots are soils or residue that generally can be removed with extraction or by using the proper spot remover. A stain, on the other hand, actually changes the color of the carpet. While correction is still possible, it can be difficult. 

Have you ever had carpets cleaned only to find the same spots reappearing a few days later?  This is referred to, as the problem suggests, as "reappearing spots," and is unfortunately very common. There are ways to deal with this problem, but first we must understand why they happen in the first place.

The Whys of Reappearing Spots

There are several reasons spots reappear after cleaning. The first is the carpet cleaning technician may have ignored the spot, assuming the cleaning process will remove the problem area. Very often, carpets are cleaned using less effective methods, such as shampooing or bonnet cleaning. 

Church administrators should view these methods as a "quick clean" operation. They only clean the top surface of the carpet, the process is usually fast, no special equipment (other than a floor machine with attachments) is needed, and the carpet dries relatively quickly. Perfect for a special event or between carpet extractions, these quick clean methods likely will not remove a spot and keep it from reappearing.

Other times, the carpet cleaning technician will treat the spot and it still reappears. He or she will use a carpet spotting kit that has chemical spotters to address all types of spots, from coffee to oil.  However, and using a coffee spill as an example of what may be happening, once the coffee is spilled on the carpet, the law of gravity pulls it down through the multiple layers of carpet yarn and fibers, down to the backing.

Now the law of physics takes over, and this is where capillary action comes in. Our coffee spill has made its way to the base of the carpet, but as it dries, starts to "wick" its way back up to the surface. This is an example of capillary action, and the spot has now reappeared.

So, what can be done? One option is the use of encapsulating crystals. These crystals are sprinkled over the soil. With the help of agitation, such as the use of a multi-surface floor cleaning machine, which is designed to be used on hard surface floors as well as carpet, they are worked into carpet fibers.  They cover and then absorb the soil causing the spot.  The entire area is allowed to dry and the crystals are then vacuumed from the carpet, taking the spot with them.

A more effective option when cleaning carpet, according to Davidshofer, is to first treat the spot using the proper spotting treatment and then clean it using the carpet extraction method, discussed in more detail below. 

He says, "An effective carpet extractor will have the power to reach deep down into carpet fibers and effectively remove the spot. In some cases, using an extractor with a built-in heating element, often referred to as 'perfect heat,' will prove even more effective, since heat can enhance the effectiveness of the cleaning solution."

Spot-Prone Areas

Another reason spots tend to reappear after cleaning is because they are in a spot-prone area.  Some of the most common spot-prone areas in a church facility include the following:

Entryways/foyers: Spots in these areas can be anything from dry soiling to mud, grease, and oil.  Making matters worse, this type of soiling is often ground into the carpet with foot traffic, making it harder to remove, or it latches onto shoe bottoms, causing spots to be transferred to other areas of the church.

Near kitchen areas: Carpeted areas near kitchen and food service areas often are not only spot-prone but become very soiled; essentially soiling on the kitchen floor is walked onto the carpet.

Transition areas: This is where a hard surface floor transitions into a carpeted area. Dry and wet soils, as well as residue from floor cleaning chemicals, often end up on the nearby carpet.

All of these spot-prone areas can be addressed with professional matting systems. For instance, Davidshofer says that if at least 15 feet of matting is installed at the main entries, as much as 80 percent of all moisture and soil on shoe bottoms can be captured, preventing it from being walked onto the carpet. Similarly, mats should be installed in food service areas in both the kitchen and over the walkway carpet to collect soils normally walked onto the surrounding carpet.

As to transition areas, your church may have far more transition areas than you realize: the tops and bottoms of stairs, in front of elevators, between offices, interior walkways, etc. Once again, an effective matting system will help capture soils, preventing them from becoming spots or soiling the carpet.

The Carpet Extractor

Most all carpet experts agree that carpet extraction is the most effective way to clean carpets and help remove spots.  However, it is very dependent on two things:

 The training of the operator

 The equipment used

If your carpet is cleaned in-house or by a contractor, make sure they have been trained and certified by such organizations as the IICRC. The Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification is a nonprofit organization that provides what is considered the most comprehensive training when it comes to cleaning carpet. Once a technician completes the training, they are IICRC-certified and typically proud to say they are.

As to the equipment, Davidshofer suggests the following:

 Select a machine with adjustable psi (pounds per square inch). A lower psi can be used to clean delicate upholstery, for instance, while a higher psi, preferably 500 psi, can be used for carpet extraction.

 A machine with dual 3-stage vacuum motors will help ensure moisture is thoroughly removed, speeding the drying process.

 A machine with "perfect heat" is recommended. As mentioned, heat improves the effectiveness of the cleaning solution. It may not always be necessary, but this way it is available if needed.

 The machine should also be transportable. This is often overlooked, but sometimes the extractor must be moved from one location to another or from one building to another.  Extractors can be heavy machines and are often used by one person. Ensuring the machine is transportable makes moving the machine from location to location much easier.

"And, most of all, try to select a machine built by an established manufacturer that has been in the business awhile," says Davidshofer. "Carpet technicians can be very fussy. If the manufacturer and their products have longevity, it means they have passed their quality tests."

Robert Kravitz is a former building service contractor and now a frequent writer for the professional building and cleaning industries.

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