Encapsulation Cleaning: Overcoming a Variety of Commercial
| BY RICK
Commercial carpet presents a variety of challenges that can
drive even the best carpet cleaner crazy.
Despite conscientious efforts, commercial carpets sometimes
look worse after they’ve been cleaned. In many cases the carpet
will wick discoloration to the surface as it dries.
Another problem that makes cleaners want to pull their hair out
is the very common occurrence of recurring spill stains. Even
when diligent cleaning is performed using industry-approved
methods, commercial glue down carpet can still be a nightmare to
What’s a carpet cleaner to do? New technologies have emerged
during the past few years that can help carpet cleaners solve
many of the common problems that a commercial carpet dishes up.
A recent development called “encapsulation carpet cleaning” is
changing the way many contractors are approaching commercial
carpet care. And the results are impressive.
Before we begin a discussion of what encapsulation is and how it
works, we should first identify how soil affects car pet. Of
course, there’s an inﬁnitely wide gamut of soils that can be
imposed upon a carpet. Yet on the simplest level, there are two
categories of soil types… dry soil, and sticky soil. Dry soil
includes particulates such as sand, dust, crumbs, hair, dander,
etc. Sticky (binder) soil includes oil-based soils, sugar-based
soils, pigment-based soils, pollutants, asphalt sealers, etc.
According to a well documented study, 79 percent of the soil in
carpet is dry soil. Dry soil is what gets removed with good
vacuum cleaning. All carpet cleaning, regardless of the method,
should be preceded with a very thorough vacuuming. Thorough
vacuuming removes the largest percentage of the soil content in
the carpet. After the bulk of the dry soil has been removed, the
smaller percentage of soil that’s still binding to the fiber can
then be removed from the fiber during the cleaning process.
Most problems that we see with commercial carpets are caused by
“wicking.” To get a sense of what’s occurring, hang a white cord
into a glass of fruit punch and watch how the colored liquid
moves up the string through capillary action. The same condition
occurs in carpet, as soil trapped at the backing of the carpet
transfers up the fiber during the drying process.
The problem of wicking is inherently more prevalent with
commercial glue down carpets. The tufts of fiber in a
commercial carpet are commonly packed together very densely.
This tightly condensed pile can hold tremendous amounts of soil.
Soil works its way to the backing of the carpet and gets
trapped. Recovering all the impacted soil at the base of the
fiber is nearly impossible.
Another condition that hinders cleaning a commercial carpet is
the fact that air flow is compromised. These carpets have
densely packed ﬁbers and are glued directly to the ﬂoor.
Cleaning these carpets with hot water extraction “steam
cleaning” can be a challenge since there is no way to get good
water recovery with restricted air ﬂow and limited suction.
Olefin carpets (polypropylene), and loop construction can add to
a carpet cleaner’s woes. Olefin is an oil loving fiber. It
repels water, and oil clings to it. Not a good set of conditions
for cleaning, right? Performing “wet cleaning” on an olefin
carpet is a recipe for wicking disaster.
Commercial carpets are often made of loop construction. A
considerable amount of soil can become trapped in these loops.
Well, there’s good news. These common challenges can be
successfully addressed. Now that we’ve outlined the reasons why
commercial carpets can be so frustrating to clean, let’s
consider a practical alternative that can happily restore
everyone’s sanity. Consider how encapsulation can be a practical
approach to cleaning commercial carpets.
The primary objective of any carpet cleaning process is to
counteract sticky/binder soils. With the most common method of
encapsulation cleaning, the carpet is shampooed or agitated
with a machine. Common machines that are used for this are
rotary machines ﬁtted with a solution tank, triple-head
planetary scrubbers, or dual cylindrical brush machines.
As the carpet is scrubbed, the cleaning agent releases soil
from the fiber. The soil is suspended in the cleaning fluid and
becomes encapsulated in a crystal-like polymer during the drying
process. The encapsulated soil is then extracted from the carpet
during the routine vacuuming process.
The measuring line of a good encapsulation detergent is its
polymer. Whereas some of the “old style” carpet shampoos may
have employed an acrylic copolymer, innovative polymer
technologies are being used in quality encapsulation products
today. These polymers form a distinct crystal as they dry. An
encapsulating polymer plays a vital role in the encapsulation
cleaning process. It absorbs the soil. It holds the soil in
suspension as the carpet dries. And it serves as the vehicle
that carries away the soil during the post-vacuuming process.
For best results, check to see that the encapsulation product
you plan to use forms a good crystal when it’s dry. An
encapsulant’s ability to crystallize can easily be tested by
simply drying a few drops of the product in a saucer overnight.
The next day you should see a very distinct crystal-like
structure. The residue should have a brittle texture that
readily flakes away from the dish with a gentle tap or scrape.
This simple test will demonstrate the polymer’s ability to
release from carpet fiber.
One of the benefits to encapsulation is that carpets will
typically stay clean longer between individual cleanings. Many
facilities have observed their carpets are remaining cleaner 50
percent longer between cleanings. One reason carpets remain
clean longer is that the crystallized polymer can’t attract more
soil, as is sometimes the case with standard detergent
residues. With no dirt attracting residue left in the carpet,
the carpet stays clean longer.
Another benefit to the encapsulation system is that the speed of
cleaning can be very high. For example 3,000 square feet per
hour can be achieved, cleaning with a triple-head planetary
scrubber. Higher productivity has become a necessity as
maintenance budgets have continued to tighten in recent years.
Encapsulation is a low moisture cleaning process. An average of
300 square feet can ordinarily be cleaned with a gallon of
(ready to use) encapsulation solution. Since minimal moisture is
introduced to the carpet during the cleaning process, buildings
can be put back into service very quickly. And drying carpets
quickly can also reduce “slip and fall” hazards.
The problem of “wicking” that we considered earlier can be
corrected with encapsulation. Low-moisture cleaning, combined
with a polymeric formulation, inhibits the occurrence of
“wicking.” Accelerated carpet drying has always been
recommended to reduce the possibility of wicking.
Additionally, encapsulation polymers retard the wicking process
as they absorb and suspend soils that could otherwise wick to
the surface. You can now permanently say good-bye to recurring
spill stains and “uglied out” carpets caused by wicking.
The encapsulation method has proven to be a highly effective
cleaning system for commercial carpets. Each day, around the
world, millions of square feet of carpeted floors are maintained
with this new technology. With its potential to correct common
problems associated with commercial carpets, simplify the
cleaning process, and maximize the carpet’s appearance;
encapsulation provides a very practical way to care for
commercial carpet. ❑ Rick Gelinas is president of
Excellent-Supply.com, which produces the Releasit line of
encapsulation detergents. He serves on the board of the Low
Moisture Carpet Cleaners Association and can be reached at
1.800.330.1888, www.Releasit.com or www.Excellent-Supply.com.