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Carpet Cleaning FAQ 2

Q: I’ve got a problem with discoloration of carpet in a mobile home. The customer is complaining about burning eyes and the place smells like formaldehyde. Could there be any formaldehyde in the carpet?

A:Formaldehyde hasn’t been used in carpet since the 70s. To my knowledge, formaldehyde (CH2O), a pungent, odorless gas, still is used in synthesizing several compounds and resins in particle board, paneling, wood veneers, plastics, and a variety of furniture products, particularly the low-end stuff made of wood composites. The off-gassing, particularly during summer months, can be overwhelming. It can cause irritation to the eyes, nasal passages, lungs and respiratory system in general. EPA lists it as a Class A carcinogen.

All that according to our Clean Care Seminars CRIS Glossary.

When I deal with discoloration in mobile homes, beyond the obvious chlorine bleach or benzoyl peroxides, I turn to the chapter in Specialized Carpet Spotting entitled “Mystery Discolorations.” I’m not sure if gas-phase formaldehyde is a discoloring agent, but sunlight, organophosphates in plant fertilizers or pesticides can be.

Size, shape, location, patterns should be observed closely to see if they provide any hints.

You have to take an air sample and have it analyzed on a gas chromatograph to pin it down. Someone else may know of a simpler way.

Q: I just cleaned a commercial carpet last night. This morning it looks real brown and dingy in the traffic areas. Is this cellulosic browning?

A:Browning, as defined in this industry, always is associated with a cellulosic material – usually, jute or cotton. Since these aren’t face yarns, the most likely place to look is in the backing. In commercial carpet, virtually all backing systems are made of polypropylene, woven goods being a possible exception. Even they are going to polyester/polypropylene backing systems.

Nevertheless, the probability of true browning on commercial carpet is very small.

When browning does occur, usually it’s the result of overwetting, alkalinity and prolonged drying. The alkaline moisture dissolves the beta-glucose component of cellulose. During drying it wicks up yarns to the surface of the pile and reacts with oxygen to turn brown. But only at the tips. If the yarn is “brown” all the way to the base, it’s something other than browning.

A similar phenomenon is seen when you cut an apple and leave it in contact with oxygen for a few minutes. The fructose in the apple turns brown.

Browning is caused by a sugar-like substance that reacts with air. That’s why citric acid is misted on fruit on salad bars at restaurants, to keep the fruit from turning that unappetizing brown color.

Back to carpet. The browning on non-absorbent fibers, such as olefin (polypropylene) or polyester, even nylon 6,6, is easily corrected with an acid solution. Acetic, if you can stand the smell, or a formulated non-odorous acid works fine. So does minimum moisture cleaning. Browning on reasonably absorbent fibers, such as cotton, linen, wool and even some nylon 6, may require more aggressive treatment, such as with a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution.

What you’re seeing probably isn’t browning. Most likely, it’s soil wicking from the backing after cleaning. This often occurs when carpet maintenance has been neglected for too long, and realistically, it may take two or three cleanings in succession to stop the problem. If the fibers are abraded, you can’t correct it. If you’re seeing dye change, recoloring is the only solution.

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