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Encapsulation cleaning - the facts

by Jeff Cross 

The goal of carpet cleaners everywhere is to get carpet as clean and as dry as possible.

Sometimes this takes what some say are "radical" cleaning methods. After all, complete and effective carpet cleaning is often "custom cleaning" - so there isn't always a 'right' answer available when it comes to the best cleaning method you should use.

For more information and to see other technical bulletins that will help your business or facility, click here .

According to the Institute of Inspection , Cleaning and Restoration Certification S100 Standard and Reference Guide for Professional Carpet Cleaning , there are five approved methods of carpet cleaning.

These are:

This by no means limits other methods that professionals may use, or the combination of methods.

After all, this is the era of innovation, so expect huge changes coming down the pike.

Broaden your understanding

Professional cleaners enjoy making use of the "cleaning pie" - that is, time, temperature, agitation and chemical.

Encapsulation cleaning makes good use of the cleaning pie.

While the temperature is not as high for encapsulation cleaning (with the exception of encap rinses used with hot water extraction), and some of the time (pre-conditioning dwell time, especially) is less than some other methods, the agitation and chemical aspect of encapsulation cleaning is so effective that you'll never miss a beat with this method of cleaning.

For those not familiar with encapsulation cleaning, here is a brief description. Later in this tip, we will discuss practical application.

Encapsulation chemicals have detergency just like the typical chemicals that you use right now. So if you think encapsulation cleaning replaces detergency and surfactancy, don't worry about it.

The main difference is in the crystal polymers found in encapsulation chemicals.

These polymers in this detergent mixture are like the "second wave" in an army attack.

After the detergents have done their work (attacking, separating soils from fibers, etc.) the crystallizing polymers surround or encapsulate the detergent in solution and the soils that are now suspended or emulsified.

Here are two illustrations you can view on the Scot's Tuff website. These help explain the process:



As the entire mixture dries, the encapsulation polymers dry to a crystal. This crystal is not sticky; instead, it allows easy removal with subsequent vacuuming.

Look at the photo below. This photo was included in the November 2003 CM/Cleanfax article by Rick Gelinas of Excellent Supply . The article topic: Encapsulation: A practical tool for commercial carpet care .

It looks like the carpet is clean... but it's not.

After the encapsulant is added and worked into the carpet, the carpet (well, the areas that are lighter) looks clean.

It's not. The soil is still there, but it is "encapsulated" and waiting for someone to follow up with a vacuum cleaner.

Click here to download and view a video on encapsulation cleaning, courtesy of Rick Gelinas.

Imagine the benefits for huge facilities or airports - areas where truckmounts just don't work.

Each time the carpet is vacuumed, it gets cleaner because more soils inside the crystal polymers are vacuumed away.

From this information, you might think that the only encapsulation cleaning you can perform is on commercial carpet, using a machine, and relying on the client or facility to vacuum at a later date.

That's not entirely true.

Residential applications

While most traditional encapsulation applications are for cleaning low-pile, commercial carpet, encapsulation technology is gaining acceptance in the residential marketplace - even with truckmounts.

The same encapsulating properties are now found in hot water extraction pre-conditioners and rinses - which not only means more soils are removed with vacuuming after cleaning, but there is less wicking and less problems after cleaning.

These are pre-conditioners and acid rinses with a positive residue - hard to imagine a positive residue, but it's true. The residue left behind continues to provide cleaning benefit. Not only does the carpet stay clean longer, but spots and spills are also "encapsulated" as they attempt to wick back to the surface.

Fast dry times?

Experts say that encapsulation technology shortens dry times after cleaning carpet.

The reason is that when encap polymers are in solution, the surfactants bond with them instead of with the water, allowing the water better evaporation - and shorter dry times.

This may be the topic of a future technical tip.

Negative points

The main drawback for encapsulation cleaning has to do with heavy grease loads.

Most cleaners have faced a greasy restaurant. The chemical action you want with a greasy carpet is saponification: The mixing of a strong alkaline with the fatty deposits in the carpet to make a type of "soap" that is easily rinsed.

Encapsulation is not the best answer for heavy grease soil loads.

The cost?

Reports indicate tremendous savings in labor costs - the most expensive part of running a carpet cleaning business or managing a facility.

As far as production rates, count on approximately 2,500 square feet of carpet cleaned per hour (depending on agitation method used), with a .003 cents per square foot chemical cost.

However, prove it for yourself. You have to do your own math, with your own production team and procedure.

It's a win-win situation for you, the professional cleaner.

For more information and to see other technical bulletins that will help your business or facility, click here .

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