Let’s say you just had your carpet cleaned, either professionally or perhaps you did it yourself. After the carpet has dried, you notice the traffic areas still look darker than the other areas. That means they are still dirty, right? What else could it be?
Sometimes as a carpet inspector I will look at a carpet where the owners are complaining that the carpet doesn’t clean up well, or it is worn, or both. And, they are right. Or not. I see the confused look on your face, so I will explain by starting with a quick review of the basics.
When carpet is manufactured, they start by extruding melted plastic through (VERY) small holes, creating filament. These filaments are thinner than human hair, even smaller than cat hair. If you look at a filament with a powerful magnifying glass, you see that the sides of the filament are smooth. Okay, so they take the filament and “spin” them together to create a yarn bundle. There could be from 150 to 200 or more individual filaments in a section of a yarn bundle. They then tuft the yarn through the carpet backing, add latex and another (secondary) backing, and on a “cut-pile” carpet they cut the loops that are naturally there from the tufting. Then they roll up the carpet and bring it to your house and install it. Simple. Right? Well, here is where it can get tricky.
A carpet subjected to normal use and maintenance will have occasional spills, dust filtering in through open doors/windows and is tracked in on shoes. So, the carpet is vacuumed regularly, and everything is good. Almost. There are other things being tracked in onto the carpet also. When you walk through Wal-Mart’s parking lot, are you careful to NOT walk through the grease spots? Do you ever get a little extra smoke from cooking, or smoke from outside your home working its way into your home? Cigarette smoke? Researchers have listed approximately 50 different things such as these that eventually find its way into your home and onto your carpet, and they are all oily in substance. As this gets onto your carpet fibers, the dust/particulate mentioned above no longer easily vacuums out as they start hanging onto the oily filaments. The next thing that happens is a large heavy human (like myself) stands on the carpet, pressing the filaments together, and presses the dust/particulate against the sides of the filaments, causing scratching. The smooth sides of the filaments start getting scratched. If this is allowed to continue, they scratch more. The more scratched the filaments become, the less smooth the filament surfaces are, the less light they will reflect.
Okay, we are finally getting to the heart of this discussion. A carpet that is not maintained properly will start having more and more scratching of the filaments, and of course the main area this happens is in the TRAFFIC AREAS. An extreme example would be a home in which no maintenance is done except for an occasional quick vacuuming to get the potato chips and cereal off of the carpet, and no cleaning. Then after 10 years of this, a carpet cleaner is hired to clean the carpet and guess what, the traffic areas still look “dirty”. In a minute I’ll give you a little carpet inspection secret on how to determine if your traffic areas are worn or dirty (or both). But first…
A properly maintained carpet will have both a regular, consistent vacuuming with a good vacuum and with a proper vacuuming technique (see my article on vacuuming), AND have regular professional cleanings by a reputable cleaner every 12 to 18 months or more often depending on the traffic. In my home when we had all 9 kids still living with us, every 6 months seemed pretty appropriate; in a home with a retired couple and no visitors, every 18 months might be fine. Like ANY floorcovering, proper maintenance is needed to prolong the life and beauty of the carpet, hardwood, tile, etc. There are no exceptions!
So when I inspect a carpet with concerns with the traffic areas, I take a bright inspection light (300 watts or more) and hold it over the traffic area pointed down at the carpet. If the dark areas are just from scratching, they will not be dark with the light. If there is dirt/soil/particulate causing the darkness, they will show with the light. Typically I will see some of both the scratching (fiber abrasion) and from dirt, meaning some of the darkness was only scratching, and some was from dirt.
One last thing I need to address. Sometimes carpet will get what is called “pooling” or “watermarking”. This may or may not happen in traffic areas only. This is where the yarns/face fibers in one area are all laying in one direction, and in an adjacent area they are all laying in a direction different from the first section. When you observe these areas from a distance, one section will look darker than the other section. Then when you go to the other side of the room, the previously darker area will now look lighter than the area that was previously lighter – they will reverse. The dark/light appearance is from reflected light – the area with the pile laying TOWARDS the viewer will reflect less light and look darker than the section with the pile laying AWAY from the viewer which will reflect more light and look lighter.
Okay, that’s today’s lesson! If you have any questions contact me and I’ll be glad to try and answer your question/s.