Carpet Fibers - An Overview

from Bane-Clene®

By Donald W. Terry, Sr.

Reprinted from the Bane-Clene® Cleaning Digest™

Winter 1999, Volume 29, Number 1, Pages 34 - 35

Fiber Chemistry for Carpet Cleaners

Only four fibers account for nearly all carpets: nylon, olefin (polypropylene), polyester (PET – polyethylene terephthalate), and wool. In addition, there are acrylic, cotton, and PTT (polytrimethylene terephthalate – "Corterra" from Shell). Sisal carpets usually contain jute, hemp, sea grass, and coconut natural fibers. For the most part, all of these fibers (except the ones most commonly used in sisal) are cleaned the same way when using Bane-Clene products and procedures, but there are some important exceptions.

How can you determine what kind of fiber you are going to clean and is it important to know? While many cleaners use burn tests to identify a fiber, the tests are unreliable. Most often the cleaner only needs to know whether the fiber is olefin or wool; otherwise, it is usually nylon. When you burn wool, it smells like burned hair. Also, wool dissolves in chlorine bleach. Olefin floats in water.

The reasons for checking for olefin are usually due to a complaint on matting or rapid resoiling (especially in oily environments), or the presence of a very stubborn stain that could be treated with chlorine bleach.

Testing for wool should be done before using an extra-strong prespray or detergent. Flood damage, severe browning, and severe stains (mildew, urine, blood, etc.) may require more potent agents such as peroxide, which cannot be used on wool.

Nylon continues to be the most popular choice, though its share of the market keeps slipping, mostly to olefin. Nylon has good resilience, soil resistance, abrasion retention, durability, and color retention. However, it is readily stained by acid dyes and fades in prolonged sunlight. Nylon is severely damaged by strong acids such as battery acid and strong toilet bowl cleaners. Its stain resistance properties can be improved through use of stainblockers at the mill and by application by the cleaner of fluorochemical topicals such as Scotchgard™ Brand Carpet and Upholstery Protector, Sta-Clene®, Bane-Guard™ or DuPont Teflon® Advanced Carpet Protector. Solution dyed nylon is an excellent choice where durability and stain resistance are both important factors, such as in nursing homes, hospitals, schools, auto showrooms, kitchens and restaurants.

Olefin continues to grow in popularity due to its lower cost and its consequent common use in berber. Olefin has excellent stain resistance, durability, chemical resistance, and fade resistance. However, it has virtually no resilience at all (it severely mats), and it very strongly attracts oily soil, which sometimes requires more aggressive cleaning. Its lower melting point can be a problem where furniture is dragged across it resulting in damaged fibers and is easily damaged by heel marks. Low profile level-loop olefin is a good choice where stain resistance is critical, such as in nursing homes, apartment buildings, grocery stores, etc. Olefin berber should never be installed on stairs or in high-traffic situations or where there is a lot of oily soil.

Wool is too expensive to be practical in most installations plus it has poor stain resistance, especially to proteins such as urine and blood. The dyes in wool are more readily damaged and browning can occur if not properly cleaned. Since wool holds about 30% of its weight in water, it dries more slowly than nylon and is more difficult to extract in a water-damage job. Also, since wool is a protein, enzyme-based deodorizers and spotters should be used cautiouslly on it. Removal of stains is more difficult because the dyes and the fiber itself are so easily compromised. Since it is a natural fiber, mold, mildew, and insects can be a problem. However, it has excellent soil-hiding quality, is extremely durable and has a very soft luxurious "hand."

With the purchase of Image Carpets by Mohawk, polyester may gain more market share. It has excellent stain resistance, brilliant colors, and a soft "hand." Because of its tendency to mat, however, it should only be installed in low traffic rooms.

All the advance press on PTT (Corterra) indicates that it will have the stain resistance of polyester yet the durability and resilience of nylon. If the costs are reasonable, it will have a major part of the market in a few years.

Cotton is found occasionally in carpet. What a mistake! Cotton stains severely, easily browns, turns dingy with time and traffic, and has poor durability.

Acrylic is basically insignificant. Apparently, the consumer didn’t buy the "look and feel of wool, but not the price" advertising. Acrylic is now primarily used in blends.

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