Are Carpet Cleaning Chemicals Safe for You and Your Carpet?

For most property and facility managers, there are a lot of unknowns when it comes to carpet cleaning.

Along with understanding how the different commercial carpet cleaning methods will work on your carpet, it’s important to know the specific chemicals being used to clean your carpet and how they will impact your carpet in the long term.

It’s a lot to think about. And most managers don’t have the time or inclination to understand it all. But not knowing how your carpet is being cleaned and what it’s being cleaned with can hurt your long-term investment.

Here’s what you need to know about the chemicals being used to clean your carpet to help you make the best choice to protect your environment and your carpet.

Common Questions About Commercial Carpet-Cleaning Chemicals

When it comes to the chemicals used in carpet cleaning, the two most common questions from facility managers are:

Are carpet cleaning chemicals safe for your environment and people?

In the past, pretty strong chemicals were used to clean commercial carpeting that could affect indoor air quality. Due to the movement to greener practices and testing by the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI), Green Seal, EPA, and other certification programs, most chemicals today are made to be safe for the environment and the people in it.

Can carpet cleaning chemicals actually damage your carpeting?

The short answer is yes. Carpet cleaning chemicals certainly have the potential to damage your carpet—either because they are the wrong chemical for the type of carpet or stain, because residue is left behind or because optical brighteners are used damaging the carpet over time. That’s why making sure you use the right chemicals is so important (more on this below).

3 Things You Need to Know About Carpet Cleaning Chemicals

Keep these things in mind when selecting a commercial carpet cleaning solution or service provider:

1. Not all carpet cleaning chemicals are created equal

The misconception is that all carpet-cleaning chemicals—which number in the thousands—perform similarly. They do not. Some chemicals will actually do more damage than good when they are not completely removed.

Most of the time, there is some chemical left in the carpet. That’s why you must know what chemicals are being used on your carpet.

2. More chemical doesn’t necessarily mean “more clean”

It’s human nature to use more, not less. More is always better right? Not necessarily.

Using too much of the wrong carpet-cleaning chemical can damage your carpet investment over time—especially if it contains optical brighteners or has a high alkaline or acid pH.

3. Untested chemicals can lead to undesirable results

The latest trend in carpet cleaning is the use of crystallizing chemistry. Crystallizing chemicals have embrittling agents in them that allow the chemical to dry to a hard form. Chemistry left in the carpet dries hard and is later removed via normal vacuuming.

A properly designed crystallizing chemical can work extremely well (DPM’s proprietary carpet cleaning chemistries fall into this category). The problem is that too many crystallizing chemicals have hit the market without proper testing. Most dry either too hard or very tacky.

Here’s why that’s a problem:

  • Crystallizing chemicals that dry extremely hard can aggressively bond to the carpet fiber making it hard to remove. (Think: hardened gum in your carpet.) In the long-term, this can damage the fiber and in some cases may discolor the carpet.
  • Crystallizing chemicals that dry tacky leave an aggressive residue that will cause rapid re-soiling.

In both cases, the result is shortened carpet life.

How to Make Sure You’re Using the Right Chemicals for Your Carpet

While you don’t need to become an expert on carpet-cleaning chemicals, it’s definitely good practice to ask some questions and find out exactly what your carpet-cleaning team is using and why (if they can’t tell you why, that’s an immediate red flag).

Here are some requirements you should look for when reviewing the chemicals being used on your carpet:

Use VOC-free cleaners

Look for carpet-cleaning chemicals with no volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are emitted as gases from certain cleaning solutions, and may have short- or long-term adverse health effects—ranging from eye, nose and throat irritation to damaging the liver, kidneys and central nervous system.

Check the pH of the chemical

A pH number between 7 and 8 in diluted form is generally where you want to be. Stay away from chemicals with a low pH (below 7). The lower the pH number, the more acidic the chemical. Chemicals that are extremely acidic can adversely affect dyes, treatments, and carpet fibers.

Avoid chemicals with optical brighteners

Optical brighteners are specialized dyes found in some carpet-cleaning chemicals that make the carpet appear brighter than it actually is after cleaning. Problem is, optical brighteners adversely affect the long-term appearance of the carpet—often causing carpet to yellow.

Look for green certifications

As mentioned above, there are organizations today that test carpet-cleaning products to make sure they are safe and effective. A great resource is the Carpet and Rug Institute, which provides a list of green certified cleaning solutions as well as certified service providers.

Test chemicals before going all-in

Along with looking into the chemicals being used, a smart approach is to test chemicals on small areas of the different carpets in your building before doing a full cleaning. This way you can see for yourself if there are any adverse reactions or results, like chemical residue left behind.

Do Your Homework to Protect Your Carpet Investment

As anyone who’s ever purchased commercial carpeting for a facility knows, it’s a very expensive investment. Losing 50% of your investment by shortening your carpet’s life can happen. Don’t let it happen to you—make sure you know what’s being used to clean your carpet.

Reader interactions

3 Replies to “Are Carpet Cleaning Chemicals Safe for You and Your Carpet?”

  1. Great post! I definitely learned a lot from reading this. I’ve been trying to go more green, so thanks for the tip concerning VOC-free cleaners.

  2. That was a great suggestion to test chemicals before using them. I’ve had several times where I found out the hard way that a carpet didn’t react well to a chemical I was using.

  3. Great post! It’s a good thing for us as carpet cleaners to move towards a green solution for our clients. Thanks for sharing!

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