Cleaning For Health - A New Perspective

Baby DoctorSeveral cleaning companies have taken a bold new approach to marketing their services to customers who have concerns about the health of their family. 

It is estimated that less than 50 percent of homes have ever had their carpets or upholstery professional cleaned. The reasons vary, but most homeowners are not aware unseen soil can act as a trigger for allergies and asthma. 

To reach homeowners who have health concerns you will need to develop a unique marketing plan that reflects your operation, your market and the prospective groups on which you intend to focus. The plan’s specifics are determined by the individual; however, there are some guidelines that can help you during its development.  Customer purchasing motivations are quite varied. However, the health and safety of family members are key concerns of most homeowners. 

Consumer BrochureOne of the major reasons people develop allergic illnesses is overexposure to various allergens, especially those found in indoor air from pets and dust mites.

It is now clear that allergies can, in fact, be controlled, and even prevented, by avoiding the triggers that cause them. This strategy is called environmental control. 

Your marketing plan may be quite conservative or highly ambitious. In either case, an excellent place to begin is with your own customer base and those that contact your business for the services you currently offer. 

Given that almost 25 percent of the U.S. population suffer from allergic illnesses, you will have a large number of current customers and new callers who will immediately identify themselves as potential purchasers of allergy relief services if you ask the simple question, “Does anyone in your household suffer from allergies or asthma?” When you get a “yes” response to that question, you have the opportunity to ask further questions, such as:

    • “Do you know specifically what you or your family member is allergic to?”
    • “Have you heard of environmental control?”
    • “Are you taking any steps to reduce your exposure to indoor allergens?”
    • “What results have you obtained?”

These questions are designed to elicit information and create the opening for a conversation about anti-allergen cleaning and treatment. You will need to put together a brief presentation script you can use on the phone to explain these services once you receive permission to explain the program.  Use your supplier-provided brochures, which can also be used as mailings and leave-behind pieces, during face-to-face presentations to customers. 

When speaking with people who do not have allergy suffers in the household, there is still an opportunity to discuss allergy prevention, particularly when there are young children in the house or a baby on the way. 

It will be very important that you can speak knowledgably about allergic illnesses in a general way, and more specifically about environmental control. People with allergic illnesses often know a lot about them, and they are grateful for someone to talk to who can empathize with their problems and possibly offer solutions.  Given that allergy relief services need to be provided every 6 months (in some cases, every 3 months) these customers are ideal to offer maintenance contracts. If the customer chooses not to commit to a 6-month cleaning cycle, contact them after the fifth month to schedule the next cleaning.

When offering services as a preventive measure, these same procedures can be followed. Given that there may be less of a sense of urgency when there is no active allergic illness in the household, it may make sense to offer a cleaning package based on hypo-allergenic cleaning materials and allergy-preventive cleaning procedures like mattress cleaning.  This will allow you to offer a very differentiated package from your competition, and address the concerns of people with questions about chemicals and toxins in their home. They may be chemically sensitive, but not allergic, to home bio-pollutants. 

The key to successful marketing is give people a reason to buy your services that differentiates you from your competition. Most important, this reason must be relevant to them and their needs! 

    • Referrals will be a vital part of your allergy treatment business. You will find that there are people who will call you expressing their undying gratitude for your help with their suffering. It is critically important that you ask these people for referrals. 
    • Publicity is also a very important part of your marketing efforts. New approaches to treating indoor allergens have a lot of media value. Don’t underestimate the power of a feature story in your local paper, or being part of a radio interview show that reaches your market. 
    • Another excellent, credibility-enhancing source of referrals can be found in making presentations to schools and PTA groups, church groups, allergy-support groups (check with your local hospitals), fraternal organizations and the like. 
    • It also makes sense to add allergy-relief services to your current advertising efforts. These can be added to advertising you do currently, or you can create separate communications – e.g. a newsletter – specifically for these services. 

It is very important when marketing allergy-relief services to avoid drastic scare tactics, as this approach has proven to backfire. No one likes to be manipulated, and scare tactics often have this flavor. 

The main focus should be images that reflect the removing of pain. Allergic-illness sufferers are often quite restricted in their activities. They miss school and work, go to the doctor’s office far more frequently, and feel pain because their children are suffering. 

You will find a good return on your investment of doing well by doing good.


Rayon: A Rug Specialist’s Challenge

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What do artificial silk, art. silk, banana silk, viscose, bamboo silk, allo silk, cactus silk, soya silk, modal, cuprammonium, lyocell, triacetate, and acetate have in common? They are all a type of rayon manufactured from regenerated cellulose (See Image 1).

Designers have embraced the silk-like look of rayon for garments, upholstery fabrics and area rugs. But rayon rugs present many challenges for rug cleaners, as this fiber doesn’t hold up to foot traffic and consumer do-it-yourself spotting/cleaning.  Professional cleaning may exacerbate pre-existing texture distortion. However, techniques are taught at advanced rug cleaning courses that demonstrate how to avoid and or correct texture distortion in rayon and silk rugs (Image 2).

Another problem associated with these rugs is the dyes are not always colorfast. There have also been instances of pattern stencil bleeding wicking to the face and back from the foundation yarns. This stencil bleeding cannot be predicted or tested for prior to cleaning. It is important to get a clear understanding with your customer to avoid any misunderstandings that these issues are pre-existing conditions. You should obtain a written release before cleaning these rugs.

Rayon is the generic term of manufactured regenerated (or reformed) cellulosic fibers produced by four main processes:

In a search for a product that could match the look of silk, a Frenchman by the name of Count Hilaire de Chardonnet produced the first manufactured fiber. In 1891, he dissolved the pulp of mulberry trees (since silk worms feed on the leaves) in chemicals and forced the solution through a metal plate with tiny holes. It was then exposed to heated air and chemicals to harden the material into a filament fiber. He patented the process of making “artificial silk” which resulted in a shiny fiber, but was removed from the market due to flammability issues.

Large-scale commercial production of artificial silk began around 1900 based on a process developed by British inventors, Charles Cross, Edward Bevan and Clayton Beadle. Cellulose from wood pulp or short cotton fibers called “linters” are immersed in a solution of sodium hydroxide (caustic soda) and aged for a time. This results in a solution that is thick and viscose, which gives us the term “viscose rayon.” Then the fibers are forced through a spinneret into a bath of sulfuric acid. 

The confusion between real silk and artificial silk led the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (more on this later) in 1924 to establish the term “rayon” for regenerated cellulosic fibers. The term is actually French, meaning a “ray of light.” This term is mostly used in the U.S. with “viscose” the common term in Europe. To be specific, we will use the term “viscose rayon.”

Because of environmental problems associated with the process, viscose rayon is no longer manufactured in the USA. The viscose process is still the most common method of worldwide production, which is now mostly in Asia. India is the largest manufacturer of the fiber.

A Japanese researcher modified the viscose process to develop a fiber with a physical structure more like that of cotton, having a greater resistance to deformation when wet. This fiber is used for garments with a high-tenacity version for tire cords.

The raw material for lyocell, like that for viscose rayon, is cellulosic pulp. The chemicals used are not as toxic as viscose rayon and the process is self-contained. The fiber is stronger than viscose rayon and mostly used in garments. It is sold under the brand name “Tencel®” and manufactured mostly in Europe. Recently, Tencel came to market for carpet and rugs as it “feels silky and soft.” Tencel, when used for garments, will shrink 3% after the first washing. This is not a problem for rug cleaners unless it is used in the backing or foundation yarns.

This process is different from the viscose rayon process. Cellulose is dissolved in a copper ammonium solution with the fiber extruded into a water bath. It is somewhat more silk-like in appearance and a bit stronger. The fiber is made mostly into lightweight fabrics. Due to clean-water regulations it is no longer produced in the USA.

What we commonly encounter as rug cleaners is viscose rayon used as a design highlight, woven carpet fabricated into an area rug, and rugs made from 100% viscose rayon. The label could read “artificial silk” or abbreviated as “art. silk” (with or without the period after art). Some viscose rayon rugs can be expensive. Unfortunately, some consumers may have overlooked the “art” part of the “silk” label and paid a considerable amount of money for the rug (particularly if the rug dealer was not forthcoming). The consumer is often convinced they have true silk rug.

The viscose rayon rug may have pre-existing pile distortion so be sure to document that fact on your inspection form. Discuss this issue with your customer. Cleaning may not improve the look and may create additional distortion. During the cleaning process, viscose rayon, when wet, loses 30 to 50% of its strength (according to the Apparel/Textile Industry’s Fabric University). The back-and-forth movement of a carpet cleaning wand can cause pile distortion and high water pressure makes the damage worse. Hot water can cause the viscose rayon to bleed. It is recommended to turn down the pressure and the heat and avoid the typical back-and-forth wand movement used in wall-to-wall carpet cleaning. Due to its physical structure, low wet strength (or tenacity) is the Achilles heel of viscose rayon. Other natural fibers such as cotton and wool have a higher tenacity.

After cleaning viscose rayon rugs, set the pile towards the bottom of the rug with a good carting brush (See Image 3). Vacuum the rug the next day to lift and soften the pile.

So what about banana silk, bamboo silk, and soya silk? Trust me, bananas do not have silk. These are marketing terms used to disguise the fact that the rug is made from regenerated cellulose (i.e. viscose rayon).

Our friends at the Federal Trade Commission have taken several large retailers and manufacturers to court over false labeling. They have called it “bamboo-zling” (maybe they do have a sense of humor after all). The FTC has issued million dollar fines for advertising “made from 100% bamboo fiber,” “antimicrobial,” “biodegradable” and “eco-friendly fiber.” This includes companies such as, Leon Max, Macy’s, Sears, and Kmart who continued to make those advertising claims after the FTC sent them a warning letter. The proper label is “Rayon made from Bamboo” – it is not a “green” fiber. 

As you can see, viscose rayon is a problematic fiber. Read the label if it is still on the rug. Doing a simple burn test will tell you if it is real silk (burning hair odor) or rayon (burning paper). Silk has its problems too, which we will cover in a future article.   

Cleaning Wool Rugs and the Mystery of pH

During the last few years, rug cleaners have received mixed signals on pH levels for their cleaning solutions. Is there something new under the sun?

Most cleaners have a general understanding of pH. As the difficult-to-understand textbooks say, "pH is the logarithm of the reciprocal of the hydrogen-ion concentration of a solution." The symbol pH, from the German, means the power of hydrogen. pH is a measure of the degree of acidity or alkalinity of a substance on a scale of 0 to 14, with 7 being the neutral point. The numbers increase as alkalinity increases and decrease as acidity rises.

cleaningWool-2The scale is logarithmic, meaning that as we move away from pH 7 (neutral) it is increasing by the power of ten. As you can see from the chart, pH 0 and pH 14 are 10 million times more acidic or alkaline than pure water.

The guidelines we have been given over the years for cleaning wool rugs or carpet say to stay within a pH level of 4.5 to 8.5 and there should not be a problem. Well, there is more to the story than just pH: buffers. Buffers have been discussed in training classes through the years and are now coming back into focus. The subject is well covered in the book "Fundamentals of Carpet Maintenance" by Dr. Eric M. Brown of the United Kingdom.

Buffers are additives that stabilize the pH of a detergent. As cleaners, we purchase detergents in a concentrated form and dilute them with water. Buffers give stability to the pH after dilution, allowing for higher dilution ratios. The key concern in cleaning wool rugs or carpets is causing dye bleed. The pH of a product is only a general guideline; it is the stability of the pH that is the most important factor, i.e. how well it is buffered.

Large amounts of a buffering agent (alkaline builders) in a cleaning product can cause a pH shift in a wool rug. Immediately or over time, this pH shift will result in bleeding. Just noting a cleaning product's pH will not tell you if it has been highly buffered.

In order to check the stability of the pH, a test can be carried out on the chemical. It involves a rather simple laboratory procedure known as titration, which you may have encountered in high school chemistry class.

One hundred milliliters of the cleaning chemical at working strength is placed in a conical flask, and the pH is measured. Dilute hydrochloric acid (0.1M) is then added progressively from a graduated tube known as a burette until the pH of the product/acid mixture reaches 7. The amount of acid necessary to reach this pH is recorded. Further acid is then added until the mixture reaches pH 5.5.

If a large amount of acid is required, then the chemical is well buffered and is likely to disturb the pH environment of the rug and its dyes. If very little acid is required, then the product should not cause dye bleeding.

It is impractical for a cleaner to perform such a test on all of their cleaning products. An organization called WoolSafe will test products for manufacturers and, if the product passes, will allow them to use the WoolSafe logo.

Wool does have an affinity for dye stuffs which react chemically and combine with the protein in the cell structure. However, the functional dye group for wool is almost always acidic. As dyeing take place, the acid group in the dye (+ charge) reacts with a basic group on the wool fiber (- charge) and the dye and fiber become attached to one another. Because the dye is acid, the reaction is carried out under acid conditions; the finished wool rug will be acidic in pH, often in the range of pH 4 to 5 but sometimes as low as pH 2.5. 

Destabilization of the dye-fiber bond causes bleeding to occur in wool rugs and carpets. Destabilization is caused by altering the pH of the fibers and occurs when rugs are cleaned with highly buffered products. A cleaning product in the "safe" pH range can cause dye bleed, so do not rely on that number. To be safe, look for the WoolSafe logo on products, which will tell you an independent testing body has evaluated your cleaning agent.


Silk Rugs: What Can a Cleaner Do?

In my last article, which appeared in the May issue of ICS, we discussed rayon viscous or artificial silk [REVIEW] that is often assumed by rug owners to be the real deal. This time we will look at silk – a true luxury fiber.

Silk has been woven into tapestries, rugs, fine fabrics and accessories for over 4,000 years. Sericulture (the cultivation of silkworms for silk) has remained virtually unchanged over the centuries.

Silkworms are actually caterpillars, with Bombyx mori the most common. It is raised domestically and feeds on the leaves of the mulberry tree. The silkworm will spin a cocoon (See Image 1) to go through the transformation from the pupa state to emerge as a moth. However, the cultivated silk process does not let the moth emerge from the cocoon as they are steamed to kill the pupa. This keeps cultivated silk as a continuous fiber. The fiber of one cocoon can be up to 3,000 feet, or 900 meters. The cocoons are then immersed in boiling water (See Image 2) to remove the sericin (a gummy-like substance that hold the cocoon together) then reeled on to bobbins (See Image 3). The silk is spun into yarns or threads for weaving into fabric or making a hand-knotted rug (See Image 4).

A lot has changed in the silk rug market since this topic was last looked at, which was all the way back in the September 1999 issue of ICS. Due to the high labor cost of producing silk, China and Turkey have substantially decreased the amount of hand-knotted silk rugs. Egypt, due to the recent political upheave, has all but disappeared from the market along with Kashmir. Some silk production continues in Thailand, but not rug weaving. 

Persian silks have been woven for decades with some of the best from Tabriz, Heriz, Kashan and Kirman. Recently, the main production is in the city of Qum. Quality varies to a surprising degree and each rug should be examined for workmanship, fineness of knotting, design and stability of dyes.

The colors of Qum rugs are rather limited, with dark blue, pale gold, salmon pink, ivory, green and brown as the main colors. Patterns will vary from prayer rugs and hunting carpets to medallion designs. Sizes vary from 30” x 20” to 12’ x 9’.

Persian silk rugs found in the U.S. would have been imported before the current embargo that began in September 2010. Prices of silk rugs in Iran (and the U.S.) have skyrocketed due to local and international demand. A Qum dozar (a rug about 6’ x 4’) in good condition will retail anywhere from $6,000 to $8,000. At $300 per square foot, you do not want to have problems with a silk rug.

So what should a new rug cleaner do? Silks are tricky to clean, and with values going up, “mistakes” are more expensive than ever. My advice is simple - don’t clean silks unless you’re absolutely sure you know what you’re doing. I receive about 3 to 4 calls a month regarding damaged silk rugs from improper cleaning. (See Image 5 - Qum rug with dye bleed). If you do not know your rug ID and can’t tell a Qum from a Tabriz, you should not be cleaning a Qum or Tabriz. Cleaning silk rugs is more than just knowing the fiber.

Instead, find an established rug cleaning plant where you can bring your silk rugs.

If you have some rug cleaning training and a rug cleaning facility then you could attempt low-moisture cleaning. Next, to dye bleed silk rugs can have severe pile distortion issues. Hand-knotted rugs are not manufactured to a government standard. You may have cleaned one successfully in the past but that does not mean continued success with other silks.

The safest way to dust a silk rug is with a pneumatic dusting tool (See Image 6). Dusting with a rug beater can damage the foundation of thin worn silks. Use low-moisture cold-water extraction. Always pull the wand from the top of the rug toward the bottom (with the pile). Never move the wand back and forth. Use a WoolSafe® cleaning product and fiber rinse in the tank of the extraction machine. Silk rugs tend to dry stiff. This could be due to some sericin still in the fiber. Groom the pile toward the bottom of the rug and dry flat (See Image 7). The next day set the pile “up” (See Image 8). 

And as previously warned, be sure to use caution when venturing into this specialized area of rug cleaning.  


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