Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of carpet made from sustainable fibres. This eco-friendly option minimizes indoor air pollution and mitigates health problems caused by toxic floor surfaces.
But with so many ‘greener’ flooring choices on the market today, how does a consumer select and care for the right environmentally preferred product?
To begin, it is important to understand how these textile floor coverings are made.
Woven versus Tufted
Piled carpet is either woven or tufted. Consumers in search of the ‘greenest’ option often turn to woven. However, tufted floor textiles account for more than 95 per cent of carpets and rugs in North America.
Woven carpet is created on looms by simultaneously interlacing face yarns and backing yarns, eliminating the need for adhesive to bind it together. Its backing is often made of natural fibres like jute and cotton, which are notorious for shrinkage when wetted out.
There are three basic kinds of machine-woven carpet: Velvet, Wilton and Axminster. Velvet and Wilton carpets that have patterns of one or two colours often have backings of multiple natural fibres. These can shrink tremendously due to the content of the filling yarns used in the frames. Axminster also shrinks. When it does, it can only be stretched back in one direction. As a result, great attention must be paid to carpet construction, cleaning methods and drying times when cleaning any woven broadloom.
Tufted carpet is made on a giant multi-needle sewing machine. An adhesive coating is applied to the back of the carpet to anchor the tufts in place and prevent them from being pulled out under normal circumstances. A secondary backing is then added for dimensional stability. Most tufted carpets have polypropylene primary and secondary backings with synthetic sustainable face fibres made of triexta, polyester, nylon and wool.
Triexta is a relatively new fibre made from polymers of the polyester family and corn glucose (instead of petroleum). Some triexta can have up to 37 per cent corn glucose in its composition. By replacing petroleum with corn glucose, less chemicals are put into the fibre, which means fewer chemicals come out of it in the form of volatile organic compounds.
Since triexta is newer to the marketplace, there is not enough data to determine the long-term performance of these carpet products. But it is safe to say that triexta is almost completely stain-resistant and it is lipophilic, which means it attracts oily soils.
Detergent-free cleaners are preferred to maintain triexta as many cleaning solutions contain co-solvents and degreasers. Their residues will cling to the fibres, causing a dull appearance and rapid re-soiling.
PET (polyethylene terephthalate) polyester carpet is made from recycled plastic bottles. The bottles are ground into tiny pieces and melted into chips, which are then converted into the fibres. This helps to keep millions of plastic bottles out of landfills and saves on the use of resources in the production of polyester.
Carpet made with polyester fibres performs well but when it comes to stain removal, it attracts and holds oily soils and cleaning residues. It also repels water. Using very hot water and higher pH pre-conditioners can help loosen adsorbed soil from the fibres.
There are two types of textile nylon — nylon 6 and nylon 66. Nylon 6 has been recycled for many years and is re-polymerized into carpet fibre.
Nylon is the most versatile of all fibres. It can be manufactured in a variety of colours and styles, and offers long-term performance.
Nylon is also easy to clean since it does not have an affinity for oily soils, though stains can be a problem. The fibre absorbs moisture and can attract acid dyes from, for example, soda drinks.
When cleaning, it is important to use products that are safe for ‘fifth generation’ nylon. The fibre is prone to colour loss from high pH cleaners.
Wool is found in both tufted and woven carpets. Unlike other common carpet fibres, it is naturally flame-resistant.
Wool used in commercial carpet comes from sheep. Its yarns are much shorter than synthetic fibres and composed of a protein substance called keratin. These staple fibres are resilient, withstanding wear and tear in high traffic areas, and take in dyes readily. This means wool carpet is available in countless colours; however, it can also stain easily.
Wool carpet can be damaged by high alkaline cleaning solutions. The carpet can also fade or dye may bleed when improper chemistries are used. Only cleaning solutions that carry the WoolSafe seal of approval should be used when cleaning wool.
James (Lee) Senter is president of Fresh and Clean, which performs deep cleaning of floors in the Greater Toronto Area, and CEO of restoration company DryIt. He is also president of the Canadian Flooring, Cleaning and Restoration Association (CFCRA). Lee can be reached at [email protected].