Pile Distortion in Walk Areas

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Irreparable carpet distortion

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Severe distortion

by Paul Pearce

I receive many calls from baffled consumers and carpet cleaners with regards to dark areas in the carpet which are resolutely present during, and even after, cleaning. Consumers say “I have just had my carpet cleaned and it’s still dirty”. The carpet cleaner calls me to say “I have been working on this area now for thirty minutes and it’s still not coming clean”.

You may assume that these dark areas are due to stubborn soiling, but very often they’re not. You see, when we remove the soil from the surface of a carpet we are often confronted with further issues such as distortion to the pile or fibres. This is often the case when a client is dissatisfied with a clean. They think there is remaining soil in the carpet, when the real reason it looks dark is the distorted pile. Of course it really doesn’t help when the ill-informed carpet retailer or clients friend says “well, they didn’t do a good job of removing the soil, it still looks dirty, especially in front of the settee”. We need to better educate our clients if we want to avoid this scenario. Explain to them that carpets can deteriorate rapidly in some areas and certainly never guarantee to get a carpet ‘looking like new’.

Walkway areas in particular can change substantially in appearance, due to distortion, in a relatively short time and this may not be noticed by the client until after you have cleaned the carpet. It is inevitable that all ‘traffic’ areas will show signs of wear and tear over time, but some people think that the degraded appearance is simply down to soiling.

This kind of distortion is progressive, and can start immediately after the carpet is laid. It can be the result of several things:
Shading – a change in light reflection as fibres comprising the pile of carpet are bent or reoriented over time.
Abrading – which results from the abrasive action of particle soils rubbing against the fibres, causing them to dull and reflect, deflect or absorb light differently from less trafficked areas.
Fading – the gradual colour loss resulting from exposure of carpet dyes to light (especially sunlight) over time, and to a lesser extent, to acid soils, or to atmospheric gases or fumes.
Wear – a loss of fibre density resulting from normal traffic, maintenance and general use. Obviously, poor pile density and minimum yarn twist also results in distortion in traffic areas.
Pile reversal – which can appear generally throughout the carpet but mainly wherever traffic is experienced, usually immediately after installation or within a few months and looks like a water stain.

No one really knows what causes pile reversal or how to prevent it. It even extends across seams from one section of carpet to another; I have also seen it on carpet tiles.

There are reported to be one or two people out there using a steaming method to reverse the distorted pile, but even that is only temporary. It is not a manufacturing fault, although there have been instances where a carpet has been replaced by the manufacturer. However, I suspect this was more a gesture of goodwill than ownership of the problem.

Because it occurs in carpet and rugs of all fibre types (wool, nylon, polyester, acrylic, polypropylene, coir, silk, etc.), all construction types (woven, tufted, fusion bonded, modular, etc.), in all methods of installation, under virtually every imaginable combination of circumstances, the conclusion that pile reversal is not related to any of these factors is well supported.

The visibility of various types of shading, including pile reversal, is minimized if the carpet is:
• a loop pile: it occurs almost invariably in cut-pile styles, loop-pile styles are a virtual guarantee against this problem.
• displaying a busy pattern: the more busily and boldly patterned a carpet is, the better it will disguise shading and pile reversal.
• a pale colour: lighter carpets sometimes tend to show less contrast between darker and lighter shaded areas, whereas darker colours often tend to exaggerate these differences.
• constructed of fibres with less lustre: fibres with less ‘sheen’ create less contrast between dark and light areas.

The above is an attempt to explain some of the issues surrounding pile changes in carpet.

Just bear in mind that pile distortion will not be the explanation for every single dark patch of carpet. It might actually be that it does need a bit more cleaning.

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