CHEMICAL SPOTS, STAINS, AND DISCOLORATION OF CARPETS
Spots, stains, and discoloration of carpets and most other textile products have been with us for as long as the products themselves. Ordinary dirt and grease spots, which occur with food spills and normal use can usually be removed without damage if treated promptly or cleaned by a professional cleaner.
However, another more serious kind of stain is appearing with increasing frequency and is different from ordinary stains. This type of discoloration or color loss is caused by a variety of chemical ingredients contained in dozens of common household products.
We live in a world of chemicals. Unfortunately, some of the characteristics that make household chemical products the most useful are the same qualities that lead to trouble when these products are carelessly handled.
Most of us are aware of the danger of leaving medications, household cleaners, insecticides, polishes, and bleaches where children can get to them. However, many people do not realize that these same products frequently contain ingredients, which can cause irreparable damage to valuable carpets and rugs, if they are spilled or allowed to come in contact with them.
Basically, there are two (2) types of spots than can appear on carpets. The first type of spot is the common stain, which occurs when food is spilled or ordinary dirtier oily substance is tracked in. These spots are usually apparent immediately and action can be taken to remove them without damage to the carpet.
In these cases, professional cleaners, the product manufacturer or the retailer can be consulted for care information many manufacturers have published carpet and rug care guides which deal with regular care and common stain problems.
The second type of stain or discoloration of carpets is the chemical stain. More insidious than the common stain, the chemical stain is caused by the introduction of foreign substances to the surface pile, which actually changes or destroys the dye. The time between contact and appearance of the stain could be days or months. Generally, nothing can be done to restore the dye to its original color.
Some of the more common chemical products known to cause problems include medication, certain cosmetics, all household bleaches, furniture polish, certain plant foods, fertilizers and insecticides. One fiber manufacturer has estimated the number of household products, which can cause stains or spots on carpet products to be in excess of 50. The mechanism by which these sports appear varies with different types of chemicals, environmental conditions, and the particular carpet product involved.
An additional problem with this chemical is that compounds containing benzoyl peroxide are not water-soluble. They are difficult to wash off the hands or face. The user may believe the substance has been washed off when it really has not.
Most benzoyl peroxide spots begin as orange or dark yellow, depending on the dyestuff used. As time and the oxidation process progress, the yellow stain will get lighter in color. On blue carpets, however, these spots may appear slightly pinkish or white. In some cases the spot may appear to be yellow with an orange halo around it, moving toward yellow as the spot grows.
- BLEACHES – Most people are aware that misuse of household bleaches on color fabrics may remove the color as well as stubborn stains. Accidental spills on carpets and Upholstery fabrics are equally damaging. Chlorine bleaches (sodium hypocholorite) are the most universally used. The so-called “all fabric” bleaches (Oxygen bleach), although slower acting, can cause bleaching and dye bleeding swimming pool chemicals (calcium hypochlorite) tracked into the home can bleach carpets and rugs. Also, most mildew stoppers contain bleach, which will affect textiles if used improperly. Spots caused by chlorine products are generally yellow. However, chlorine will cause some red dye stuffs to turn green.
- ACIDS AND ALKALIS – As little as one (l) percent of hydrochloric acid in solution can cause pink or orange spots in carpets. Stomach acid is essentially ten (l0) percent hydrochloric acid. This means that vomit can cause permanent spots on carpet if not promptly removed and/or neutralized. Some toilet bowl cleaners contain as much as ten (l0) percent hydrochloric acid. Corn and callous removers contain phosphoric and glacial acetic acid. The cleaners also contain acid, which can cause color changes, as do certain foot preparations. Hydrochloric acid can cause some red dyestuffs to turn bright blue. Strong alkaline substances are equally damaging when they come in contact with carpets and other textile products. The active ingredient in most drain cleaners is sodium hydroxide (lye). Oven cleaners get their cleaning power from sodium hydroxide. Strong alkalis will destroy the fabric itself, as well as cause spots and stains.
- URINGE STAINS – Urine from children and pets can cause permanent stains to carpet and upholstery fabrics if not promptly removed. The characteristic ammonia-like odor of urine will be replaced by a musty odor. Spots caused by urine may be a dull yellow or even red.
The following suggestions may be helpful in identifying the cause of chemical spots and stains on carpets
WHERE IS THE SPOT LOCATED IN THE HOUSE? In teenager’s rooms, one would suspect acne medication containing benzoyl perioxide is orange colored spots appear on carpets. Green discoloration along baseboards suggests insecticides. In the living or dining room where houseplants are kept, it could be leakage from pots containing plant food. Stains around the base of furniture could be contamination from furniture polish. The important thing is to isolate the cause of the spot and take whatever steps are necessary to prevent future exposure.
WAS THE CHEMICAL SUBSTANCE SPILLED OR TRACKED onto the carpet from some other area? The pattern of the stain indicated how it happened. Spills often resemble explosions. They are generally larger in diameter near the backing than on the surface. Tracking commonly leaves a clearly defined shape like a handprint or footprint. Tracking stains are usually limited to the tips of the tufts. Where tracks come from could indicate the cause. Use a U.V. light to investigate.
DOES THE SPOT HAVE AN ODOR? If the spot smells different from the rest of the carpet, it is obvious that a foreign substance is present. The odor can be a clue to its identity.
WHAT COLOR ARE THE SPOTS? Different chemicals react differently to different colors and dyestuffs. As we have noted, they also react differently under various climatic conditions. In general, red spots on tan or beige carpet may suggest strong acids. Yellow stains indicate reactions caused by strong oxidizers or bleaches. It should be noted here that there are many other causes of yellowing conditions in carpets (see Carpet Yellowing). Green or blue stains may indicate sunlight combined with a catalyst. Dye spots caused in the mill are rare and are always darker, never lighter, than the background. Conduct a ph test.
- ACNE MEDICATIONS AND SKIN CREAMS – Many consumer products have been introduced over the last few years, which contain benzoyl peroxide as an active ingredient. These products include acne medications, fade or age creams, some foot care preparations and some pet shampoos. Benzoyl peroxide is a strong, oxidizing and/or bleaching agent, which is capable of destroying most dyes used in carpet and upholstery fabrics. Other textiles such as pillowcases, sheets, towels, and clothing may be affected also. Manufacturers have estimated that a high percentage of unidentifiable spots on carpets can be attributed to this chemical.
Stops caused by benzoyl peroxide may appear hours, days or months after the contamination depending on the temperature and humidity. This means that the original source of the spill could have been forgotten by the time the spot appears.
As most doctors agree, benzoyl peroxide is an excellent medication for the treatment of acne and other skin problems; however, it can easily come in contact with carpet, clothing, upholstery and linens, causing spots that often seem mysterious in origin.
Benzoyl peroxide is a powerful oxidizing agent, meaning that it is capable of bleaching dyed products. Research has shown that it is about l00 times more powerful than household chlorine bleach. Because of this, it is capable of causing bleaching at very low concentrations…as low as a thousandth of one (l) percent.
There are other factors that complicate the problem. Benqoyl peroxide is not water soluble and does not dissolve readily in water. The base in which it is commonly formulated for facial use is often oily. The combination makes it difficult to wash off hands unless hot water and plenty of soap is used. Traces left on hands after inadequate washing are certainly sufficient to bleach carpet.
One characteristic of benzoyl peroxide that results in the seemingly mysterious appearance of spots is the fact that moisture is necessary for bleaching to occur. If the medication contacts the carpet during the dry, winter months, spots may appear in the spring when humidity and temperatures rise, the spill or use of the product being long forgotten. Appearance of spots under ordinary conditions are typically delayed by a week or so.
Spots caused by benzoyl peroxide are yellow to orange in color on most carpet (pinkish on blue carpet). Those with much peroxide are bright yellow and exhibit an orange halo, which moves outward as the bleaching action progresses, the center turning yellow, this is the only household product that causes this peculiar phenomenon, the halo is a positive indication that benzoyl peroxide was the culprit. Complete or partial handprints are very common and are usually indicative of acne medications. Recently, a major fiber producer found that over 40% of all reported discolored carpet complaints were found to be due to acne medications.
Unfortunately, all dyestuffs used in carpet are susceptible to bleaching, as are those used in most other textile products. If a spill of benzoyl peroxide containing product occurs. The area should be immediately cleaned by using liberal amounts of household ammonia. Spots detected in their early stages can also be treated with ammonia to stop further bleaching, although the process cannot be reversed.
Several precautions should be observed in order to prevent damage to textile products.
- As more may not be better, use the 5% version of the product, than apply a minimal amount.
- Wash hands thoroughly using plenty of soap and hot water.
- Be sure to only use the product in the bathroom, where the floor is cleaned more frequently, and spills or drips are easily wiped up.
- You must avoid dropping washcloths on carpet if they have been used to remove the medication from the face.