Bath, NY 14810, Carpet Cleaning Chemical Care, Janitorial Services

Bath, NY 14810, Carpet Cleaning Chemical Care, Janitorial Services


Caution: Handle with care!by Timothy RoachThe chemicals used in the carpet and furniture cleaning industry today are considered fairly safe; after all, it is just soap, right?


Anyone who handles chemicals regularly for a living is forced to work with hazardous agents every day of his/her working life.

It is easy for us to become desensitized to the dangers we face daily. Some chemical components commonly used in cleaners are more hazardous than others, and special attention should be paid when handling these notorious offenders.

In this article, several different classes of chemical will be discussed, and the various hazards associated with them described.

Even some of the most commonly used and seemingly innocuous chemicals can cause negative effects after prolonged exposure.

Each chemical class will be identified, and specific safeguards described.

There is no question that cleaning chemistries can be every bit as dangerous as other industrial chemicals.

But with a little education, it is possible to work with these chemicals safely and reap the benefits they give you on the job.

Acids and bases 

The pH of a chemical is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of an aqueous (water) solution of that chemical.

Powdered sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) does not have a pH — but add a spoonful to water, and the resulting solution has a pH of about 8.5.

Water itself is considered “neutral,” with a pH of 7.

Chemicals with a pH below 7 are considered “acids,” while those higher than 7 are called “bases.”

Naturally, the further away a chemical’s pH is from 7, the more acidic or basic that chemical is, and the more hazardous it is to handle.

Strong acids are rarely used in carpet cleaning.

Greases and oils that comprise much of the soil that is found in carpet are insoluble in water at acidic pH — acidic solutions, therefore, tend to be poor cleaners.

They rapidly corrode the metal fittings in truckmounts and portable extractors.

Only weak acids like glycolic acid (also known as hydroxyacetic acid) and acetic acid (concentrated vinegar) are likely to be found on your truck, often used as neutralizers and anti-browning agents.

Some carpet cleaning rinses are acidic, in order to counteract the alkalinity in many preconditioners.

Bases, on the other hand, are commonly used in formulating carpet cleaning solutions, and are major components in almost everything a carpet cleaner carries on the truck.

They, like acids, vary from weak (sodium bicarbonate) to moderately corrosive (sodium metasilicate) to highly caustic (sodium hydroxide).

The addition of these bases to cleaning formulations raises the overall pH of the formula, enhancing its cleaning ability.

Products with a pH between 7 and 10 are only slightly alkaline, and typically this increased alkalinity does not enhance the hazard of the chemical.

Higher-pH products, like those used on olefin and “trashed-out” nylon carpet, can be just as nasty as drain-opener, particularly before they are diluted.

Have you ever spilled some heavy-duty pre-spray on your hand and noticed a slick, slimy feeling?

Guess what? The caustic chemical has just eaten away a thin layer of your skin cells, exposing a smoother, lower layer of your epidermis.

Not too pleasant when you look at it that way!

Dry solventsDry solvents are liquid chemicals that do not mix easily with or contain water.

These chemicals are hydro-phobic, or have “water-fearing” molecules, which can be very effective at dissolving greasy, oily soils.

The idea of using dry solvents in cleaning was first discovered in the 19th century in France, when a dye chemist noticed that his tablecloth became cleaner after his maid accidentally spilled kerosene on it.

Soils that water had not been able to remove previously were cleaned quickly and easily, and dry cleaning was born.

However, kerosene is not exactly the safest thing in the world, so other, less-flammable alternatives were explored.

The most notable of these is the Stoddard Solvent, a white spirit derived from paraffin now commonly used as paint thinner.

After World War I, chlorinated solvents came into vogue as dry cleaning solvents due to their decreased flammability over the Stoddard Solvent.

Odorless mineral spirits (OMS) are typically used for dry cleaning furniture, and also used as the carrier for other products, such as “dry” carpet protectors. OMS are used to carry fluorochemical protectors in applications where excess water is undesirable, such as in upholstery care.

To this day, perchloroethylene, or “perc,” is still the most common dry cleaning solvent due to its stability, relatively low flammability, and gentleness on textiles.

While perc is certainly less hazardous than some of its predecessors, it is by no means a fully “safe” product.

A quick perusal of a material safety data sheet (MSDS) for perc identifies the chemical as a cancer suspect agent that may also cause liver and kidney damage when frequently exposed to it.

It can be fatal upon small levels of ingestion and/or inhalation.

As you can see, this stuff isn’t exactly user-friendly.

Another dry solvent that is found in dry-cleaning products for spot and stain removal is Benzin, also known as petroleum ether or “naphtha.”

Naphtha, while very effective at dissolving hydrophobic soils without bleeding carpet dyes, can be particularly nasty to handle, and should always be used with great care.

Other solvents are also on the market, such as acetone, methyl ethyl ketone (MEK) and glycol ethers.

Any of these dry solvent components should be handled (safety first!) with full protective gear, including gloves, eye protection, and a face shield. In most cases, a respirator is necessary.

Citrus solvents are very popular today and considered much safer to use, although skin exposure and inhalation should always be limited.

Peroxides (oxidizers)The “As Seen On TV” generation took off in the mid-1990s with the advent of “Oxy” cleaning products for household uses.

Despite its obnoxious spokesman and goofy iodine in the laundry demonstration, these products really revolutionized cleaning.

The main component of all of these so-called “oxygen bleaches” is hydrogen peroxide, a chemical that until that point had been used exclusively in hair bleaching and healing cuts (rather painfully, I might add).

Peroxide bleach is used by the professional carpet cleaner today to boost the performance of many cleaning chemicals.

A small amount of powder (the chemical is sodium percarbonate) is added to the cleaner, and the results can be amazing.

Sodium percarbonate itself is not peroxide. When the chemical is added to water, peroxide is generated.

However, the peroxide is not stable in the cleaning solution, and will lose its effectiveness if not used right away.

Because of this rapid degradation of the chemical, most percarbonate solutions are generally non-hazardous and mild to handle.

However, percarbonate should never be mixed with any reducing agents like sodium metabisulfite (the active ingredient in many coffee-stain removers). The combination could result in a violent and potentially explosive reaction.

Reducing agentsThe chemical opposite of an oxidizer like peroxide is a reducing agent.

Reducing agents are compounds that donate negatively charged electrons to other compounds, chemically changing them.

Perhaps the most commonly used reducing agent in cleaning is sodium metabisulfite, a weak reducer that is used on coffee and red stains.

Caffeine and red food dye are only colored in their oxidized state, so by using a reducing agent, those chemicals are converted into products that are not colored, thereby eliminating stains.

Red dye is tougher to reduce than caffeine, which is why heat is recommended when removing red stains.

Like oxidizers, reducers work by a chemical reaction.

Needless to say, the same chemical reactions can occur in your throat and nasal passages when these products are inadvertently ingested or inhaled.

Inhalation of reducing agents can result in burning and lesions in the throat, and accidental contact can cause damage to the skin and eyes.

When handling these powders, a dust mask is highly recommended, as are safety goggles.

Enzyme cleanersAt the forefront of the green movement in carpet cleaning are cleaning chemicals that utilize enzymes rather than detergents.

Enzymes are proteins that act like little chemical reactors; they break down other compounds into smaller pieces.

Enzymes are specific for certain substrates, that is, “protease” breaks down proteins, “lipase” breaks down lipids (fats), and so on.

The same (or similar) enzymes that are used in cleaning are found in our own bodies as an integral part of the digestive system.

Therefore, enzymes are viewed by many to be a far safer cleaning alternative than irritating detergents and toxic solvents.

While this may certainly be the case, accidental ingestion or inhalation of enzyme powders can be very irritating to the mucous membranes in the nose and throat.

Enzyme products that come in a liquid form (like pet-stain removers) typically contain only low levels of enzymes.

Actually, these products are formulated with bacteria that are completely safe around humans and pets.

These bacteria are genetically engineered to produce cleaning enzymes when the chemical comes in contact with the stain on the carpet.

Bacterial liquid cleaners, even more so than enzyme powders, are generally non-toxic and extremely safe to use.

Is it hazardous?Here is where carpet cleaning professionals are faced with a problem.

How can you readily identify the hazards of an individual chemical in order to know the best way to safely handle and use it?

MSDS are full of information, and although there is a proper format for putting an MSDS together, it is not always easy to find all of the relevant information about handling with just a quick glance.

There are some parts of an MSDS that are even confusing, such as those that use abbreviations for important terms that you might not know.

Here are some of those abbreviations, along with a brief definition:

ACGIH — American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists. This organization is primarily responsible for measuring and publishing the acceptable level of exposure to various chemicals.

TLV — threshold limit value. The TLV is the reasonable amount of a chemical that a worker can be exposed to without adverse health effects. The lower the TLV, the more hazardous a chemical is considered by ACGIH.

PPM — parts per million. Threshold limit values for gases and volatile liquids are measured and reported in PPM on an MSDS.

TLV values are also divided into more specific gradations: Time-weighted average (the average acceptable exposure over a standard 40-hour work week), short-term exposure limit (exposure should not be more than four times per day), and ceiling value (the absolute maximum exposure limit that should not be exceeded under any circumstances at any one time).

Responsible chemical manufacturers provide this information clearly on an MSDS, and technical support makes themselves readily available to answer any questions that handlers of hazardous chemicals may have.

Another valuable section of an MSDS that provides a “quick and dirty” measure of the overall hazard of a chemical is the HMIS section.

HMIS, which stands for Hazardous Materials Identification System, is a numbering system that allows chemical manufacturers to identify the hazards of their products in accordance with OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard.

HMIS is divided up into four categories, each one identified by a colored bar.

The categories are:

HealthFlammabilityReactivityProtective equipment.For the first three categories, the chemical is rated on a scale of zero to four, with zero being no hazard and four being the most significant level of hazard.

Therefore, products with a Health-3 would be more hazardous to the health of anyone using it than would a product with a Health-1. (See chart in sidebar.)

Protective equipment is identified with a letter code; a definition of each of the over 20 different letter codes can be found on OSHA’s website.

It is the responsibility of the manufacturer to properly identify the hazards of their products using the HMIS system.

The numbers in the HMIS rating are not subjective. Chemical manufacturers are required to test each formula according to protocols outlined by OSHA in order to assign the proper HMIS rating.

If you ever have any questions about the HMIS of a specific formula, always contact the manufacturer’s technical support. They are the experts and can guide you through any issues you may have.

You can rest assured that good formulators are working every day to try to improve the cleaning industry, both from a performance and a safety perspective.

If you are currently using a product that contains some of the ingredients listed in this article, do not panic.

By exercising caution, you can minimize the risk of handling these products while reaping the benefits they offer.

And when in doubt, just contact your chemical manufacturer. or