There are many reasons why a carpet may lose color, from chemical spills, cleaning solutions inappropriately used, sun fading, fume fading, old urine stains, cleaning products that contain chlorine bleach, medications — and more.
All of these create unsightly discolorations that cleaning will not affect.
But, a general rule of thumb is that, if color can be removed, it can be repaired.
Color repair can be a lucrative add-on service for contract cleaners and a skill that in-house facility cleaning technicians can use to keep their buildings in top condition.
While there are several dye methods used for dyeing fibers and carpet during production, acid dye treatments are typical for wool and nylon fibers.
It is wool and nylon that experience color loss from a variety of scenarios presented above.
This article will outline practical steps for repairing color loss for wool and nylon, specifically from sodium hypochlorite, commonly referred to as chlorine bleach.
But, despite the cause of color loss, the principles of color repair — temperature of dye bath, pH, etc. — are basically the same.
Although most cleaning technicians use the term "bleach spot" or "bleach stain," we are really talking about a "discoloration."
A spot is substance added to a fiber and is typically found on the surface of the fiber.
A stain is color added to the fiber, typically absorbed into the fiber.
A spot adds texture to the feel of the carpet surface; a stain does not always have this characteristic.
When color is removed, damage to the dyes occurs.
Reapplying appropriate neutralizing chemicals and dyes, a skill that takes time to develop, is then necessary.
Your goal with discoloration repair is to improve the appearance of the damaged area.
Never make bold promises to repair the area so that the customer or facility occupants will not see the damage.
Instead, stress the fact that you will do your best, and that the discoloration will not "draw the eye," but will rather be less noticeable to anyone entering the room.
If you under-promise and then over-deliver, there are fewer disappointments when the job is completed.
Until you have plenty of practice under your belt, target your efforts on very small discolorations and work your way up from there.
While some cleaners use colored markers and similar tools to repair discolorations, the traditional method for repair is to use acid dyes, which are the most common dyes used by carpet mills.
A quality dye kit will have the chemicals necessary for all typical repairs, including a variety of colors you can use.
The basics are the three primary colors — blue, yellow, red — but a dye kit may have 30 or more colors from which you may choose.
Acid dyes and typical color repair procedures work on nylon and wool fibers.
Olefin is not affected by chlorine bleach and other chemicals; polyester is similar, although color loss can still occur.
Perform your fiber identification test before proceeding, ensuring you are working with nylon or wool.
If you are reading this article and need a complete fiber identification chart, request that by e-mail: JCross@NTPMedia.com.
The first step is ensuring the area you are to repair is clean, either with typical carpet cleaning or spot cleaning.
You may also need to lower surface tension due to fluorochemical treatments on the carpet pile to ensure your chemistry will penetrate.
As such, a dye penetrator solution may be necessary.
Now, it''s time to neutralize the bleach that has caused the discoloration.
If you aren''t sure of the cause of discoloration, neutralize anyway just to be safe.
Flood the damaged area with bleach neutralizer, typically a sodium bisulfite or metabisulfite solution, ensuring your neutralizer is contacting all parts of the carpet affected by the bleach — including the carpet cushion.
Many cleaners ask how much neutralizer to add.
It''s better to be safe than sorry, so use it liberally and blot excess moisture after application.
Your neutralizer works instantly and does not need extended dwell time.
Next, add an acid solution to the surface of the carpet to bring the pH down to at least "three" on your pH chart.
You can also add the acid solution to your dye baths, as described in the next step.
Again, a low pH is necessary for your dyes to strike and set up in the fiber.
Replace What Is Missing
Using a color wheel or guide, determine which primary color(s) is/are missing.
For instance, if working on a green carpet that has faded to yellow, blue is missing because green is made with a combination of yellow and blue.
A word of caution: When mixing dyes, it is best to keep them on a protective surface, perhaps a tray with a lip, so if anything is spilled, it is contained.
Also, when mixing dyes — again, the primary colors are blue, yellow and red — keep them in separate, hard containers that will not melt.
You have more control if you keep them separate, although some technicians do mix them together.
You may not need all three depending on the original carpet color and the missing primaries.
When mixing your dye bath, make sure you maintain a minimum temperature of 150 degrees Fahrenheit.
To achieve this, use a soup warmer or other heating device — there are many options.
Using an eyedropper or other small applicator, start light and work your way darker with the colors you need until the match looks acceptable.
One common error cleaning technicians make is going too dark with their dye bath then feverishly attempting to fix the problem caused.
Even when wet, dyes can be a challenge to remove, although there are products specifically designed to assist in dye removal.
This is the part of the repair in which most cleaners struggle.
This is the "artistic" aspect of the work; it takes time and patience — plenty of practice.
Once you have applied the appropriate dyes to the fibers, work the dyes in with a spatula and blot excess moisture, if necessary.
But, blot carefully, as you can remove wet dyes and will then need to add more to the surface.
When you are pleased with the results, you can speed dry with an air mover or even a hair dryer.
Once the dyes are completely dried, they are considered permanent.
It is then time for inspection: Don''t point out the area you repaired, but instead see if the customer or facility occupants can easily find the former discoloration.
Again, setting realistic expectations before doing the work is very important.
Jeff Cross is the senior editor of Cleanfax magazine and an industry trainer and consultant. Cross offers Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC) technical training seminars for carpet and furniture cleaning, spot and stain removal and carpet color repair. He also offers carpet cleaning, disaster restoration and contract cleaning marketing seminars through Totally Booked University. He can be reached at JCross@NTPMedia.com.