How Stain Resistant Carpet Works

Stain-resistant carpet can make it easier to clean up spills and other messes.
Stain-resistant carpet can make it easier to clean up spills and other messes.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Have you ever watched in horror as a party guest accidentally bumps into a table, sending a glass of red wine splashing across the floor? It quickly spreads across the carpet, forming a nightmarish red blob on your formerly light-beige floor covering. Amid apologies, cleaning tips and maybe a few too many well-meaning helping hands, you try to attack the stain before it sets into your carpet permanently.

While spilled wine may not be an everyday occurrence, your carpet is bound to take a few hits from dirty shoes or dropped food. If you have children or pets, your everyday messes are probably multiplied. Wouldn't it be nice if clean-up didn't involve hours of intense scrubbing, only to find that the stain still won't come out?

If your floors see more than their fair share of messes, stain-resistant carpet may be a good solution for you. While no carpeting is 100 percent stain-proof, the stain-resistant types make it easier to remove most stains quickly and without permanent damage.

When shopping for stain-resistant carpet, keep this in mind: While it's true that some types of carpeting naturally resist stains, carpet that is labeled or identified as "stain-resistant," is coated with a chemical finish that repels dirt or liquids, thereby preventing them from settling in.

So how does this type of carpet work its magic? On the next page, we'll take a closer look at the technology of stain-resistant carpet.

Stain Resistant Carpet Technology

Most messes on stain-resistant carpet can be cleaned up easily with soap and water.
Most messes on stain-resistant carpet can be cleaned up easily with soap and water.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Carpets can be made from all kinds of fabrics, including polypropylene, polyester, acrylic, silk, wool and nylon. But because of its powerful resilience and resistance to abrasion and mildew, nylon makes up half of the carpeting sold in the U.S. [source: Bane-Clene Systems].

Across the country, major manufacturers make nylon carpeting using different kinds of protective, strain-resistant coatings. Each company uses its own proprietary chemical treatments and application techniques.

While there are many different kinds of nylon to choose from, they are all made in one of two ways. Nylon fibers are either infused with chemicals before they're sent to a carpeting mill or chemicals are applied during the manufacturing process onsite, after the tufting or weaving process.

Just as the name implies, stain-resistant carpeting is fairly impermeable to messes left from food, juices and other beverages, pet accidents, ink, rust and even shoe polish.

The way to clean up spills depends on the type of mess you're left with. Large companies that sell carpeting will provide you with printed instructions that spell out different cleaning methods for different kinds of stains. Sometimes they also have a toll-free phone number that you can call when you're in doubt or have questions.

Often, all you have to do is apply water or a soap-and-water solution to the soiled area. Remember, it's always best to remove spots as quickly as possible before they dry, even though you typically have a one- to two-day window before the stain sets in. Steer clear of bleach-based cleaning agents; they will remove the protective chemicals coating the carpeting fibers and can even intensify stains.

Nylon carpeting is almost always stain-resistant; it's standard practice for manufacturers to apply protective chemical treatments. If you're interested in buying another kind of carpeting, don't worry; if it is stain-resistant, it will be labeled as such. You can always contact the manufacturer if you want absolute confirmation.

Go on to the next page to find out some of the perks stain-resistant carpet has to offer.

Benefits of Stain Resistant Carpet

Muddy footprints are easier to remove from stain-resistant carpet than regular carpet, saving you a little time and elbow grease.
Muddy footprints are easier to remove from stain-resistant carpet than regular carpet, saving you a little time and elbow grease.
Digital Vision/Thinkstock

Let's be honest, spills happen. Whether it's mud carried indoors by your dog or coffee that has dripped down the side of a mug and onto the floor, what's underfoot is bound to undergo some abuse. Fortunately, carpeting with powerful stain-resisting properties comes packed with all kinds of benefits.

For one, it looks nicer for longer. Spills usually mean stains, at least for other kinds of carpeting that lack a protective chemical coating. Blemishes sometimes can't be hidden with throw rugs or furniture. If you're like a lot of folks, these eyesores may prompt you to replace your carpeting prematurely, and while you may love getting new carpet, your budget may not.

Stain-resistant carpeting, however, is actually one of the most cost-effective options for carpeting. You shouldn't have to replace it as often because it does look nicer longer. Plus, it's available at relatively low price points compared to carpeting made from wool or other fibers.

As with most products, you get what you pay for. If you spend more money upfront to get high-quality carpeting, that flooring could easily last the course of your lifetime. The finest stain-resistant nylon versions available can cost more than carpeting made with traditionally more expensive fibers like wool or silk. The amount you save over time, however, can make up for the extra you pay upfront.

Also, spills on stain-resistant carpeting are more likely to come out because of its wick-away properties. In a sense, this is a health advantage, because spills don't stick around to attract bugs and other uninvited critters.

Unfortunately, carpet can be a breeding ground for other unwanted things that may surprise you, regardless of whether it's stain-resistant. Even though stain-resistant flooring offers some significant redeeming qualities, it also poses a few drawbacks. Click to the next page to find out more.

Problems with Stain Resistant Carpet

Stain-resistant doesn't mean care-free. You still need to clean up any spills right away, just as you would if you had a hard-surfaced floor. Good care helps your wall-to-wall carpet weather well over the years.

But of course, few things last forever. Stain-resistant carpet is no exception. Eventually, the protective chemical coating wears out. Read the manufacturer's instructions for care and follow them diligently so that your flooring lasts a long time. And remember, some chemicals, like bleaching agents, can wear down your carpeting's stain-resistant coating, so make sure to keep them out of contact with your floor. There are some substances that can permanently harm or discolor even stain-resistant carpeting, including strong chemicals, acne medication and yellow mustard, so manufacturers recommended you try to keep these culprits at a safe distance.

Health risks are another consideration. Did you know that carpet is home to more microorganisms than any other kind of flooring? The fibers it's made of trap allergens like mold and bacteria. It also ensnares airborne volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are emitted as gases from thousands of things -- such as toxic stain-resistant treatments, pesticides dragged in on the bottoms of your shoes and cleaning supplies -- some of which pose short- or long-term health risks.

Some examples of common complaints related to being exposed to carpet containing VOCs include headaches, nausea, chills and fever, and burning eyes, nose or sinuses.

Your body isn't the only thing that can suffer from stain-resistant carpeting. Carpet manufactured today is made mostly with a synthetic mix of petroleum and chemicals. Ninety-eight percent of synthetic carpeting contains an ingredient that takes more than a century to biodegrade [source: Graham]. Our landfills certainly experience the harmful effects of carpeting well after we're finished with it.

Despite these drawbacks, stain-resistant carpet may be a nice addition to your home if you want to prevent permanent spots on your floors. If you're ready to consider installing stain-resistant carpet, or if you just need a few tips for caring for your current carpet, click to the next page for some great links and resources.

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More Great Links

Sources

  • Bane-Clene Systems. "Carpeting and Rug Fiber Chemistry." Accessed Sept. 10, 2010. http://www.baneclene.com/articles/fiber-chemistry.html
  • Graham, Christi. "To Carpet or Not to Carpet?" Healthy Home Plans. Accessed Sept. 10, 2010. http://www.healthyhomeplans.com/articles/information4.php
  • The Carpet and Rug Institute. "Commercial Customers: Carpet and Rug Construction." Accessed Sept. 10, 2010. http://www.carpet-rug.org/commercial-customers/selecting-the-right-carpeting/carpeting-and-rug-construction.cfm
  • The New York Times. "Consumer's World: Coping with Stain-Resistant Carpetings." Accessed Sept. 10, 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/1990/01/06/style/consumer-s-world-coping-with-stain-resistant-carpetings.html
  • US Environmental Protection Agency. "An Introduction to Indoor Air Quality." Accessed Sept. 10, 2010. http://www.epa.gov/iaq/voc.html
  • World Floor Expo. "Fibers and Materials." Accessed Sept. 10, 2010. http://www.worldfloorexpo.com/displayarticle.php?a=702" carpeting