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Detergent Residue -The driver for "Green"


Another argument to support going "green".
What do your cleaning products leave behind?

Do any of the following apply to you?

  1. Have you ever cleaned a spot which mysteriously reappears a few days or weeks later?
  2. Do reappearing spots turn black and grow larger?
  3. Have you, or a professional carpet cleaner ever cleaned your carpet, which looks great when cleaned, but shortly thereafter, looks dull, dingy and worse than before it was cleaned?
  4. Do the areas cleaned with carpet stain removers feel sticky?
  5. Are you reluctant to have your carpet cleaned because it never "seems the same" or it "loses something" afterward?

These are common problems associated with the detergent residue some cleaning products leave behind. It becomes a film that's left on practically anything cleaned with a detergent based cleaning product.

No matter how often rinsed, it's nearly impossible to completely remove.

To demonstrate, try these simple tests:

  1. Next time you shampoo your hair in the shower, when you rinse your hair, notice how much water it takes to remove all the soap. If you used that much water on your carpet to rinse out the soapy sticky residue, think about the effect over-wetting creates in your carpet cleaning jobs. The mold and bacterial growth and the mildew smell that often remains in damp carpet for days.
  2. Take a washed item of clothing and place in a tub of plain water. Squeeze several times in water. Any foam or sudsing that appears is what the detergent leaves behind. This is the residue that's left in your clothes after several rinse cycles in your washing machine. Gallons of water later and the detergent residue remains.

To think we're living among all that residue and the chemicals used to formulate them. It's like washing your hair and not rinsing it. So why "clean" your carpet with detergent when you cannot rinse all that soapy sticky residue out of carpet.

Worse yet, this detergent residue is in constant contact and is absorbed into your body through the skin.

Try this test. Take a fresh moist piece of garlic, cut it in half and rub it on the soles of your feet today, by tomorrow, you will taste the garlic.

The feet are very porous and can absorb pollutants or chemicals. 

Many people walk around their home in bare feet or allow their children to crawl or play on their carpet. The skin will absorb toxic cleaning chemicals found in the carpet.

What options are available to address this unhealthy condition?

  1. stop cleaning your carpet and floors....not practical
  2. only use water to cleaning ability
  3. keep rinsing until all residue is gone....very time consuming
  4. find alternative cleaning products....the best solution!

Understanding detergent formulation can aid in selecting an alternative cleaning product. Namely, detergent-free carpet cleaning products.

What is a detergent and why is there detergent residue?

The word detergent means to clean. The most basic form is called soap which is formed by combining animal fat or vegetable oils with a strong alkaline (high pH). In order to work properly, soap:

  • utilizes "saponification" a process whereby the soap's high pH breaks down the greasy soil into soap for easier removal.
  • will leave a sticky detergent residue if not completely rinsed
  • forms insoluble salts when combined with hard water. This stops any cleaning action and forms soap scum ("ring around the tub").

Synthetic detergents were developed to correct the drawback of soap. Although superior to soap, in that they are less prone to leaving detergent residue and are more stable in hard water, the downside includes:

  • a reliance on phosphates to work, which is which is bad for the environment.
  • requires a high alkaline pH (over 10) to work, which isn't safe for 5th generation or later nylon carpet.

These detergents have been reformulated to correct these problems by adding other ingredients which are discussed below.

Detergents are soluble in water and love oily soil. It's molecule has two ends. One end loves water and the other end loves oil.

When agitation is introduced, the oily soil is loosened from the surface. The detergent molecule surrounds the oily soil which can then be flushed away.

To aid this molecular process, detergent "wetting agents" are added to decrease surface tension and allow the cleaning chemicals to spread and penetrate the surface.

The detergent molecule surrounds the soil to lift or "suspend" it into the cleaning solution This suspended soil is called an "emulsion", meaning one substance suspended in another.

During the process of emulsion, the fine soil particles are collected together to form larger particles making the surface look cleaner. This is known as agglomeration. The emulsion process also prevents the soil from being redeposited on the surface.

Common ingredients added to carpet and floor detergent formulations may help their performance, however, some may contribute to the rapid re-soiling associated with detergent residue. These ingredients include but are not limited to:

  • Builders: They act as a water softener. Soft water uses less detergent and improves cleaning. Keeps hard water ions from interfering with the action of the cleaning solution.
  • Buffers: They help stabilize the pH of a detergent when diluting from concentrate
  • Enzymes - Are used to breakup protein or oily based soil. They need time to work optimally.
  • Foam Modifiers: They tailor the foaming character of the cleaning solution to the cleaning method being utilized
  • Perfumes: Conveys "must be clean if it smells clean"
  • Optical Brighteners: Used to make light colors appear brighter. May cause yellowing of some carpet fibers.

Solvents are another category of chemicals which are capable of dissolving another substance. These include water soluble and non-water soluble.

Both are used for their grease cutting ability. Water soluble solvents can be added to cleaning formulations whereas non-water soluble solvents cannot. The concern of these two solvent types are:

  • Toxicity: Is expressed as the Threshold Limit Value (TLV) and is a standard set for human exposure in parts per million over an 8 hour period. This value is determined by the EPA and OSHA.
  • Flammability: The temperature at which the vapor of a substance will ignite. This is known as the "flash point" and is measured in degrees Fahrenheit.

Where can cleaning product information be found?

Often product ingredients and other pertinent information is only vaguely listed on the product package.

The necessary cleaning product information is listed on a MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet). The MSDS contains the pertinent information needed to evaluate the product. The information contained in the MSDS is primarily for the occupational user, not the occasional user.

The MSDS can alert the user to cleaning products causing cancer.

Always consult the MSDS before using a product. If the desired information is not listed as with many over the counter products, check with the product manufacturer for each product's MSDS. 

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  • Matthew Smith
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