Claims file: Light issue, heavy problem

Home Columns Claims file: Light issue, heavy problem

by Lew Migliore

I received a letter asking for my expertise. What is interesting is that the carpet in these offices has been installed for years. It is not a new claim.

The questions

The carpet is over 10 years old and in some offices it is turning light green. Most offices have windows but there are a few interior offices that are showing the same reaction. We recently had several offices professionally cleaned and soon after we start- ed seeing carpet fibers/particles all over the chair mats and chairs, even after nightly vacuuming. My questions are:

  • Why are some offices turning green and others appear to be fine, and
  • Why are the fibers continually breaking away and are they in any way harmful to the occupants?

The answer

The light green color indicates the carpet is losing its red dye component from UV light, which can come from natural sunlight or indoor lighting. All carpet color is comprised of the three primary colors—red, blue and yellow. If the dye is red, the residual colors will be on the blue/ green side. After 10 years or more, the carpet has likely experienced enough UV light to cause this change.

The particles are caused by degradation of the fiber. The fiber has grown brittle and lost resiliency which can also be caused by UV light. Cleaning may have exacerbated the condition with the introduction of a higher pH, or alkalinity, which most cleaning agents have.

The nylon fiber shards are now like wool fiber as it breaks off the carpet. This particulate is heavy and not respirable so it poses no threat. It would have to be micron-sized to be of concern and it is non-toxic so it’s not harmful. It would cause some one to sneeze if inhaled just like dust, but it is not likely to float around the room.

Carpet is actually like a sink and will trap most of this particulate. After 10 years, the carpet has probably reached its optimum performance age as carpet in commercial environments has a normal life expectancy of seven to 10 years. Certainly, this can vary up or down based on a number of factors but since the carpet is losing color and the fiber has degraded, I’d say it’s time to seriously consider replacement when possible.

Actually, without hesitation, the best thing to do is replace this carpet. It is exhibiting a condition that certainly warrants that. Though the condition seems unusual it is not all that uncommon. We know why the problem occurred, what happened and which catalyst pushed it over the edge.

At fault is the environment. Constant exposure to UV light can ultimately destroy the fiber. Color loss was the first indication of UV light’s influence. The cleaning may have been the final straw as the addition of alkalinity from the cleaning agent, which would have likely been at least a nine on the pH scale, flipped the switch to final failure.

This certainly is not the cleaner’s fault either. The carpet condition was on the edge and it didn’t take much to push it over. It may also be that the cleaning agitated the carpet enough to bring the extent of the failure to light—no pun intended.

The nightly vacuuming is blowing the fibers all over the place, which also indicates they are not using Carpet & Rug Institute Seal of Approval (CRI SOA) vacuum cleaners with HEPA filters.

This is another case of the carpet singing a song as to what’s wrong. It’s an old, warbling voice. Time to let it retire.

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