Investigative Discussion by Bridgepoint Systems
Doyle Bloss and Tom ForsytheSerious issues are continuously raised in our industry when specific
encapsulation products are criticized because they do not "crystallize" in a
Petri dish. Encapsulate technology is all the rage in the cleaning
industry. Its impetus for development is the result of a few important
needs in the carpet cleaning industry. Carpet manufacturers are taking
more interest in the chemical composition of cleaners being used on their
carpets. Carpet manufacturers are demanding cleaning solutions which leave
no soil attracting residue on carpets. Many surfactants used in cleaning
formulas have sticky residues, which attract soil if not properly extracted out
of the carpet. The first step toward the development of encapsulating
surfactants was adding polymers to embrittle non-ionic surfactants to reduce
stickiness of the residue. The next step was to develop surfactants with
polymers, which surrounded soil and carpet fibers. This residue surrounded
both the soil and fiber making vacuuming more effective in both the short run
and the long run. The use of this type of technology made vacuums a more
efficient extraction tool and increased the duration between maintenance
cleanings and the effectiveness of vacuuming.
Commercial carpet cleaners are always seeking ways of increasing
productivity when cleaning carpets while maintaining their profits per
job. The ability to brush in a cleaner without having to do a complete hot
water extraction improves their efficiency significantly in a commercial
setting, particularly when developing an on-going maintenance program.
Subsequent vacuuming following encapsulation cleaning continues the soil
extraction process. Also since extraction is not done with water, the carpets
dry very quickly which is a tremendous advantage in a commercial
The encapsulation cleaning solution can also be improved by the
inclusion of fluorochemical fiber protectors. Most protectors will limit
the ability of soil to bond to a fiber, which is what the encapsulate technology
performs. However, protectors will also provide surface tension to make
liquid spills clean up easily. Some protectors with acid dye resistors
will fill up dye sites in nylon carpet to make nylon carpet harder to
stain. One part of fiber protection is accomplished in every cleaning with
encapsulation, that is coating fibers to prevent the
bonding of soil.
The measurement of whether a encapsulation
cleaner “crystallizes” is not the only key determinant of soil protection and
re-soiling prevention. First, there are many forms of crystal “lattice”
structures with as many different physical and chemical attributes. Polymers
vary widely in structure and chemical make up. To say that a product definitely
can cause resoiling or does not encapsulate because it does not leave flakes in
a Petri dish after the water evaporates out of it is an oversimplification of
the process. First, true crystallization is not leaving a flaky residue. A
crystal residue is just that. It looks like a crystal or a snowflake. Anionic
surfactants traditionally used in shampoos will often do that.
We have dried down many versions of encapsulating cleaners on several
occasions. What they could be classified as is a “brittle film-forming
material”. Compare a diamond, (a true crystal), to a super hard shiny coating on
a dish. The brittle coating might fracture into small pieces but it is
essentially a weak brittle film. A crystal would be characterized as
having a distinct geometric shape or shapes, like salt or sugar. (Right angles,
rhomboids, multi-faceted complex shapes, etc.) A film can be brittle or soft,
but would generally not have a distinct geometric shape. How things dry-down and
form crystal structures is widely varied. The very crystal structure itself may
form before all of the liquid phase has had time to “dry’ out, entrapping liquid
inside the crystal structure or beneath the top layer of the film. The polymer
or surfactant might separate from the formula, depending on solubilities, before
the water is completely gone leaving the surfactant and polymer disassociated in
the dish. The polymer might be brittle but separate from the tacky
Following is a series of photos recently took that shows the result
of a dry-down of three different encapsulation formulations. Two of them are
commercially available and one is an experimental formula. Note the middle
sample is clearer. It is nearly 100% Acrylic polymer. In the photographs
below, three cleaning formulations claiming to “encapsulate” soil were poured
into aluminum soil weighing pans and dried at 100 degrees Celsius to remove all
volatiles and water. As you can see, each of these formulations has a unique
appearance in this state. None of the samples below would be classified as a
true “crystal.” All of the samples below however, could be classified as
brittle, film-forming materials. One of these products claims to “dry down to a
crystal.” This is fundamentally not the case. The re-soil prevention protection
provided by all three of these formulas is good. However, only two of these
formulations provide soil and stain protection, while one provides only soil
protection. All 3 of these respective formulas provided a range of adequate to
superior cleaning efficacy. Thus the principle that “crystallization” in a Petri
dish is the best way to determine the effectiveness of an encapsulating cleaner
does not hold up to scientific measurement.
Second, the real value of a Petri dish demonstration will reveal
whether the residue left behind is sticky or tacky and holds onto or "binds" the
soil. There are many structures of polymer chemistry that will not bind soil
that do not dry to a "crystallized" structure. Crystallization is not the only
measure. For example, some fluorochemical carpet protectors would not
“crystallize”, yet they do not cause resoiling. The opposite is true. They are
soil resistant agents. Some of the encapsulation carpet cleaners contain
fluorochemicals or fluorosurfactants to help resist soiling.
Professional cleaners should be keenly aware that the best way to
effectively test the effectiveness of an encapsulating cleaner is to use it in
the field. To systematically dismiss a product from consideration for use
because it does not "crystallize" in a glass jar or in a Petri dish does not
fully take into consideration the full structure of the chemistry of
There is no doubt that a product that crystallizes or “embrittles”
can be a good encapsulate. However, many of the encapsulating products that
claim to “crystallize,” do not actually form a true crystal. Keep in mind also,
there are other technologies, both proprietary and readily available, that do
make excellent encapsulation products. Bridgepoint Systems manufactures two
leading formulas for encapsulation cleaning – Encapuclean and Encapuclean with
Maxim. Both have distinct application advantages. Both have been demonstrated
and tested not to contribute to rapid carpet resoiling.
Encapsulation cleaning can open new doors in commercial carpet
cleaning for professional carpet cleaners. Effective cleaning rates from 150 to
300 square metres per hour with extremely quick drying times (10 to 60
minutes) provide the professional with the ability to competitively bid against
all carpet cleaning systems or methods on the market. Some encapsulation
formulas (e.g., Bridgepoint Encapuclean) contain
fluorochemical additives that provide a higher level of soil resistant
technology to keep the carpet looking cleaner longer, while improving the
performance of subsequent vacuuming and spot removal They may also contain
higher levels of fluorochemicals along with acid dye resistors (e.g.,
Bridgepoint Encapuclean with Maxim) which enhance the stain resistant
effectiveness of many commercial carpets. Carpet re-soiling prevention reduces
cleaning frequency demands and satisfies carpet manufacturer warranties.
Encapsulation cleaning can be used with almost every type of agitation system
(rotary shampoo brush, bonnet pad, counter-rotating
cylindrical brush, orbital and oscillating) allowing the professional to take
advantage of equipment already owned. Bridgepoint Encapuclean and Encapuclean
with Maxim may be effectively used with all of these types of agitation systems.
With the use of counter-rotating brush agitation, the professional can achieve
bonnet cleaning rates of productivity, while avoiding rotary agitation action
when it is discouraged by the carpet manufacturer. There is a reason why there
is so much discussion surrounding encapsulation cleaning. Understanding how it
works and where to apply it is the first step in adding new business for the
Soil Drum Test
The following photos demonstrate the relative soiling performance of
the listed materials when compared in an ASTM 6540 accelerated soil drum test.
The results indicate that the Encapuclean with Maxim product, by far, offers the
highest level of soil protection of the materials tested. The competitive
"crystallizing" material, while better than control, was not nearly as effective
at preventing soiling in this study. All materials were applied per label
instructions at equal amounts by weight.
Writing in favor
A worker busily cleaning a doctor’s office knocks over a mop bucket
full of dirty water.
Despite his best effort to clean up the spill, the morning office
staff is met with a dark, ugly spot at the intersection
of two busy hallways — in plain view of the waiting room.
A carpet cleaner gets the call. He arrives promptly.
“Piece of cake!” assures the carpet cleaner, as he thoroughly
extracts the offending blemish. In moments the spot is totally gone.
The next morning that same dark, ugly spot taunts the office staff.
The spot came back!
The carpet cleaner gets another call, and then another, and then…
Several disheartening mornings later, leaning forward with his head
on his wand, the carpet cleaner reluctantly confesses to the office manager that
a patch might be in order.
But, even for a seasoned installer, a patch would be obvious at best,
obnoxious at worst.
As a last resort, the office manager calls a competitor, someone who
uses other methods besides hot water extraction.
The new cleaner, accompanied by an unassuming buffer and fluffy,
white bonnet, enters the building. And, much to everyone’s delight, he brings a
prompt and final end to their early morning miseries.
That spot, where’d it go?
Could it have been the post-application of an encapsulation cleaning
agent that, when diluted with water, mixed with the stubborn residue in the
carpet and dried, crystallizing to a consistency that could be vacuumed away?
Yes, I was the cleaner with the answer to the problem.
As you can probably tell, I’m embellishing — but that pretty much
describes my introduction to an early encapsulation product.
To make the tale even sweeter, the wicking problems in the common
areas of the medical complex were so bad they were hot water extracting with
truckmounts every two weeks.
Naturally, we took a crack at that, too.
Back then I was too green to know just how much you could charge for
something like this.
I was wise enough, though, to figure out that, when seven months
passed before the next cleaning and another 18 before the next, it was good
Needless to say, 12 years later I felt like I was greeting a second
cousin, once removed, when I took home my first gallon of encapsulating cleaner
from a trade show.
Granted, encapsulation can leave you wondering, “Where did the dirt
Head-scratching as it may be, the results are categorically
undeniable. As the technology spreads there’s a consistent trickle of first-time
users saying, “Dang, I’ve been extracting this carpet for years and it’s never
looked this good!”
Heap on the absence of wicking and reports of longer intervals
between cleanings and, by any measure, encapsulation deserves a thoughtful
Wayne, I have to say that your anecdote is
However it is just that: An isolated incident that offers an example,
but only serves to prove encapsulation worked in an isolated instance.
It would be awfully hard to debate an anecdote, because it is to
dispute your witnessed account of an event.
Furthermore, your premise indicates that the previous cleaner was
unable to provide service, but for an unidentified reason.
Perhaps it was incompetence or ignorance associated with his chosen
That is not to say that using his method properly, he could have performed the spot removal with
success equal to your own.
So, setting the flawed premise aside, we are tasked with evaluating
the value of the generality of encapsulation as applied to the entire industry.
Encapsulation is by no means a worthless initiative.
But, there are some real problems to work through. You see, you may
have struck a gold mine with your particular chemical and equipment choice for
serving specialized situations.
The problem is that, for the vast majority of cleaners out there,
they don’t have such luck.
There are a myriad of chemical agents that just don’t perform to any
Some agents do an adequate job of soil emulsification, and thus the
cleaner is able to dilute the soil to a wider area, making the appearance of
“clean” somewhat illusory.
Then, after drying, the encapsulate and the
“trapped” soil is theoretically removable with a dry vacuuming.
We are told that the encapsulate and soil
are “hidden” by the crystalline structure of the dried compound; thus we should
not be surprised by no appearance change after the subsequent vacuuming.
We should, however, see every bit of the removed soil in the vacuum
bag, or cup.
But wait; we are often surprised when we see very little in the post
vacuuming. We later learn that the manufacturer of the encapsulation chemical
indicates that it may take several vacuum procedures, and even some foot traffic
to “fully release” all the encapsulate and soil.
This is my objection.
What we have to often tolerate is almost a literal “sweeping under
the rug” of the soil we advertise to have cleaned.
You see, in many cases we are simply hiding soil for removal another
If we are honest, make no promises to clean, and simply indicate that
the state-of-the-art is such that we can only promise interim appearance
improvement between “deep” cleanings, then there is no
As well, with the use of the right chemicals and methodology, we can
also attend to spotting where other processes may not be as effective,
especially when the other processes may not be used with competence.
Make no mistake; I do not disagree with encapsulation as a viable
interim cleaning method.
In fact, a few agents and their application methods have even
achieved a level of performance approaching restorative.
It is, however, to the detriment of the establishment of this method
that the market is diluted with a poor performance product sector that defines
“clean” in a deficient manner.
If this segment is short lived, and the industry recognizes this,
then there is potential for a maturation of a real established commercial method
separate from the others.
Until then, we’ll rely on subjective evidence of appearance change
and visual soil removal that will be passed by word of mouth.
Writing in opposition
Shawn Forsythe Encapsulation is an emerging method. As such, many people are
climbing aboard with little or no knowledge of the chemistry involved.
The proponents come up with booth demonstrations that don’t translate
at all to real world cleaning effectiveness.
One thing is clear: Nobody wants to — just yet — document the
effectiveness of this method.
The primary factor is that everyone wants to believe so that
competition may move things forward.
For now, people seem to be satisfied with appearance, and talk
themselves into the word “clean” without much of any evidence but a better
looking carpet, and sometimes some flaky dust in the vacuum bag.
Not until the percentage of soil and cleaning agent extracted via
encapsulation is measured will we have definitive remarks. For now, all we have
documented are stories of money being made.
We do have some anecdotal, unscientific testing going on. But nothing
so far — absolutely nothing — is quantifiable. Grams (chemical solids) in, grams
out, soil in, soil out testing is what we need to see to make any conclusion.
Once an entity like the Carpet & Rug Institute (CRI) gets
involved here, there are going to be some real revelations.
For most of the manufacturers, they would like to see it later than
sooner. That way it gives them more time to learn, polish, and hopefully come up
with something provable.
I believe in the concept of “encaping” for interim appearance
management (emphasis added), albeit for commercial only. The actualization of
cleaning for most products, however, is still a bit of time off.
The CRI has already begun to address this very issue, with a new
program called the “CRI Seal of Approval”. So far, the work has been to test
emulsifiers, preconditioners, and spot removers for efficacy.
Most everyone is familiar with their Green Label program for Vacuum
Cleaners. Now they are addressing the cleaning industry.
At this time, only a few products have been given the “Seal of
Approval”. I believe that many manufacturers are either ignorant of the program,
or would rather not participate at this time.
Sadly, though, their official testing criteria is now only spectral
(qualitative and subjective).
But they are working on a soil marker system by which they can rate
actual soil removal (quantitative).
I do think it is a weak argument for encapsulation that, simply
because one cannot point to qualitative analysis for hot water extraction (HWE),
encapsulation must be considered on “equal footing”.
On the contrary, HWE has the advantage of many multiples of years of
long observation over expansive periods going for it, where encapsulation does
By and large, the actual users of encapsulation see the shortcomings
in their vacuum bag, with some exceptions.
And this gives us hope that the method has the ability to mature into
something that can stand well on its own.
Is encapsulation a commercial carpet’s best friend? By and large, it
has great potential, not yet realized.
There are many false claims for equal cleaning effectiveness to
other, more established methods. The only defense to magnanimous claims I’ve
heard is that, since no cleaning standard has been recognized, “clean” is
something anyone can claim.
And they do.
Valid concerns, Shawn. There are unknowns.
It’s also valid, though, to point out your concerns about
encapsulation’s effectiveness also apply to real-life applications of more
We’re professional cleaners, yet a concept with a most ambiguous
meaning is the idea of “clean” itself.
Comparative and subjective, “it looks much better than it did before”
is the operative yardstick.
Lacking protocols to test for the presence, quality or quantity of
“clean” in the field, we go about our daily routine delivering one clean carpet
after the next.
As effective as it may be, if our longtime love affair with hot water
extraction has proven anything, it’s the inevitability of wicking.
You extract, it wicks.
You extract again, it wicks again.
Hmmm… You encapsulate. It’s gone!
Wouldn’t encapsulation do for the entire carpet what it does for a
Before the pot calls the kettle black, let’s not forget, in theory at
least, “clean” carpets aren’t supposed to wick.
I’d also argue your emphasis on the expression “interim appearance
Soiling begins immediately after cleaning, consigning any cleaning
method to the ranks of temporary, or interim.
Cleaning begins when the carpet looks dirty and ends when the carpet
From the practical standpoint of how we measure what we do in the
field, ours is a business of “appearance” management.
Hopefully, this discussion is about broadening our cleaning, or
appearance management, tool box, not necessarily isolating a “best,” albeit less
than 100 percent, effective, process.
Applied using a variety of means, including rotary, oscillating pad,
and hot water extraction, encapsulation products offer fabulous flexibility and
Whether applied via agitation and shower feed, used like a low
moisture shampoo, or applied in the rinse, a quality encapsulant combines with
loosened and dissolved soils whether they’re dry or oily in nature.
Next, it simply needs the opportunity to dry trapping soils in a
Once dry, its final act is fragmenting and releasing during
When encapsulants fragment, what do they and
all the dry and oily soils incased in them become? Dry particulate soil.
Dry soil removal is an integral part of any cleaning method and an
important part of daily maintenance.
Encapsulants, therefore, earn the distinction of being a product that
contributes to the continued removal of dry and oily soils long after we’ve
counted the day’s receipts. That’s cool!
And, don’t forget about the reports of encapsulated carpets staying
cleaner longer, compared to prior cleanings with more established and accepted
Like so many innovations before it, encapsulation can be a tool to
build customer delight, or it can be a foundation for discord.
Differences of opinion can manifest as friendly persuasions, or as
opportunities to emphasize disparities.
The choice is ours.
Having watched the growth of low moisture cleaning and its benefits,
I can only hope the industry will work together to make encapsulation one more
achievement in an expanding progression of new and productive ideas.
Wayne Miller owns and operates Clear Choice Carpet and Upholstery
Care, Laurel, MD.
Shawn Forsythe operates Forward Management in
Riverside, CA, and is the secretary/treasurer for the
Carpet & FabriCare Institute.
The principle that
“crystallization” in a Petri dish is the best way to determine the effectiveness
of an encapsulating cleaner does not hold up to scientific
The measurement of whether a encapsulation cleaner “crystallizes” is not the only key
determinant of soil protection and re-soiling prevention. First, there are many
forms of crystal “lattice” structures with as many different physical and
chemical attributes. Polymers vary widely in structure and chemical make up.
To say that a product definitely
can cause resoiling or does not encapsulate because it does not leave flakes in
a Petri dish after the water evaporates out of it is an oversimplification of
has little or nothing to do with the encapsulation part of the cleaning.
Resisting soiling or not causing re-soiling and the encapsulation of soil
are two different chemical processes that an encapsulation product does
good encapsulation product holds suspended soils in suspension so that later
vacuuming will remove the soiling. A "crystallizing" polymer is not the only
kind of chemical that will do this. A quick drying test on glass only
reveals the structure of the polymer, not how it will perform on the carpet as
an encapsulating cleaner.