Encap 101:  An analysis of the development of encapsulation

by Rick Gelinas

CleanFax Online

June 25, 2014

In the early 1980s, there weren’t any message or bulletin boards on the Internet.

A cleaner’s best source of information was their local supplier, or possibly an Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC)-approved instructor. Some received their information at regional association trade shows.

As I grew my commercial carpet cleaning business, I kept going back to these sources looking for answers on how to solve the commercial cleaning problems I was experiencing. I received plenty of suggestions; but none of them worked as I had hoped. 

<photocredit>Philip Mathot</photocredit>

Philip Mathot


The problems back then

Commercial glue down carpet creates a handful of problems because of minimal airflow during cleaning, as compared to a residential carpet.

Wicking and recurring spill stains are very common, since it can be difficult to recover moisture from commercial glue down carpet during cleaning. As I explored different options, I learned that low moisture methods worked well on commercial carpet. But the results were not always consistent.

I had read The E-Myth by Michael Gerber, and I badly wanted to find a way to create a duplicable and predictable system that could provide excellent results with no variations. 

At the turn of the new millennium, I was using portable extraction machines, common for many commercial jobs. The results were good, but I still hoped for something more efficient.

After nearly two decades, my persistence in searching finally paid off. That’s when I landed on an idea that changed the way I cleaned commercial carpet. I observed that there were recent advancements in using newly developed polymers in cleaning formulations.

Could this be the answer? 

The solution today

I began to experiment with the newly emerging polymerized detergents. I also switched over to planetary scrubbing machines, since they can produce more agitation than other scrubbers.

I immediately began to see amazing results. The accounts we serviced became easier to clean. They stayed clean longer. And we could fix recurring spill stains 100 percent of the time. We didn’t have drab or ugly traffic lanes any longer.

Our carpet looked better than ever. There was no guesswork either; even our newest technicians could handle this system and obtain great results each time they cleaned a commercial carpet. 

During the past decade, “encapsulation” (as I began to call it) has become an increasingly popular way to maintain commercial carpet all over the world.

Why has encapsulation become so successful in our industry? It’s because of what it accomplishes, outlined in the rest of this article.

The process

The most common method of encapsulation cleaning is in “shampoo” applications.

The carpet is scrubbed using a moderately small amount of encapsulation detergent. A wide variety of machines can be used for this method: Planetary scrubbing machines, rotary floor machines, cylindrical brush machines or dry foam machines.

A light foam is produced, depending on the detergent used. The soil is displaced from the visible surface of the carpet so it looks clean and bright as soon as the carpet is scrubbed. Then through subsequent post-vacuuming, the encapsulated soil is removed from the carpet. 

Another method of encapsulation cleaning involves using bonnets. This is sometimes called “pad-capping.” Bonnets or pads are used to recover a measure of the soil. In this case, there are really two modes of soil recovery taking place: Absorption into the bonnet and also encapsulation. 

There are also a few hot water extraction products that contain encapsulation properties. There are clear benefits that come from using an encapsulation detergent in hot water extraction.

Any remaining residue after cleaning is actually an encapsulating residue (providing that the detergent is formulated with a polymeric component). Here again, we’re cleaning with two methods, the primary mode being hot water extraction, and the secondary mode being encapsulation.

There are some clear advantages to maintaining commercial carpet with a good encapsulation detergent. The colors in the carpet just seem to “pop,” yet there are no optical brighteners in a good encapsulation formula. Wicking and recurring spills are brought under control.

High production rates are achieved, which increases profitability. Encapsulation’s simplicity and ease of cleaning makes it possible to enjoy consistent duplicable results on every job. The encapsulation polymer resists re-soiling so carpet stays clean longer. 

It’s been more than a decade since encapsulation first emerged into the mainstream. In fact, encapsulation is heading into its teen years now. 

During these early years, this method has changed the commercial carpet landscape. If you haven’t looked closely at encapsulation, give it a good test drive — before another decade passes by.