Homeowners love soft surfaces like carpet, but they don’t always love maintaining them. Vacuuming every week or so is one thing; scheduling a hot-water extraction is quite another. How do manufacturers keep claims down when they know that consumers are not always going to follow maintenance procedures? By offering a full range of treatments built-in to the product. These treatments aren’t designed to replace regular cleaning and maintenance, but they do make missing an appointment here and there a little more forgiving.

Invista Surfaces, which owns the Stainmaster brand, offers four treatments for carpet, to protect against stains, soil, fading and static. Steve Griffith, chief marketing officer, said first it is important to understand the difference between stains and soiling. “When consumers spill something and react quickly, that’s a stain. Soil builds up over time. Over half of all carpet claims are for soil.”

He sees carpet treatments largely driven by the residential market. “On the commercial side of the business, you see lots of dark colors and complex patterns. That’s no accident; it’s to hide stains and soil. You could use many of the same technologies in commercial products, but they are cleaned more frequently, and so they don’t often need the same level of treatments.”

Treatments come in many options – they can be engineered directly into the polymer of the fiber (such as the company’s anti-fade SolarMax carpet), applied during manufacture, or even purchased as a spray-on product. According to Griffith, the most durable option is engineered into the structure of the fiber, followed by ones that are applied during the manufacturing process.

He said it is important to understand that pre-applied products have a shelf life. Some will stand up for the life of the carpet; others will not. “At the point of sale, it’s very easy to show a carpet standing up to soil and stains. However, once you clean the carpet, some of that pre-applied treatment may be removed. Protection is always great the first time, but consumers need to ask themselves if they’ll have that same amount of protection cleaning after cleaning.”

Also complicating the issue is lifetime warranties, according to Griffith. “There is a real warranties misconception out there. Consumers think all warranties are the same, because they all say lifetime. However, many warranties are pro-rated. Some start pro-rating early in the carpet’s life, and other warranties differ depending on what channel you’re in.”

For its part, Milliken offers a range of technologies in its Legato modular carpet tile products for residential use. These include Alphasan antimicrobial treatment, Milliguard stain resistance, and moisture resistance through the cushioned backing systems.

According to Stacy Walker, director of marketing for Milliken’s global floor covering division, modular carpet tile can in itself provide ease of maintenance. “If a spill or stain occurs, homeowners can simply replace one or a few carpet tiles instead of ripping up the entire carpet.”

Stephen Lewis, technical director for Millicare, added that no matter how many treatments are offered, regular maintenance is still essential. Also, some spills are going to be harder to clean than others. “The hotter and more acidic the liquid, the more likely the carpet will stain even with an added barrier. Customers shouldn’t be surprised if scalding hot coffee stains their protected carpet.”

He also recommends checking the carpet’s appearance regularly for signs of additional soil and staining. Over time, stain protection may wear away. “A soil barrier will wear down over time, and a customer may consider adding a new layer of fiber protection three to four years after installation, depending on foot traffic.”

Beaulieu America offers a range of treatments for their carpet, including Magic Fresh, which attacks odors by breaking them down and returning them to the air as carbon dioxide, and Silver Release, an antimicrobial technology that uses silver and either zinc or copper ions to neutralize the growth of bacteria, mold and mildew. Both treatments are exclusive to Beaulieu’s products. The company also offers PermaShield advanced stain protection and 3M’s Scotchgard Protector.

According to Mike McAllister, Beaulieu director of marketing, these types of treatments are driven mostly by the needs of consumers. “Most of the treatments added to our carpets were designed and intended for the residential market, although Magic Fresh has been used in some products slated for the hospitality market,” he noted. “The vast majority of commercial products are solution-dyed, which inherently resist stains, so stain treatments are generally not used on commercial styles.”

McAllister added that polyester and polypropylene fibers are naturally stain resistant, and don’t require any extra boost from an applied treatment. For any carpet purchase, it comes down to educating consumers on what built-in treatments can and cannot do. “Beaulieu has a comprehensive carpet maintenance guide that is provided free of charge to all dealers and consumers,” he said. “This publication outlines what can be expected from carpets with different protection treatments. It can be downloaded from the BlissFlooring.com website.”

One common misconception is that carpet featuring soil and stain protector will require little to no cleaning. McAllister said, however, that this mindset is slowly fading. “Over the past 30-plus years, consumers have become familiar with the treatments on carpets, just as they have with the treatments on products made by the garment industry. Just because your new shirt is treated with Scotchgard doesn’t mean you don’t need to wash it. The same can be said of cleaning your carpet even though it has a stain treatment on it.”

Dow Microbial Control, a unit of Dow Chemical Co., recently launched Dow Silvadur, a silver-based antimicrobial technology. According to Karel Williams, global strategic marketing manager, the treatment can be used both during the manufacturing process and by end-users in home, office and other indoor environments. “We are currently partnering with carpet and rug manufacturers and other suppliers who specialize in blending our antimicrobials with other leading carpet-finishing treatments – including most common stain and soil resist treatments. Dow Silvadur antimicrobial is completely compatible with these commonly used technologies.”

Williams added that both residential and commercial customers are responding to the need for antimicrobial treatments in carpets and rugs. He stressed the importance of educating the end-user. “Consumers are one of the target audiences for our Silvadur antimicrobial website, with messaging specific to the science of antimicrobials in carpet and rug applications. We ask our manufacturing customers and partners to do the same.”

He noted that no matter what protection is built-in, it is still important to clean the carpet regularly. “The analogy we often use is with dish care and dish soap. Just because dish soap contains an antimicrobial doesn’t mean consumers using it should wash their dishes less. The same is true with carpets and rugs treated with antimicrobials.”

According to Chris Yarbrough, Shaw Floors’ director of carpet technology and performance, his company’s patented R2X stain and soil resistance treatment covers the fiber from top to bottom. As a result, “spills which reach the base of the yarn tufts do not penetrate and wick back to the top.” The system is used in most of Shaw’s residential carpets, including nylon, polypropylene and polyester styles, and is also available as a spray cleaner.

Additionally, R2X is designed to reduce airborne household odors, and alters the surface of the fiber so spills don’t soak in. “Since most household spills repel and bead up, it allows ample time for the consumer to blot the spill with a dry cloth within seconds.”

Shaw recommends routine cleaning and maintenance by a qualified professional for hot-water extraction every one to two years.