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Most FMs think of extraction when it comes to carpet cleaning, but they should consider encapsulation, says Mike Watt.

© iStock
© iStock

04 November 2019 | Mike Watt

The extraction method has cleaning professionals using a wand, attached to a carpet extractor that injects a cleaning solution into the carpet and then vacuums – or extracts – moisture and soil at the same time. It’s a very effective way to clean carpets. However, the encapsulation method is actually more frequently used to clean carpets.

The pros of encapsulation

Fast-drying: Encapsulation is lower in moisture so healthier for the indoor environment. With the extraction method, the carpet can take more than 24 hours to dry. In such cases, there is a chance for mould or mildew to develop. With the encapsulation method, the carpet is often dry and open to foot traffic within minutes.

Quicker to clean: Cleaning rates can vary, but many cleaning professionals can clean more than 2,000 square feet of carpet in an hour with this method. This is typically faster than the extraction method, which covers about 1,500-1,750 square feet in the same time frame.

Greener: Encapsulation chemistry has advanced in the past few years. New, greener chemistries have been developed, allowing some encapsulation products to earn certifications, such as the Seal of Approval from the Carpet and Rug Institute. This certification verifies that a product is not only effective but has a reduced impact on the environment. 

How encapsulation works

1. Spray and agitate

The encapsulating chemical is sprayed on to the carpet and then agitated – one of the core elements of professional cleaning – with a cylindrical or rotary-brush floor machine, similar to that used by cleaning professionals to clean and polish hard-surface floors.

The four core elements of cleaning are:

  •  Chemical strength
  •  Mechanical action (agitation)
  •  Temperature
  •  Contact time


Not all areas of the carpet are necessarily sprayed. Typically, the encapsulation solution is applied to the most soiled areas of the carpet and traffic lanes. Other areas are lightly misted.

2 Crystallise and vacuum

With contact time, another necessary component of cleaning, the encapsulates surround the soil particulates and crystallise. This allows them to be vacuumed up with a normal vacuum cleaner. Frequently, the carpet looks better over time because with each vacuuming more soils are removed.

Important to know

Special equipment is not required: Floor machines and vacuum cleaners will do the job.

No wicking: Wicking occurs when soils deeply embedded in carpet fibres disappear after cleaning but reappear shortly thereafter. This is a big problem with commercial glue-down carpet in many commercial facilities.

No resoiling: Some encapsulation chemistries dry quickly after application, eliminating sticky residue that can accelerate resoiling. When cleaning a carpet with the extraction method, some of the cleaning solution may be left in the carpet. The cleaning solution can act as a magnet, attracting new soils into the carpet.

Lower costs: Encapsulation can help to reduce cleaning costs. Carpet extraction tends to be costly to cover equipment and supplies. And it is usually charged as a single job rather than at an hourly rate as with the encapsulation method. Encapsulation cleaning is usually completed by an in-house team or contract cleaning partner, is performed faster, and the teams already own the necessary equipment.

But many FMs also use encapsulation as an interim cleaning method. So the carpet is cleaned two or three times before it is extracted. Stretching the extraction cycles like this reduces cleaning costs.

But remember … 

Encapsulation saves on cost and time, but FMs must appreciate that it is an interim solution. In time, they will need to use the extraction method for a more thorough cleaning, however, using both methods can help to keep the carpet cleaner and last longer. 

Mike Watt is head of training at Avmor, a manufacturer of professional cleaning solutions based in North America