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An 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 setting.

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 surfactant.


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 encapsulation cleaning.

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 professional.

Accelerated 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.


                                                                                 WITH MAXIM








The Great Debate

Writing in favor

Wayne Miller

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 stuff.

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 go?”

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 second look.


Shawn Forsythe

Wayne, I have to say that your anecdote is impressive.

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 method.

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 acceptable standard.

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 day.

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 real issue.

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 not.

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.


Wayne Miller

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 established methods.

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 single spot?

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 management”.

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 looks clean.

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 results.

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 polymer cocoon.

Once dry, its final act is fragmenting and releasing during vacuuming.

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 methods.

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.




Encap & Crystallization

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.

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.

Crystallization 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 perform. 

A 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.


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