Understanding Traffic Lanes and What Can Be Done About Them:
It’s imperative not to forget that carpeting is a textile, just like our upholstery, linens and clothing. After about a year or so; we are not terribly upset when the seat and knees of our $50 jeans become threadbare. Why, on the other hand, do we feel that carpet should last a lifetime? After all, it is a fabric, similar to other products made from textiles.
The main reason a carpet shows signs of premature wear is due to improper maintenance. If major traffic lanes were vacuumed daily and professional carpet cleaning was done every month; your carpet would look fantastic all the time and it would outlast your neighbors’ carpet by decades.
In the real world vacuuming is performed once a week at best and professional cleaning is done every 2 to 3 years (if at all). Traffic lanes and patterns are caused by soil particles grating upon the fabric. This creates the following factors: Traffic lane gray, visible soiling, matting and wear. We will review each problem; how it is caused and what can be done to prevent it. Important note – LIGHT IS COLOR
Traffic Lane Gray:
Since we know carpets are affected by soil particles; Carpet fibers are essentially smooth (like glass) except for the small ports where the dye is placed. As soil grates upon the smooth surface it actually scratches the fibers. These scratches lead to diminished reflection of light. Additionally very small particles of soil can become lodged inside these scratches (soil fusion). These two processes in itself cause a grayish appearance to become visible in the traffic lanes.
As time progresses the fabric also becomes frayed and with further use frayed fabric begins to mat together. This fraying and matting further compounds the scratches and soil fusion. Light is unable to properly reflect from scratched and matted carpet fibers ergo visible color change is imminent.
Even after a poorly maintained carpet has been cleaned doesn’t mean that the traffic areas will look the same as the rest of the carpet. Crucial to this factor are the scratches and possibly permanent soil fusion; which causes the area to always appear darker.
This is known as traffic lane gray, a condition that often causes frustration and misunderstanding between homeowners and carpet care experts. It may appear dirty (some colors more than others) but is clean.
There is nothing that a carpet cleaning expert can do with worn traffic lanes. If a 10-year-old carpet is professionally cleaned; you now have a clean 10-year-old carpet (wear and all). Just as a clean pair of 1 year old jeans will show wear and discoloration around the knees, a clean old carpet will show signs of wear in the traffic lanes.
The main cause of traffic lane soiling is tracked in soil, dust, airborne pollutants, food and beverages spilled on the carpet. The easiest way to prevent soil from damaging the carpet fiber is to vacuum daily and professionally clean the carpet on a regular basis.
Matting and crushing:
Soil damage aside for a moment; there comes a point when carpet fibers no longer return to their original shape; simply from being walked upon. As fibers lose their shape, they begin to look twisted, frayed or distorted, causing the carpet to look different in the traffic lanes. There is no cure for matting and crushing. Rearranging furniture helps to prevent traffic lanes and patterns.
Wear is a combination of several things. Soil, heavy traffic, loss of fibers, improper vacuuming, lack of cleaning and time; all contribute to a worn carpet. Carpet manufacturers define “wear” as “loss of fiber” as compared to unused carpet areas – indeed much different than our definition.
The best way to prevent excessive wear is to properly maintain your carpet. Vacuum every day if possible. Frequent vacuuming removes loose soil before it becomes damaging to the fiber. Professionally cleaning a carpet minimizes the chances of permanent soil fusion; all of which extends the life of your carpeting.
The stain resistant treatment applied by the carpet manufacturer is only applied to the dye ports. Newly formed scratches will require an application of carpet protector (after cleaning) to prevent soil fusion.