Pubdate: March, 1999 Source: Installation And Cleaning Specialist Magazine Copyright: 1998 Business News Publishing Company Feedback: Forum: Author: Bob Wittkamp


How to Clean the Latest Generation of “New” Natural fibers

“The times they are a-changin’.” Mr. Bob Dylan said that many years ago. And as the times change, the time has become right for the entry of “new” natural fibers into the carpet manufacturing arena.

Cotton, long a staple in garments and home furnishings, is being introduced as a carpet face fiber due to the consumer’s acceptance of its comfort and durability. Hemp, which currently cannot be cultivated in the United States, is described by Ray Berard of Interface Research Co. as an “environmentally benign” product. Research by his company indicates that hemp is a viable fiber for carpet face fibers and/or backings. And today, due to the environmental bent of our society, it may now be economically feasible as a face fiber.

…Hemp, another “new” natural fiber for carpets, has actually been with us for thousands of years. Recent research indicates that the hemp fiber is suitable for use as a carpet face fiber, and that it is an environmentally desirable material.

Although it is not as resilient as wool, hemp earned high marks for abrasion resistance when it was tested as face yarn for broadloom carpet and carpet tiles. It has is a fly dye receptors, which allows it to be dyed in several different manners. Berard states that hemp does “surprisingly well” on flammability tests. “We were pleasantly surprised that it stood up so well,” he says. “It doesn’t seem to need flame-retardant additives.”

>From an agricultural standpoint, hemp is also a most desirable product. It will grow on any land that supports the growth of corn, wheat or oats. It has a short growing season, and can be planted after other crops have been harvested. The long roots of the hemp plant penetrate and break the soil, leaving it in perfect condition for the next year’s crop. Its dense shock of leaves – some eight to 12 feet above the ground – chokes out undesirable weeds and allows the reclamation of land lost to weeds and quack grass.

Hemp has been proven to have anti-microbial properties, and it tends not to mold or mildew where other fibers would. During World War II, some 400,000 acres of hemp were under cultivation in the United States. This hemp was used for rope production during the war. In February, 1938 (that’s not a misprint – 1938!!) Popular magazine called hemp a “New Billion-Dollar Crop.” With the decline in tobacco growth, hemp would seem to be a blessing for American farmers.

But there is a fly in the ointment: the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. You would have to have grown up in a cellar to not know about hemp’s evil cousin – marijuana. Cultivation of any type of hemp or marijuana is a violation of federal, state and many municipal laws.

Commercial hemp, which is the variety that would be used in carpets, has been engineered for maximum fiber content. It also has had all of its intoxicating properties bred out of it. So, it’s not of much use as a recreational drug. However, U.S. laws still forbid cultivation of any type of hemp in this country. Current sources of hemp fiber include China, Canada and England. Commercial farming of industrial hemp within the United States could begin very quickly, however, if the laws are changed.

Due to limitations in fiber availability there is not yet an appreciable amount of hemp in the marketplace, and no maintenance procedures have been developed. But as laws change and fiber production begins, look for hemp and hemp-blended carpets to appear in the high-end market of environmentally aware buyers.

My guess is that it should be treated like any natural fiber: use neutral cleaners, rinse well and dry rapidly. As for the burn test, you’re on your own! Until next month, See Ya!

About the Author. Bop Wittkamp is a senior instructor of the Textile Cleaning Institute. Besides teaching, Bob owns and operates an on-site carpet and upholstery cleaning company and a consulting business in St. Petersburg, Florida. He is a frequent speaker at industry conventions and conducts seminars throughout the nation.