Poor carpet fitting can cause ‘ripples’

RIPPLING carpets is something that anyone who cleans carpets on a regular basis will have experienced. I know I have, many times. In fact, one day I was looking at carpets I was cleaning, about to explain to the client that they were rippling when my phone rang. It was another carpet cleaner calling me for advice on a technical problem, carpet rippling! That’s how common it is.

At this point though, I looked around to make sure that I wasn’t on Candid Camera. Some of you might be old enough to remember the programme where they set people up for a fall and filmed them for the world to see.

I explained to the caller that I was in the midst of a similar problem and that I was going to explain to my client that this sometimes happens during cleaning, but I would go back within a couple of hours, as the carpet dries, to assess the situation. I suggested he should do the same and then ring his client in the morning to make sure that everything is OK. It was and he called me afterwards to let me know.

Ripples can appear on carpet installed over underlay. To explain why this happens, carpet cleaners will need to understand the installation process. First, gripper is fixed to the subfloor around the outside of the room close to the skirting boards. Next, the underlay is laid.

The carpet is stretched over the gripper along one wall, then stretched and attached over the gripper on the opposite wall. This is done all around the room. If ripples appear on carpets from day to day use, the underlay may be too thick or there was improper stretching when they were first installed.

If the underlay thickness raises the carpet too much above the level of the gripper, the carpet can slip off. Tension is lost in the detached carpets and, eventually, ripples appear. One can avoid this problem by selecting an underlay that is no thicker than the gripper.

It could also be that the carpet was not laid tightly enough during installation and possibly not acclimatised to the environment it’s being placed in. Carpets should be opened out in the installation area for at least 24 hours before fitting so that they can take on the climate of the room and relax prior to stretching.

Sadly, the implement most carpet fitters use to stretch out the carpet is a knee kicker, which in my opinion isn’t adequate for the job. A power stretcher should be used, mainly because you can get a better leverage or tightness, which is needed to install the carpet properly.

The stability of your average backing makes it vir tually impossible to stretch carpet properly with a knee-kicker in a standard size room. In this instance, the use of a knee- kicker is more to position the carpet than to stretch it. However, in small areas like WC’s, where a power stretcher cannot be used, the knee-kicker is OK as a stretching tool.

I have another theory of why rippling happens. It relates to the fact that the only carpets I have seen ripple during cleaning are tufted and ones with a polypropylene primary. Some moisture from the cleaning process – or even protection when applied to these carpets – will be absorbed by the fibres; the rest go onto the primary backing fabric. This is a tough, tightly woven piece of fabric which doesn’t let water through too easily, so it lays there causing some expansion, or stretching, for some time before it wicks back up (evaporates) through the fibres.

This causes rippling of the carpet, or expansion, because the water has nowhere to go. It won’t last long and the quicker you star t the dr ying process the quicker the ripples will go. That’s why cleaners should not worry and explain to clients that it is quite normal for this to happen.

I’d like to mention that you won't see it on all tufted carpets because some manufacturers use different gauge webbing, or even a fibreglass primary, which absorbs the moisture, or at least allows it into the adhesive that holds ever ything together.

Finally, if there are ripples before you start cleaning you must point it out to your client, because it’s likely the ripples have been caused by the installation, or traffic wear and tear, possibly due to moving heavy objects or perhaps regularly using a wheelchair.

Paul Pearce is technical director of the National Carpet Cleaners Association.
NCCA runs a range of training courses. I www.ncca.co.uk I T: 0116 271 9550