What is Encapsulation Carpet Cleaning?

How does it REALLY work?

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Dried Encap
VacAway Encap dried in a dish

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Encapsulation Carpet Cleaning 101

Many professional carpet cleaners refer to encapsulation carpet cleaning as “encap” or “encapping.” Although often misunderstood, the cleaning system has gained tremendous popularity in recent years.

Encapsulation has been around since the late 1990s or early 2000s. The method often uses equipment similar to the “Shampoo” method.  For that reason, many have confused, dismissed, and equated it with that method.  It is totally unlike Steam Cleaning, AKA HWE or hot water extraction. 

Encapsulation uses a very new and revolutionary different type of chemistry!

The encapsulation cleaning system applies a cleaning solution containing a crystallizing acrylic polymer. It is this polymer that helps create the magic of encapsulation.

Encapsulation formulas also contain other cleaning components, such as surfactants.  These ingredients aid in breaking the bond between dirt, grease & grime from the carpet fibers.

The encapsulation carpet cleaning solution is usually worked into a carpet with an agitation carpet cleaning machine.  The machine types used include Cimex, Rotary Brush, Rotary Bonnet, and Oscillating Pad (OP).  There are others as well.

The agitation facilitates the breaking of the chemical bond between dirt and fiber.  It also mixes the encapsulation solution with the soil and sticky residue.  Upon drying, the solution crystallizes, rendering the residue completely non-sticky.  Routine vacuuming removes the dried encapsulated particles.

Whichever machine is employed, well-formulated encapsulation carpet cleaning detergents can produce remarkable and incredible results!

Most suppliers of encap products explain it as surrounding or encapsulating the dirt.  This explanation is accurate to some degree.  In the mind’s eye, it does make it easy to visualize how the process works.

At VacAway, we have run countless tests.  Our tests have caused us to conclude that the above explanation is only a VERY SMALL PART of what occurs.

EXPLANATION: The encapsulating polymer does surround a certain amount of the soil.  But there is another even MORE IMPORTANT PROCESS that takes place during encapsulation.

Approximately 79% of all carpet soil is dry particulate matter.  Routine vacuuming can remove most of these dry soils.  But it is the other 21% that causes carpets to “Ugly Out” and need professional cleaning.

Without sticky residue, there would seldom be a need for professional cleaning.  A good vacuum cleaner could be used to remove the accumulated soil.

The 21 Percent

The best-performing encapsulation carpet cleaning products contain EXCESS ACRYLIC POLYMER.  (See our FAQ page about the different types of encaps and the ones that contain EXCESS POLYMER.)  The polymer mixes with and helps liquefy sticky substances in the carpet.

These sticky substances come from tracked in dirt and oils.  They come from soda spills and over-the-counter spot removers.  Another contributor is sticky surfactants left from previously applied non-encapsulating cleaners. 

In and of themselves, many professional cleaning products are inherently sticky.  After their application, the sticky surfactants are never 100% removed.  Their sticky residue lingers behind to attract more dirt and soil.

What is the major complaint people have after having their carpets professionally cleaned? 

They complain that their carpets get dirty again very quickly!  The culprit is usually due to the left-behind sticky residue!

Well-formulated encapsulation detergents remove the stickiness in the carpet.  Due to their chemical makeup, they will never leave behind a sticky residue of their own.

A well-formulated encap will crystallize.  It can then be removed during routine vacuuming.  A carpet cleaned with an excellent encap product will stay cleaner, longer too.

So, what’s the bottom line?

We have run thousands of tests at VacAway.  We concluded that the MAJORITY OF DIRT AND GRIME isn’t really encased in a capsule or crystal.  Instead, well-formulated encapsulation detergents render sticky residue completely NON-STICKY!

Here is a demonstration you can do for yourself; you will see how the encapsulation carpet cleaning process works.

      • Place a small drop of dish detergent (sticky residue) in the bottom of a shallow dish or saucer. Using artificial maple syrup (sticky residue) is another test option. 
      • Place three drops of a pure encap and mix it all together.(good ones to test with are VacAway Encap GREEN, Formula 357, Hot Knife X-treme, Commercial Magic, etc.)
      • Give it plenty of time to dry; to be sure it cries completely, give it at least 24 hours or more. 
      • Pour a lot of black pepper over the dried detergent/encap mixture.
      • Immediately dump the pepper off the dried mixture.  To eliminate static cling, give it a quick hard blow. 

If any pepper remains, the mixture is still sticky and will attract dirt.  But you will find that the detergent or syrup will be rendered completely non-sticky.  It will no longer attract dirt.  Neither will the carpets you clean with a well-formulated encapsulation detergent!!!

Happy encapping!

Steve Smith Founder of VacAway
Steve Smith, founder

Encapsulation is VLM carpet cleaning at its best!