We recently had the challenge of helping a woman clean up a home after a house guest was finally removed from the home. A helping hand, this gal took in a co-worker who was homeless. An advancing dementia patient, the co-worker was abandoned by her family so our client stepped up.
For two years she tolerated this woman who smoked like a chimney, on steroids, (mostly in her bedroom,) and lit heavily scented candles to mask the smoke odor. The house reeked. Fast forward to now with the woman finally returned to her daughter, the homeowner was at her wits end trying to plow forward with the clean up. It is sad, this woman is in the throws of battling cancer (of an unknown origin herself). She is mostly living alone, as her husband works 2.5 hours away, and is only there on weekends. So when she can she tries to muster the energy to restore their home.
While we do not have a medical background chances are most have seen what chronic smoking does to our bodies. But we can speak to how cigarette smoke and oils and carbon residues contaminates everything. It presents as a sticky orange oily film and eventually gets on everything. Its orange oils infects the walls, the textiles, the contents. the windows. Add to that the carbon-graphite and oil— black residues from the candles, you get a thick black buildup along the edges of the walls usually about 1/2″ thick. It also deposits in front of furniture and doors, in round patterns where the knee kicker prongs gripped the carpet (at installation), around the HVAC vents, and even where the seams of the subfloor plywood butt up to each other (air flow and pollution are to blame.)
Wildly popular, and in a bizillion’ scents homeowners love scented candles, and they waft throughout the home when used. Whose not to love the comforting scent of vanilla, or sugar cookies amongst others (hint- baking sugar cookies in your house or using a scented candle that mimics baking sugar cookies before a Open House statistically increases chances of enticing a buyer to make an offer.)
But the oils and graphite also contaminates a home like cigarette smoke. Did you know that oil scented candles put off 60,000-70,000 times more graphite pollution into the air space than a tapered candle? Now think about it from an indoor air quality perspective. Now that our homes are well insulated and we rely greatly on heat or air conditioning with little fresh air exchange, we are subjecting ourselves to a heavy dose of chemicals that are known to be cancer causing.
For some people they even are triggers for migraines, sinus problems, and can aggravate COPD, etc. This is true for Wendy. Exposure over just a couple hours tees it up for a 24 hr migraine. No longer able to tolerate candles or a cozy fire, she now has to run for the hills when she is exposed.
A couple with white carpet was really disturbed about how dirty their carpets were throughout the house and called us. Wendy went out to inspect the carpets and found what we in the industry refer to as filtration soiling. Questioning if they had a warranty claim they wanted clarification and advice. Well this was filtration on steroids caused by how they live and use their home, and not anything that a carpet manufacturer would warrant.
Filtration soiling is a black graphite film that presents usually along the walls and in front of furniture, across doorways that are usually kept closed, around HVAC vents, and more often than not on the upper floors of a dwelling. Appearing like dust, it is not. Instead it is a difficult film resistant to removal by even the best carpet cleaning professional, us included.
Well Wendy was dumbfounded as she inspected the carpet. Not only was there filtration on the second floor, it was on the first floor. And, it was not the standard 1/2″ along the wall, it was 5-6″ thick around the perimeter of the room. While gasping as she toured the home, Wendy was questioning the couple (the scented candle smell was abundant, the smell of the wood burning stove likewise.) As she looked she also saw a Hooka displayed prominently on a book shelf, and there was a darn good chance they enjoyed wacky weed as well (from the paraphernalia left out in clear site.)
It is believed that we scheduled the job, but made no promises. While they clearly needed decontamination cleaning and restoration, it was clearly communicated they had no warranty that would step up, nor would the 5-6″ of black film be completely removed.
Filtration soiling, more prevalent in colder climates, is a deposit of graphite film which builds up due to the way air flows in a dwelling. It has been studied by the HVAC industry, the environmentalists and the carpet cleaning industry. Polluted air heats up rises to the ceiling, then billows down the walls as it cools and releases its contaminants once it hits the fibers, which serve as a “filter” (as studied by researchers who pumped gases to determine why filtration happens.) As the filter or carpet fibers absorb the graphite the air is cleansed and eventually the dark graphite presents on the edges of the room.
The problem is graphite, like bike grease on your leg, is hard to remove. You really have to scrub it to get it off. Same proves true for filtration soiling removal. Yes there are solvents we use to remove graphite, but the solvents, when overused will attack and destroy the adhesive that holds the primary and secondary backings together (the under surface of the carpet that gives the carpet dimensional stability. So a trained carpet cleaning professional will attempt to work special cleaning agents into the graphite film, but must stop in order to avoid delaminating the carpet, or causing the glue to disintegrate.
To sum it up at best filtration is usually lightened but not completely rinsed out with professional cleaning. And usually a customer is made well aware of the limitation in cleaning, and required to sign a release as to the fact.
When she originally called us she started to share her situation, and Wendy quickly learned that she was up on what has to be done. She already had her air ducts cleaned. She called in restoration people who advised her. Although they were called in it sounds as though she was going to go it alone (while I am not sure there was insurance, I do know she was not able to replace the carpets—which is what she needs to do.)
Instead of having a crew blitz the place she would use chemical sponges to clean the nasty film off everything in the house, the walls, the windows, the contents. She called us to clean the carpets and hoped she was on her way to ridding the filth and contamination from her home.
Clearly communicating to her she the filtration would not come out, she signed the release and understood. From her perspective and ours the cleaning was absolutely necessary, and anything would be better than the disgusting orange tinge all over the carpets, and black against the walls.
Chris threw everything he had at it to clean the carpets and it was obvious how well the orange film rinsed out. No doubt it was light years cleaner, sanitized and decidedly healthier once he was done. However, despite using formulations specific to attack the filtration, hand scrubbing it and using a special wand engineered to attack filtration, there was limited success in removing it.
While disappointed in the filtration the homeowner did see the improvement. With the carpets improved she got another task handled. To sum it up, although there were limitations in results from an appearance standpoint, we greatly improved her indoor air quality with the cleaning. Hopefully in the future she will get the new flooring she needs, and can put the evidence that reminds her of this nightmare behind her.