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Fire & Water - Cleanup & Restoration

What types of cleaning products does SERVPRO use? 4/18/2022

4/18/2022 (Permalink)

Cleaning products fall into two major categories; solvents and enzymes.


A solvent is any substance that is capable of dissolving another substance. Solvents can be water-soluble (wet) or oil-soluble (dry).

Water-Based Cleaning Products (Wet Solvents)

As discussed in the section on pH, water-based cleaning products fall into three sub-categories, acidic, neutral, and alkaline.

Water-soluble solvents can be mixed with water and can be extracted with water. Many traffic lane cleaning products are composed of glycol ether EB, which is basically the same as the antifreeze you use in your car. Citrus solvents are another water-soluble solvent from citric oil and are effective grease cutters. Alcohol-based solvents are water-soluble. Methyl, ethyl, and isopropyl are examples of alcohol found in cleaning formulations.

Oil-Based Cleaning Products (Dry Solvents)

Oil-based cleaning products fall into two sub-categories, volatile dry solvents (VDS) and non-volatile dry solvents (NVDS). The volatility of a product is based on how fast the product evaporates. Volatile dry solvents evaporate much faster than non-volatile dry solvents. The SERVPRO® Professional Cleaning Product line carries both volatile and non-volatile dry solvents. An oil-based cleaning product is used in situations where water could damage textiles or in removing soils that are oil-soluble.

In the past, some oil-based cleaning products used in the cleaning industry were too flammable or toxic by today’s standards. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have set standards for toxicity and flammability. Toxicity and flammability are identified for each SERVPRO® Professional Cleaning Product on the Safety Data Sheet (SDS). The SDS identifies products that have a flash point. Flash point is the temperature at which a liquid will give off vapors in a concentration sufficient to ignite if a source of ignition is present.

Dry solvents use products such as odorless mineral spirits, propyl bromides, and oil-based solvents. These products are used in dry cleaning methods and as spot removers for textiles. Oil-based cleaning products require special precautions for use because of flammability or toxicity. When using oil-based cleaning products, increase ventilation, use chemical-resistant gloves, wear respirators with organic vapor cartridges, wear splash goggles, and use minimal applications to prevent damage to fabrics, backings, and adhesives. Dry cleaning products should be stored in properly labeled and manufacturer-approved containers.


Simply stated, enzymes are the digestive juices of bacteria. In the cleaning industry, enzymes are sometimes called digestive cleaners, since they use digestion as the process of breaking down insoluble protein soils to a soluble state. They are effective on proteins such as starch, blood, perspiration, nicotine, body discharges, dairy products, eggs, and fish slime.

Some products not only have enzymes but have actual living bacteria cultures, such as SERVPRO’s #114 Urine Odor and Stain Remover. Since living organisms are present when using enzymes, pH, temperature control, and moisture are important. Enzymes work best in a neutral solution; the temperature should be kept between 100 and 120 degrees Fahrenheit, and the soiled area must be kept damp. Allow 15 minutes to one hour for effective digestion. After digestion is complete, the proteins have been broken down and may be removed with water, detergents, or ammonia solutions. In heavily soiled situations, multiple applications of the enzymes may be needed.


Many of the soils we remove from textiles will leave a stain. A stain occurs when color (dye molecules) has been added to the fibers or fabric. When removing soils (unwanted foreign matter) from textiles, we use a detergent (water-based or oil-based) or an enzyme, but when we are trying to remove a stain from textiles, we should use a bleach. Bleaches chemically alter the dye molecules to reverse the coloration of a stain.

There are two categories of bleaches, oxidizing bleaches and reducing bleaches. SERVPRO® carries both in its Professional Cleaning Product line.

Oxidizing Bleaches

Oxidizing bleaches alter the dye molecule by adding oxygen, which changes their chemical structure and breaks them down. Chlorine bleach, sodium hypochlorite, is a very strong oxidizing bleach. Chlorine bleach can damage protein fibers, can corrode metal, and if mixed with a strong alkaline product like ammonia, can create toxic chlorine gas. SERVPRO® has removed sodium hypochlorite from all of its Professional Cleaning Products and does not recommend its use. Hydrogen peroxide is another common oxidizing bleach. Most hydrogen-peroxide-based products are neutralized by sunlight and must be stored in a dark bottle and in a dark place. SERVPRO’s Oxi-Zap (#278) is a stabilized hydrogen peroxide.

Reducing Bleaches

Reducing bleaches alter the dye molecule by removing oxygen, which changes their chemical structure and breaks them down. A reducing bleach is the opposite of an oxidizing bleach; a reducing bleach will neutralize the bleaching action of the oxidizer and vice versa.

Topical Treatments

Stain Resistance and Soil Release Treatments

The four general types of fabric treatments that assist in the release of soils and/or resist staining are soil repellents, soil release agents, soil repellent and soil release combination agents, and stain-resistant agents.

Soil Repellents

Soil repellents coat fibers and slow down the absorption of soils. There are two types of agents used as soil repellents, fluorochemicals and silicones. Fluorochemicals cause both water-based and oil-based soils to bead up on the surface so they can be wiped away and removed. Silicones are resistant to water-based soils but provide little resistance to oil-based soils. Silicones attract and bond with some oily soils and make it very difficult to remove the soil. Silicones should not be used as a protectant on carpets.

The primary purpose of soil repellents is to delay the absorption of soils into the fibers. Delaying soil absorption allows more time to remove soils before they become a permanent stain. However, if soils are left on fabrics treated with soil repellents for a long time, the soils may bond with the soil repellent and make soil removal very difficult.

Soil repellents work well on nylon, polyester, wool, acrylics, and cottons and cotton blends. DuPont and 3M Scotchgard are the biggest producers of soil repellents. If a silicone soil repellent is applied to a fabric that has been treated with a fluorochemical treatment, soil resistance is compromised. Before applying a soil repellent treatment, determine if the fabric has been treated and what type of product was used. Silicone treatments reduce the flame retardancy of fabrics.

Soil Release Agents

Soil release agents work opposite to soil repellents. Soil repellents make fabrics very hydrophobic—they resist water penetration. Soil release agents make fabrics hydrophilic—they more readily absorb water. By making a fabric more absorptive, detergents can easily penetrate the fabric and release the soils. Scotchgard™ Stain Release is a popular soil release product.

Soil Repellent and Soil Release Combination Agents

Since soil repellents and soil release agents work opposite to each other—one makes fibers hydrophobic and the other makes fibers hydrophilic—it was difficult to produce a product that could do both. Dual-Action Scotchgard™ by the 3M Company contains fluorochemicals and a polymer, which reverse their orientation to the fabric depending whether the fabric is wet or dry. When the fabric is dry, the fluorochemical is oriented towards the surface of the fiber to provide soil repellent properties. When the fabric is wet, the polymer, which is hydrophilic, is oriented towards the surface of fibers to make them more absorptive to cleaning products. Soil repellent/soil release agents may be applied to cotton blend and synthetic fabrics.

Stain-Resistant Treatments

Stain-resistant treatments are designed to prevent or reduce staining from dyes commonly found in foods. Kool Aid®, soft drinks, and many foods have anionic dyes that are similar to dyes used to dye fabrics. Anionic food dyes have a negative charge that bonds to fiber dye sites and can cause a permanent stain.

Stain-resistant treatments are made from sulfonated aromatic aldehyde condensation products (SAC), which produce a negatively charged surface on fibers. This negative charge repels negatively charged dye molecules. Because SAC is yellow, over-application or uneven application may cause yellowing in fabrics.

DuPont® and Monsanto® manufacture stain-resistant treatments that are commonly applied to nylon fibers. Invecta® produces a stain-resistant product for wool fabrics called Wool Shield™. Soil retardants, soil release agents, and stain-resistant treatments are applied by textile mills, retailers, consumers, and by professional cleaners. In many cases, the fabric manufacturer’s warranty is voided if the retailer or customer applies a treatment to a fabric treated by the manufacturer.

Treatments applied by textile mills are typically more effective, but all treatments will wear off from use and abrasion, and cleaning the fabric removes some of the treatment. Most treatments must be periodically reapplied by a professional to maintain their effectiveness. SERVPRO® has soil repellents and stain-resistant agents in the product line made by 3M Scotchgard™, such as Scotchgard™ Carpet & Upholstery Protector Concentrate and Upholstery & Carpet Guard Plus (#187 and #160). EZ Production Guideline Applying Topical Treatments and the SERVPRO® Professional Cleaning Products Reference Manual (#35026) have application instructions.

Fire Retardant Treatments

In some cases, fabrics must be treated with a fire retardant. Most states and municipalities require any textiles used in upholstery, draperies, or room divider partitions or textiles used for any purpose in schools, public facilities, and commercial establishments to be inherently fire-retardant or be treated to make them fire-retardant. Some fibers, such as modacrylic, are inherently fire-resistant, and textile mills treat some fabrics with fire retardants during manufacturing. However, in many cases, fire retardant treatments must be applied by the retailer, customer, or a professional company such as a SERVPRO® Franchise.

Even though a fabric has been treated with fire retardants, cleaning removes most of the treatment. After cleaning fabrics where fire retardancy is required, retreatment is normally necessary. Flame Stop (#181), is a water-based fire retardant. EZ Production Guideline Applying Fire Retardant provides step-by-step procedures for applying Flame Stop (#181).

Anti-static Treatments

In dry climates or during periods of low humidity, textiles can build up high levels of static electricity. There are several products specifically designed to reduce static electricity buildup in carpets and fabrics. These treatments act as insulators on fibers to prevent static buildup. Anti-static treatments typically last about one year. Cleaning removes the treatment, so it must be reapplied after cleaning.

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