The Burn Test for Carpet: How to Tell What Carpet is Made Of

Steve Hanson
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If you want to remove carpet spots from your customers' carpets, then don't just "wing it" by using any old stain remover because you could end up with more problems than you bargained for. Depending on the type of spot it is and what the carpet is made out of, you'll need to choose your spotter carefully.

In order to identify the type of carpet you're dealing with, you can do what's called the "burn" test for carpet. This is where you cut a small piece of carpet fiber from an inconspicuous place such as a closet, and actually burn the fiber to see how it reacts to the flame. Here are the results you can expect:

Polyester:Orange flame that sputters, burns rapidly and melts. The smoke is black and it leaves a hard, black bead that is round and shiny. It smells like sweet, overripe fruit.

Olefin:Orange-tipped flame with a blue base, burns rapidly. The fiber melts leaving a smooth, round bead-like ash. It smells like asphalt or hot tar.

Acrylic:White-orange flame that sputters as it burns and leaves an irregular black hard ash. The smoke is black and it smells like burning meat.

Nylon:Orange-tipped flame with a blue base, the fiber melts and extinguishes itself. It smells like celery or sealing wax. It has a smooth, round bead-like ash.

Rayon:Orange flame, burns rapidly. Rayon burns but leaves no ash or bead. It smells like burning paper.

Cotton:Orange or yellow flame that smells like burning paper. The ash is irregular and gray, and crumbles easily.

Wool:Orange flame that burns slowly. There is no smoke, it doesn't melt, and smells like burning hair. The ash is black and crumbles easily.

Silk:Steady flame, smells like burning hair and leaves little or no ash.

After doing the burn test, you should have a good idea of what the carpet is made out of. Depending on the type of carpet you're dealing with, you'll know how it reacts with different types of spot removers. Having this information is important so you don't cause more problems by using the wrong spot remover.

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