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"Dyed and Gone to Carpet Heaven"
Home and Garden
FIXES: Dyed & True Methods
How well does carpet dyeing work on real-world problems? The writer started as a skeptic, but became a convert. 
As published in:
The Washington Post  
(print edition)
By Lee Fleming
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, May 24, 2001; Page H01

*Here is the reprint verbatim of the article (click here for technical corrections).

Dyed and Gone to Carpet Heaven By Lee Fleming

Carpet dyeing? Are you kidding?

The idea conjures an image of thick, inky glop smeared across a ratty, faded rug or dabbed onto a stain, leaving stiff fibers and a dull finish. Not carpet dyeing so much as carpet death.

So it was as a complete skeptic that I checked into Color Your Carpet, a national company that claims to dye carpets with spectacular results. The parent company's Web site (www.carpetdyeing.com) says its process for all-over color change or spot touch-ups can match up to 16 million shades, dries almost instantly, comes with a 100 percent warranty and is backed by references from commercial and residential clients.

Too good to be true. So when I called one of Color Your Carpet's three area franchisees, I asked to see his portfolio and as many metro-area references as he could muster (www.dyecarpet.net, 800-441-2551).

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Above all, I wanted a demonstration of how the process worked, something more convincing than those late-night commercials for miracle laundry cleaners. I wanted to see it deal with real-world problems: red wine and cola stains; ground-in mud; bleach spots; cigarette scorches; urine of the baby, dog and cat varieties. Not to mention worn wall-to-wall that resembles four-day-old oatmeal.

I wanted to see it help my own carpet, a large Chinese wool rug marred with several bleach spots and pet stains. (clarification) Despite my doubts, the hope that something might restore it was alluring. Everyone I talked to about it seemed equally intrigued. "If this works at all," said one friend, "sign me up."

Color Your Carpet technicians perform most of their work on-site, so the franchisee came to my home lugging the kind of industrial equipment you'd expect from professional carpet cleaners. Clean-cut, boyish and long on enthusiasm, he is a former missionary with his church. He brings a similar zeal to this work.

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He said he discovered Color Your Carpet in 1998, when he got fed up with the pet stains on his own living room carpet. He located a technician through the company's Web site. When he saw how well it worked, he was so impressed he decided to become one of only a handful of franchisees on the East Coast.

A search of the Web and the phone book reveals a few carpet cleaners and automobile customizers that offer carpet dyeing as part of their services. According to the Carpet & Rug Institute, a trade group, the small numbers can be attributed to the twin difficulties of matching colors and pleasing customers. Most dyeing is done by professional cleaning services, whereas Color Your Carpet does dye jobs, period.

According to Connie D'Imperio, president of the Florida-based company, the carpet-dyeing service was launched in 1979, when the proprietary color process was developed, and the firm became Color Your Carpet Inc. in 1987.

Today it has franchisees throughout the United States -- mostly in the South and the Midwest. (clarification) The service is also available in Canada, Colombia, Venezuela and Switzerland. Three franchisees serve this area (including the Baltimore and Ocean City areas) and can be reached through the main company Web site.

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After explaining the process and reassuring me with letters from satisfied clients, he went to work on my rug, starting with the most glaring of several stained areas -- a kind of sunset-yellow stain on the rug's pale-buff ground, which I had tried to conceal under a small table. He moistened a little area and used a tester strip to determine the stain's acidity. "Probably pet urine," he pronounced.

He pulled out a color wheel of overlapping circles of pale colors and combined them until he found a shade identical to the buff of my rug. Urine attacks blue dyes, he explained, so he would rebuild the blues in the wool fibers by applying shades of reds and greens.

He disappeared into my kitchen and returned with a spray bottle filled with what looked like water with maybe a drop of red dye dissolved in it: not glop, but an almost colorless liquid. He then sprayed the borders of the stain and pounded the moisture in with what looked like a hairbrush with rows of blunt-ended nails instead of bristles. Explaining that the dyes have a retardant to control how much dye is absorbed, he finished the application using a miniature water extractor. The spot was almost dry to the touch.

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Alas, I could hardly see a change -- maybe a little less yellow, that was all. But he said that Color Your Carpet's dyes require a slow build, as the fibers absorb the solution. He fiddled with the color wheel again, disappeared, adjusted the color and gave the spot another shot. The process was repeated until I was leaning over his shoulder, silently cheering him on.

Within 30 minutes, the sunburst yellow was gone and the fawn-silver hue of the surrounding background was very nearly matched. I had to cut the demo short, with him saying he thought it needed more work.

But I was a convert. And still am, four weeks later, each time I get down on my hands and knees to peer at what used to be the stain. Only a halogen light held at a certain angle reveals the faintest vestige of pale yellow. And the carpet fibers are as soft as the surrounding rug.

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Calls to other Color Your Carpet users yielded similar success stories. Landscape designer Elizabeth Johnson of Temple Hills was one of the company's first local customers. She said her two off-white Karastan rugs, bought in 1974, had dulled and stained. Steam cleaning hadn't worked, but when a friend suggested dyeing them, she called carpet companies and carpet consultants, one of whom recommended Color Your Carpet.

"When he returned them to me, they were clean through and through, all the spots gone," Johnson said. "They looked even better than when I'd gotten them." She also asked him to add a salmon-colored border. "People ask me if I have new carpets now," she says with a chuckle.

Hotel managers, who know the havoc that high traffic and constant cleaning can wreak on rugs and carpet, also praise the process. Color Your Carpet has performed rescue jobs for the Sheraton Hotel in Baltimore's Inner Harbor as well as Marriotts, Days Inns and Holiday Inns from Arlington to Pikesville, Md.

Dennis Dietz, general manager of the Days Inn at Inner Harbor, calls Color Your Carpet's process "phenomenal." An expensive carpet in the hotel's lobby with a complicated pattern of curling gold-and-brown-leaf arabesques on a multicolored background had been ruined by white bleach stains.

"The Color Your carpet technician came in with eyedroppers," Dietz said, "and within a couple of hours he got those white bleach stains to the point where it was impossible to detect. And it hasn't come back up," he added, despite regular cleanings.

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Said Ayoub, an owner of Ayoub Carpet and Rug Cleaning in Arlington, is not familiar with Color Your Carpet but says dyeing can be successful if done by experienced professionals.

His company, which specializes incleaning and restoring Oriental rugs, occasionally used to ship carpets out for dyeing to plants in Scranton, Pa., and Norfolk "until it just got too expensive," he says.

Brenda Murry, communications manager at the Carpet & Rug Institute, says the trade association has useful background on the possible pros and cons of redyeing (www.carpet-rug.com 800-882-8846). It cautions that original dyes are nearly impossible to duplicate exactly, but that satisfactory results can be achieved in some cases. "Nylon and wool are the most receptive to dyes," Murry says. "Polyesters are iffy, and polypropylenes like Olefin are not dyeable." She adds that it's always easier to go darker than lighter.

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Color Your Carpet says its dyes are colorfast, nontoxic, odor-free, and safe for pets and children. The procedure cleans and dyes in one step, so you don't have to pre-clean your carpet, but he is quick to point out that the company is not a rug cleaner. "We work with professional cleaners and with carpet dealers," he says. "We refer, we don't compete."

He says Color Your Carpet can restore stains from bleach, hair dye, rust, grease, pets, juice and the "red family" of red wine and Kool-Aid. Fade spots can be filled. In most cases, burn marks can be disguised by cutting out the burned area, putting in a patch and dyeing it to match.

He says a carpet cannot be made lighter than its original intensity: (clarification) Hunter green, for example, can become another shade of green, or a deep blue or red, but it will never be white. The company's technicians can offer advice on color combinations that will work with upholstery, draperies and wall shades.

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The Color Your Carpet process also enables rugs to be dyed in patterns, logos, borders and even full-blown scenes, using eyedropper like tools for fine detail work. The next project is to dye a football-field pattern into the rug in a barber shop near Baltimore's PSINet Stadium.

Color Your Carpet says 90 percent of carpet is dyeable, but the process might not always be worth it. If the carpet is nylon, wool or silk and has not been worn down to the backing or frayed and separated, it can probably be dyed. But he echoes the caution of the spokeswoman Murry against dyeing polyester or polypropylene carpets. "Not worth it," he concurs.

Once your carpet is dyed, any good professional cleaning will maintain it. Make sure, he says, that cleaners don't use alkaline detergent on wool carpets, or you can destroy the fibers. Acid-based cleaners are preferred. The company also offers a color freshening service -- "not a brightening service," he says -- that cleans and at the same time adds a tiny amount of the original colors. He recommends this for heavily trafficked areas where color has worn unevenly.

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The cost varies according to the type of job. (corrections) He estimates that dyeing a medium-grade carpet of about 700 square feet will run about $200; replacing the carpet with the same grade can cost $700 to $800.

"Dye restoration can save you up to 85 percent of replacement costs," he maintains, adding that 60 percent is the average. Because most carpet is made to last 15 to 20 years, and highest grades even longer, the economics seem obvious.

Time needed also varies: It takes about three hours to restore 200 square feet. (corrections) Stubborn spot work or design fill-ins on area rugs and carpets may require more time. If a rug job is particularly challenging, he prefers to take it back to his work site to concentrate on the stains. "I will never, ever acknowledge defeat," he says. 

© 2001 The Washington Post Company

*Go to technical corrections and clarifications of this article.

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