SISAL... Special Fibers Need Special Care

What is Sisal?

Sisal is a fiber obtained from the leaves of plants belonging to the agave family.

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Agave Sislana

The actual processing of the fiber begins with the separation of the fiber from the chlorophyll, pectin, and other fleshy parts of the leaf. The leaves are crushed, and the resulting pulp is scraped from the fiber, which is washed and dried. The lustrous fiber strands range from creamy white to light brown.
A fairly coarse and inflexible fiber, sisal has long been used as a material for small rugs and mats. In more recent years, sisal has enjoyed growing popularity for use in large rugs and even wall-to-wall carpet.

What Some Manufacturers Say about Cleaning

Some manufactures of sisal recommend dry cleaners such as Host or “dry foam” for overall cleaning while others suggest, hosing the sisal off in your driveway. But every situation is different, dry cleaning doesn’t work well on pet urine stains or large liquid spills. Water-based cleaners are not effective on grease and oil spills. There is no “best way” to clean sisal—it is a matter of using the best chemistry and technique with each situation.

Cleaning Sisal

To understand the cleaning of sisal one must understand the type of soiling and staining to which it is subjected. Dry soils such as traffic soil and airborne soils are a constant problem. The weave of the sisal (over/under without a pile) suspends these soils near the surface.

As with all floor coverings, one of the best preventive measures is to vacuum on a regular basis. It is extremely important to do this before soiling becomes visible. This will remove most of the dry soils. It also prevents these soils form acting like sandpaper, causing unnecessary wear and ground-in soiling that may be difficult to remove.

Water-based spills such as coffee and soft drinks are another problem altogether. Stains like these may need to be spotted with water-based cleaners. Unfortunately, these cleaners can sometimes cause cellulosic browning or, in other cases, lighter or “bleached” spots. That is why it is always necessary to TEST any procedure or cleaning agent before proceeding.

Cleaning Sisal

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Sisal Rug

To understand the cleaning of sisal one must understand the type of soiling and staining to which it is subjected. Dry soils such as traffic soil and airborne soils are a constant problem. The weave of the sisal (over/under without a pile) suspends these soils near the surface.

As with all floor coverings, one of the best preventive measures is to vacuum on a regular basis. It is extremely important to do this before soiling becomes visible. This will remove most of the dry soils. It also prevents these soils form acting like sandpaper, causing unnecessary wear and ground-in soiling that may be difficult to remove.

Water-based spills such as coffee and soft drinks are another problem altogether. Stains like these may need to be spotted with water-based cleaners. Unfortunately, these cleaners can sometimes cause cellulosic browning or, in other cases, lighter or “bleached” spots. That is why it is always necessary to TEST any procedure or cleaning agent before proceeding.

Back Coatings

Many sisal floor coverings have latex back coatings. Solvents can easily destroy many of these backings and should always be tested. If the back coating is destroyed, the integrity of the sisal can be compromised. Some sisal floor coverings have a cushion-like padding adhered to the back. Once again, it is important to always test solvent-based chemicals in an inconspicuous area to determine if they can be applied safely.

Blends

Sisal is increasingly being blended with other fibers such as wool. Wool can dramatically change the look and texture of a sisal floor covering. To some degree, it can make cleaning more difficult. Testing is always a must before any cleaning method, product, or system is used.

Painted Sisal

Sisal floor coverings are often painted by hand or screen-printed using a variety of paints. Most paints are extremely durable, but with time and traffic they can soil, crack, chip, and/or wear off. Cleaning can also weaken the glues, which affix the pigments (paint), causing further deterioration.

Extreme caution must be used when working with painted sisal.

Client Care

One of the best ways to remove liquid spills is to attend to them as soon as possible. Blotting with a dry paper or terry towel will usually remove most of the problem. The area should then be dried as quickly as possible.

Grease spots should be spotted with a mild solvent such as Kleen-Tec or OMS, being sure to use products sparingly and always from a towel.

Look-Alikes

There are other similar fibers, which often get classified as sisal but are not. Coir comes from coconut husks and is generally used in mats and area rugs. It is darker and coarser than sisal. Another look-a-like is sea grass, which has a smooth texture and is most often used in area rugs.

Sisal, coir and sea grass are all cellulosic fibers and, as such, the general care instructions are similar.

On the Bright Side

Even though sisal is very absorbent and can stain readily, with proper protection and maintenance, sisal can perform well. The Fiber-Seal Fabric Care System can benefit sisal, coir and sea grass by decreasing absorbency and lengthening the time between cleanings. Our premier fabric care experts stand ready to help whenever we are needed. From maintenance recommendations to in-person assistance for stubborn spots and spills, the professionals at Fiber-Seal create success stories and happy clients every day.

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