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Carpet re-coloring and dyeing

December 01, 2011
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For the old timers in the detail business, carpet dyeing was simply a can of spray paint applied to faded and stained carpets. This still is a quick-fix solution employed by many detailers and numerous used-car dealers.

This spray paint approach is only viable for those customers willing to accept carpets that are hard and crusty when the paint dries. It is not an acceptable solution for the newer, late-model used cars and retail customers who want their carpets and/or floor mats freshened up.

A better method

For several years, the carpet and upholstery cleaning business has had technicians who could provide re-coloring and dyeing service to homeowners. This process involved the use of various dyes for the many types of carpet fibers used in household carpet. The technicians also had to be color experts, so an exact color match was obtained. The process is extremely complicated.

But, automotive re-coloring and dye systems are easier because automotive carpet is almost all nylon and there are basically only about 16 colors used.

This means only one type of dye, the same acid-based, heat-activated dye used in carpet mills to color the carpet, is needed.


There are a number of companies offering what they call water-based dyes to use on nylon automotive carpet, but you must be careful.

As mentioned, nylon-carpeting fibers are dyed in the mills with an acid-based dye that must be "heat-activated" to permanently bond to the fibers. Many companies tell you to use hot tap water. That is false information, as the dye solution must be heated to over 160 degrees F. So, unless you have a way to heat the dye solution to this temperature, you are taking a chance the application will not be permanent.

There are systems available where the dye is pumped through an in-line heater, similar to what is used in a heated soil extractor, to heat the dye to 160 degrees F. The benefits of such systems are organization and simplicity of use for the operator and conservation of dye.

How They Work — The system comes on a cart with 18 one-gallon containers for the various dyes, plus rinse and refuse water; a power box with pump; and in-line heater. The operator pre-mixes the dye powder into the one-gallon containers, adds a few ounces of activator, and the system is ready to use.

You simply connect the dye line to the pump and flip on the power switch. The dye is pumped from the container through the pump into the in-line heater, and it sprays out heated and onto the carpet or floor mat through an applicator gun that has an adjustable tip to control the flow of dye.

When finished dyeing or re-coloring, the operator disconnects the line from the dye container, connects it to the fresh water container and evacuates the remaining dye in the system back into the container. When fresh water flows out of the gun, the system is clean. You connect to another color, and you are ready to work on another carpet/floor mat (to purge the system takes about five minutes).

Because the dye is water-based, not paint, it allows the carpet to retain a plush feel. Properly applied, the color is permanent, non-fading, and will not come off on clothes or stick to plastic, vinyl or leather. As a result, there is no taping needed to prevent overspray.

What you need to know

There are a number of things you should know about carpet dyeing including:

• The type of the carpet fibers – They can vary, but for the most part, automobiles use nylon carpet.

• Luster – Dull nylon requires more dye to complete the job.

• Dye compatibility – Many dyes perform differently and should be tested before use.

• Shade depth – This is determined by the amount of dye applied on the dye site.

• Temperature – An acid-based, heat-activated dye must be heated to 160 degrees F. Note that some luxury cars have wool carpets.

How long does it take?

An entire vehicle, including front and back carpets, floor mats and even door panels can be sprayed, blended and lightly vacuumed in 15 to 30 minutes.

These systems can be used on upholstery, as long as it is nylon fiber and the colors match. The system is especially good for velour upholsteries, because they are nylon and are usually solid colors, which are easier to dye.

How to market to dealers

Like so many detail services, the auto dealer represents the best market for the spot or entire dye service to get used cars into like-new condition. Go to the dealers, ask for a vehicle with stained carpets and show them what you can do. You will get their business.

The retail potential

The retail possibilities for carpet re-coloring and dyeing are staggering as well. Think of what it costs the customer for a new set of stock floor mats: It's in excess of $100. And, a carpet replacement is off the wall, probably $400 to $500.

Carpet re-coloring systems give you three options for improving the condition of both dealer and retail customers' automotive carpeting:

  1. Enhancements: With this process, you can brighten the carpets and floor mats of a late-model vehicle and give them a new look. Just spray a light coat of the same color dye and blend it in.
  2. Re-coloring: For carpets or floor mats that have fade spots. Simply vacuum and shampoo, then apply a coat of dye to cover the fade spots.
  3. Dyeing: The dye process is for carpets and floor mats that are worn, faded, stained and in otherwise irreparable condition. You can quickly and easily cover up the damage with a darker color. For example, a medium blue or gray could be covered with a dark blue or gray, or, in severe cases, black.

The need for training

If you want to be successful with this service, you must be sure to understand the entire process from start to finish. You should be concerned with proper preparation of the area, picking the right color, applying the dyes and the ability to repair any mistakes made during the process.

For example, if you have a beige carpet with yellow spots you must know which color dyes are to be applied to make the repair. It is not like paint touchup where the paint covers up the area.

In this case, the dyes actually blend with the color. If you see yellow spots, as in this example, something has taken away the red and blue colors in the carpet.

The dyes you will use are available in a number of forms: Powder, pre-mixed liquid and pens. All are permanent and easy to use.

Carpet dyeing is an important service for the detailer. Not only is there revenue to be generated, but you must protect yourself. Often carpet damage does not show up until after the carpet shampoo. You might be blamed for the damage. You can either fix it — before the customer sees it — or let the customer know you will take care of it, turning a problem into a customer service opportunity.

Like paint touchups, many detailers are afraid to try dyeing, fearing they might end up "buying" a carpet. However, the simplicity of the system is designed to ease your concerns and give you the confidence you need to do the job and make a lot of money.

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