- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 12, 2004

Rick Luther knows how to get a tough stain out of a carpet. Using dyes, he can restore some rugs and carpets to their original luster, saving customers the considerable expense of replacing old floor coverings.

Mr. Luther, 31, works at Color Your Carpet in Clarksville, Md. The company, part of a Jacksonville, Fla., franchise, goes to residential and commercial buildings in the Mid-Atlantic region to dye carpets with nontoxic cleaning sprays that bring out a carpet’s original color and patterns.

Mr. Luther also heads the company’s Oriental rug restoration service. The service, started by franchise owner Chris Howell, is run out of a small garage next to Mr. Howell’s house in Clarksville.

Mr. Luther stopped at the small garage at 8 a.m. on a recent morning to work on a few Oriental, Persian and area rugs before going out on carpet service calls for three houses and a bank.

Mr. Howell, Mr. Luther’s brother-in-law, started offering the service when he opened his franchise because no rug companies in the Washington area restored rug colors.

Mr. Luther generally works on 10 to 15 rugs a month, setting aside at least one day during the week to concentrate on the side business. He moved into carpet coloring in 2001 after being laid off from a welding position at Northeast Doran in Maine.

“I wanted a full-time job that was hands-on work and had an artistic aspect to it,” the Silver Spring resident said.

Mr. Luther pulls down a custom-made area rug from a beam in the garage and points to its faded center. “The object is to restore a rug to its original condition instead of having owners throw it away,” he says, prepping the spray equipment in the garage. Several rugs hang from makeshift beams while others are stacked on the floor.

Mr. Luther says the pink rug, sent from a customer in Ellicott City, Md., will take a few hours to dye. He places the rug on the concrete floor and uses a carpet grooming rake to fluff the fibers.

“That makes it easier for the dye to trickle down into the fibers,” Mr. Luther explains after raking up the 6-by-9-foot rug worth an estimated $550. He pulls out a canister and begins applying a dark pink spray evenly to the center of the rug, which is almost white except for pink spots where table legs stood.

“The rug was badly faded by the sun,” Mr. Luther says. Most of the rugs in the shop have been damaged by sunlight or have stains. Some bleached rugs can be salvaged by recoloring the entire piece.

Despite its drab coloring, the pink rug is still in good condition, Mr. Luther says. “We make sure it’s worthwhile to the customer first,” he says, adding the company’s policy is to save a customer at least 50 percent of what it would cost to replace a rug.

The pink spray, which has cleaning agents to break down stains and dirt, does not spread or rub after it reaches the fibers. The company uses odorless sprays with ingredients that make the color dry within 30 seconds, even though the rug is still wet.

“It’s easier to be able to step on it when working at a home or hotel,” Mr. Luther says, walking over the wet rug to examine some untouched spots. Mr. Howell, who often stops into the shop to help Mr. Luther, pulls out his laptop to bring up a color-matching software program.

The two put the laptop on the ground and examine how well the pink is matching with the sample color the customer had requested.

Mr. Luther then hooks up the shop’s “extractor,” a large vacuum machine. He vacuums the dyed section to grab any leftover moisture or dirt in the fibers.

He then gets on his hands and knees to touch up a few spots. Once satisfied, Mr. Luther mixes another spray, this time yellow, to shade the pink to a “salmony, peach” color.

He starts out with a weak tint that he adjusts a few times before spraying on the pink rug. “You start out that way because you can always make a color stronger, but you can’t wash out strong colors,” he says.

The process, a gradual buildup, takes a few rounds of spraying to match carpets and rugs with their original colors, Mr. Luther says.

The pink rug’s restoration cost about $150 based on the type of work performed and quality of the rug, Mr. Howell said.

“I have to take a break and then go back because colors will start washing together and I go cross-eyed after a few hours,” he says.

Rugs come mainly from homeowners in the Washington area, but the company gets requests from across the country.

The shop’s prize rug, a $40,000 Persian, sits prominently at one end of the workshop. The rug was badly faded when it was sent from Colorado last year. So far, the customer has paid $5,500 for the restoration. Mr. Howell could not estimate what the total bill would be, saying more work must be done.

While the pink rug dries on a beam, Mr. Luther unfolds the ornately detailed Persian rug and sets up a specialized airbrush. The instrument, which Mr. Howell and Mr. Luther created, feeds dye and air pressure into the airbrush to create a fine mist that can navigate around small patterns. “This baby can paint eyebrows on a Barbie doll,” Mr. Luther says.

He applies a few shades of orange to certain backgrounds in the rug, which has taken more than a year to restore. “It’s still a work in progress, but already much better than when it came to us,” he says.

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