Carpet Cleaning – Different Options

Mr. Griffin is president of Cleaning Consultant Services, Inc., located in Seattle WA. His specialty is assisting others in the process of cutting costs while improving quality.

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When many people think of carpet cleaning, they think of steam cleaning, otherwise know as water extraction. Though this is the most common type of carpet cleaning, it is actually just one of five different methods. Each will be discussed below:

Foam Cleaning:

Along with steam cleaning, you can also foam clean carpets. Using a machine similar to a buffer, the shampoo is released onto a brush that works it’s way into the fibers of the carpet. After the application, you must wait an hour or two for it to dry. Then vacuum the entire area to remove the dirt.

It is not a complicated procedure and can work well for hallways and large traffic areas. It can be used as part of an ongoing maintenance program to keep heavily used areas cleaned. Since it is very difficult to remove all the shampoo with vacuuming, some of it stays in the carpet. Eventually this residue attracts dirt and must be removed by water extraction, steam cleaning.

Shampoo Method:

This is the oldest way to ‘clean’ carpets. I put ‘clean’ in parenthesis because that is debatable, as I will describe. Using a buffer, the solution is poured on to the brush of the buffer, which then is worked into the carpet. You must clean a small area at a time, going over it two or three times, just like buffing a floor. Edges and corners must be done by hand. This method can damage carpet, especially if there is a tear, so be careful. You finish the job, just as above, by vacuuming. The vacuuming may be the only way the carpet is actually cleaned. With this method, also known as the rotary method, you are actually spreading the dirt around. The solution used to clean the carpet has brighteners in it, which make the carpet look nice, hopefully until your customer pays you! But eventually, the dirt will reappear and, just as with the foam method, the shampoo residue will attract dirt itself.

Bonnet Cleaning:

Instead of using the shampoo method just discussed, using a bonnet is actually a much better way to go. The bonnet is placed at the base of your buffer. Dip it into a shampoo solution first and then go over the carpet, just as if buffing a floor. The bonnet starts to get soiled. This means it is actually removing dirt from the carpet. Rinse it out, turn it over and keep working with it until it is too soiled to continue. Follow up by vacuuming the carpet once it is dry. Drying time is usually 30 minutes.

Dry Methods:

Now the big debate starts! I have met many people in our industry who believe cleaning carpets using the dry method is the best thing since mom and apple pie. The dry system is actually a three- part procedure. First you sprinkle the solvent on the carpet. It’s a powder. The directions say you must allow the powder to stay on the carpet for about 15 minutes. Then, using a special buffer with two rotating heads, you go over the carpet. This rotates the cleaning powder into the carpet. Your final step is vacuum, vacuum, vacuum. As you vacuum, the powder and the dirt it has accumulated is removed. The great thing about the dry method is that there is no drying time whatsoever. For schools, offices, 24-hour facilities, it is best way to go… for a while. My own experience is that eventually the carpet will need to be steam cleaned. Just as in all the methods mentioned above, not all the powder gets removed and it begins to attract dirt itself.

Steam Cleaning:

Finally, we get to the most common carpet cleaning method. To really clean a carpet, deep clean a carpet, it will need to be steam cleaned at least once if not twice per year depending on the use it receives. ‘Steam’ cleaning is really a misnomer for there really is no steam. Hot water with a cleaning solution is extracted via a wand. You go over the carpet a section at a time, overlapping your last pass. As the hot water is extracted, the wand is also vacuuming up the water and the dirt. Some wands have plastic hoses that are clear. When you look at the water being extracted, it often looks brown and dirty. You and your customer can see that the carpet is really being deep cleaned. It is a very good idea to vacuum the carpet first to pick up loose and surface level dirt. Since the carpet takes up to 8 hours to really dry, you cannot vacuum it afterward. However, as it dries, the carpet nap rises and the result is a very clean, fresh and ‘new- appearing’ carpet. The big advances in the water extraction method the past few years have made this one of the best ways to clean carpets. The machines are now more powerful, and, one of the best improvements, the water extraction power has been increased so that drying time is shorter.

To determine which method is best for you depends on how much carpet cleaning you plan to do and how much you can invest. The shampoo and bonnet methods are good to help maintain a customer’s carpet. These are the easiest to learn and the least expensive. The dry method does a better job and definitely has it’s place in certain situations but there is an investment which must be made and the cleaning process takes time. Steam cleaning is definitely an investment. Go this route only if you plan to offer carpet cleaning as a definite part of your service. If it is a service you plan to offer on a regular basis, steam cleaning will probably be the best way to go.

Paul Cochrane, of Aerotech Laboratories.