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CARPET CLEANING METHODS: AN OVERVIEW

 

When specifying and purchasing carpet, it is important to balance aesthetic consideration with performance and maintenance requirements. A carpet should be selected that is both aesthetically appealing and capable of meeting the demands of time and traffic.

The selection of a carpet maintenance program should begin with a working understanding of the cleaning methods available today including their capabilities and limitations. The professional cleaner is in a unique position to influence the consumer regarding carpeting; therefore, it should be understood by the dealer and the consumer that the equipment, chemicals, techniques, and operator must be the best possible to be an effective cleaning system. Justifying price or the use of “here today, gone tomorrow” companies often results in disillusioned customers and costly claims for the dealer and the manufacturer.

Listed below is a brief overview of the most commonly used cleaning methods available today:

CYLINDRICAL FOAM SHAMPOO—This method uses an air compressor which “whips” the shampoo solution into a heavy foam. This foam is then brushed into the carpet using a mechanically driven cylindrical brush composed of nylon bristles. A catch pan attached to the unit captures the soil burdened shampoo. The carpet is then vacuumed, theoretically removing any remaining cleaning residues. Recovery rate of the expended solution is approximately 15%. Drying time is typically 4-6 hours. This method is totally inadequate for heavy soil and often relies on chemicals containing high amounts of optical brighteners which can permanently discolor nylons.

ROTARY BRUSH METHOD—Basically uses the same foam cleaning chemicals as the cylindrical foam shampoo method.  This machine has an attached tank for the diluted shampoo solution with a tube leading into a shower fed round brush composed of nylon, polypropylene, or natural bristles. The shampoo solution drips onto the carpet where it is scrubbed, creating the foam. The revolving brush agitates the soil loose from the fiber. The encapsulated soil and cleaning residue is then vacuumed up. Drying time is 4-10 hours, depending on the operator. The problem with this method is that it uses sodium lauryl sulfate, which leaves a very sticky, soil attracting residue. Overwetting and pile distortion are other commonly associated drawbacks. The recovery rate of this system is generally 10% of the expended solution but can be increased up to 75% when rinse and extraction equipment is coupled with the unit.

BONNET/SPIN PAD METHOD—This method is similar to the rotary method, and the machine is essentially the same. A solution of detergent and water is sprayed on the carpet. A rotating, absorbent pad generally made of cotton or abrasive olefin strips agitates the carpet pile. In theory, the pad absorbs the cleaning solution plus the suspended soil. Although this method offers less pile distortion, less residue, and less drying time than the rotary shampoo method, most of the soil is buried in rather than removed from the carpet. Recovery rate of the expended solution is approximately 10%; therefore, this system rates the poorest in this category. Furthermore, the mechanical action of this cleaning method can cause abrasive soils to damage the carpet fibers. Fiber distortion is also a concern if the drive brush hits the carpet. This method is not for cut piles or berbers. Drying time is usually 4-10 hours. Unfortunately, this machine is commonly used in commercial carpet cleaning since it requires little operator training and is generally kept on site for hard floor maintenance. Rapid resoiling due to cleaning residue is common.

DRY EXTRACTION POWDERS—This method relies on “dry” granular sponges made of either organic or mineral materials. The organic type, which are yellow in color, can contain sawdust, ground up corn and corn stalks, or other plant materials. The mineral types are very fine white sponges that contain water, solvents, detergents, and optical brighteners. These sponges are brushed into the carpet by hand or mechanical action where they dwell for a short period of time. During the dwell phase these sponges absorb soils. When the sponge dries it is then vacuumed out of the carpet. This method is effective for most soils and is easy to use. The disadvantages of this method include the use of chlorinated solvent pre-sprays on heavily soiled carpet and total reliance on the effectiveness of the vacuum cleaner to remove the sponges from the carpet. Two final concerns are the unrecovered organic type sponges can become a food source for dust mites and the unrecovered mineral types can cake up and become even more difficult to remove if they become wet.