There are some topics in the cleaning industry about which everyone seems to have an opinion. Case in point: bonnet cleaning. Whether a building service contractor calls it bonnet cleaning, spin pad, absorbent pad, tip cleaning or carbonated shampoo cleaning, many wonder if it offers the effectiveness and efficiency it promises?

But all seem to be in agreement that this controversial cleaning method, merely an adaptation of hard floor spray buffing to carpets, can hold a viable place in a carpet maintenance program — if it is done correctly. However, if performed incorrectly on the wrong carpet fibers, BSCs may damage carpets and have to face the music with unhappy customers.

“It can be part of an overall carpet maintenance program, but you have to be very careful what kind of carpet you do it on and make sure you do it the right way,” says Jim Gambino, vice president of business development for specialty services at CleanPower LLC, in Milwaukee. CleanPower uses bonnet cleaning in some situations, but relies on steam extraction or deep cleaning for its primary carpet care. Many BSCs find bonnet cleaning is best used for interim maintenance only.


Marc Lisenby, president of Tucker, Ga.-based Master Building Services, says his company has used bonnet cleaning since the mid-1990s. While not the sole method employed to clean carpet, the company continues to use bonnet cleaning between deep cleans.

Bonneting offers several key advantages including rapid drying and efficient cleaning, Lisenby says. It also allows a means of pulling out additional soil left behind after extraction as well as a way to even out a carpet’s appearance between high- and low-traffic areas.

The company often deep cleans high-traffic areas then bonnet cleans areas receiving less traffic, Lisenby says.

“The goal is to make all the carpet look the same once it’s dry and to not have it resoil any faster than other areas,” he says.

Price is another factor; bonnet cleaning can be cost-effective because BSCs already have bonnet cleaning equipment on hand. And, the speed with which operators can clean utilizing this method reduces carpet maintenance costs.

“In this economy, building owners and property managers are trying to save money,” says Lisenby. “If they save that money by not maintaining the carpet, it will need to be replaced sooner. Bonnet cleaning is an effective and low-cost means of maintaining carpet for both appearance and longevity.”

When properly performed, bonnet cleaning can enhance a carpet’s appearance, states Gambino. CleanPower uses bonnet cleaning to bring out soils extraction may miss. For instance, when a stain remains after extraction, CleanPower operators may bonnet clean. This can be effective because as carpet dries it brings soils to the surface where bonnet cleaning may pick them up. When bonnet cleaning a cut-pile carpet, CleanPower employees also rake it out when finished.

“You absolutely have to rake it out or you will ruin it,” he says.

In bonnet cleaning, cleaning solution may be applied in two separate ways. In one, the operator immerses a bonnet in water and wrings it out for use on a low-speed rotary floor machine. Operators then pre-spray the carpet with cleaning solution before running the machine over it. Using the second method, operators apply cleaning solution directly to the pad before fitting it to the machine. In both methods, dirt collects on the pads as it runs over the carpet.

According to Lisenby, bonnet cleaning may be effectively used, provided BSCs first check the carpet warranty to see what manufacturers recommend then carefully examine the carpet’s condition. Bonneting may further damage torn or snagged carpeting, he says.

The rotary machine’s speed also must be considered. While these machines may operate at 300 rpm or even higher, 175 rpms works best for bonnet cleaning.

“At 300 rpm or higher, you run the risk of abrading the carpet surface,” Lisenby explains.

The bonnets themselves play a tremendous role — all bonnets are not created equal. Some are cotton, some are a cotton-rayon blend, and some have nylon strips embedded in them.

“These strips can be pretty abrasive,” Lisenby says. “They can heat up and do some real damage.”

Lisenby suggests relying on the expertise of manufacturers and distributors to select the right bonnet for the job. If a BSC fails to ask the right questions, they may wind up with the wrong bonnet for the carpet being cleaned. The best bonnet, he adds, is absorbent, has a tight pile surface and can be laundered. And those with nylon strips should only be used for aggressive cleaning.

Bonnets should be rinsed and changed frequently to avoid resoiling carpets. Master Building Services trains employees to flip bonnets every 100 square feet and rinse them every 200 square feet.

But bonnet cleaning is no panacea, adds Lisenby. This method also packs some considerable disadvantages that BSCs must weigh if they go with bonnet cleaning.

Proceed with caution

Bonnet cleaning receives low marks because of the possibility for pile distortion and fiber damage, swirling, abrasion from gritty soil, and residue and soil left behind. Carpet manufacturers, particularly those manufacturing Olefin (a synthetic fiber made from alkenes) carpets, often advise against it.

Werner Braun, president of the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI), a nonprofit trade association representing the manufacturers of more than 95 percent of all carpet made in the United States, agrees. He states he would be astonished if a bonnet machine could pass CRI’s Seal of Approval for deep cleaning systems.

“Bonnet cleaning doesn’t remove very much soil,” he explains. “When you look at the pad, you do see soil on it, but it is our belief this is primarily surface soil.”

He advises proceeding with caution because this cleaning method may actually void carpet warranties; some manufacturers carry a bias against bonnet cleaning because of its vigorous cleaning approach. Bonnet cleaning adapts hard floor spray buffing to carpets, using a rotary brush adapted with a stiff brush to drive wet, damp or dry bonnets.

“Essentially it is taking a machine that weighs anywhere from 75 to 100 pounds and putting direct pad pressure on the carpet. It’s like dragging something across the floor,” says Gambino. “For this reason, it can be hard on carpeting.”

Bonnet cleaning can be very aggressive, agrees Ken McIntosh, CRI senior technical director, who states commercial carpet with a looped construction may appear matted over time. Bonnet cleaning also can remove the twist of cut-pile carpet and make it appear fuzzy.

“It can destroy a carpet’s appearance,” McIntosh says. “It can tease out fibers, break fibers. It all depends on the bonnet used.”

Because of its questionable reputation, some clients may even ban its use. Master Building Services maintains the carpeting of a national retail chain, and for some time, they used bonnet cleaning on the company’s Olefin carpets. Though they had much success with this, the customer recently asked them to abandon the method after the manufacturer indicated it may damage the carpet.

“We found that the higher the rpms of the rotary machine, the more likely you could actually melt the carpet fibers,” Lisenby states. “Olefin is plastic and if you get it hot enough, it will melt — and you can’t unmelt it.”

Ronnie Garrett is a freelance writer based in the Milwaukee area.