Low-moisture carpet extraction is growing in popularity in commercial settings. The reasons are many: fiscal and environmental advantages to the client, increasingly sophisticated technology for a higher level of clean, and systems even new technicians can operate with confidence.

Low-moisture techniques can positively impact the success of a client’s operation because carpet can be walked on within half an hour to two hours, versus up to 48 hours or more, which is a decidedly competitive advantage. For clients with 24/7 operations such as hotels, hospitals, nursing homes and some university and office settings, carpets can look clean, smell and feel fresh, and maintain a high level of indoor air quality, with minimal disruption to occupants.

The program
Marketing/Sales Director for Lakewood, Colo.-based Jay Dee Cleaning, Mike Bradshaw, says Jay Dee implemented low-moisture carpet care several years ago, as interim cleaning between hot-water extractions.

“Places didn’t like to have their carpet wet that long, or they wanted it done on weekends, which we didn’t care to do,” he says. “It’s a cost issue for clients, as well,” he adds, reporting that as of January 2008 Jay Dee charged 12 to 18 cents per square foot for low-moisture carpet cleaning, versus 35 to 45 cents for traditional extraction.

“How often we do low-moisture cleaning often depends on the facility,” Bradshaw continues. “We recommend hot-water extraction every 12 to 14 months, with at least one low-moisture in between. It maintains the appearance of the carpet.”

In conjunction with daily vacuuming, spot treating, and regular hot-water extraction, low-moisture cleaning can also lengthen the lifespan of the carpet.

Low-moisture systems owe their power, in part, to the new breed of chemicals they use to grab onto and gather oils and dirt and dry them into larger particles, so they can be vacuumed up.

Another popular chemical method is encapsulation, which breaks down soil and encapsulates it for a vacuum to pick up.

“With low-moisture there is no rinsing with water,” Bradshaw points out, adding that in the past, “no rinse” was equated with residue and rapid resoiling. “The new chemistry will dry with particles or crystals with no adhesive qualities, so there is no stickiness and it’s vacuumed out. These systems work, and are viable.”

Comparing low-moisture to traditional hot-water deep extraction is like comparing apples to oranges. Both have their place. Low-moisture equipment is easier to maintain, easier to train employees on and easier for them to use, has less risk of damaging padding and subflooring, and uses lower pH chemicals and less water, says Bradshaw.

“Low moisture also gets deep soils out, but not as efficiently as a traditional hot-water extraction method, or go as deeply into the fibers,” explains Bradshaw.

Russell Willis, owner of Cornerstone Carpet and Upholstery Care in Arlington, Texas, is a member of the Low Moisture Carpet Care Association (LMCCA), and has been using low-moisture products for seven years.

“We use low moisture for pretty much everything — commercial carpets in offices, retail and warehouse reception areas. Clients can work while you’re working. It’s quiet, and there are no hazards for slipping,” he says.

Willis says that the minimized potential for water wicking dirt up from the pad into carpet fibers is another potential benefit. He even uses it occasionally on upholstery with a dry tool and hot water so as not to over-wet the fabric, and get into the nooks and crannies.

Using The System
There are advantages and disadvantages of each system, Willis says. He believes a BSC can get a deep level of clean with low-moisture cleaning, perhaps even moreso than with hot-water extraction. Encapsulation can also clean carpet just as well as hot-water extraction, with the new chemicals and technology on the market, he says.

“If you know how to operate the equipment, and remove the equivalent number of pads, you’ll remove as much if not more dirt,” Willis says.

Most dirt and stains have not reached the depth of the carpet. Using hot water can force the dirt into the carpet, then try to pick it up, he says — but what works best in one situation for one building service contractor might not work best for another, so Willis recommends clients try multiple methods and choose for themselves what system they’d like to use.

Many carpet-cleaning professionals use different techniques, says Mark Warner, national sales manager at The Bullen Cos. Inc. in Folcroft, Pa., and president of LMCCA.

“Facility, carpet and environment dictate what’s being used, and that’s the proper approach. Interval is dictated by carpet and its environment including traffic load, and type of soil,” he says.

“I believe low moisture can be used almost exclusively,” Warner adds.

In most facilities, carpets are not maintained aggressively enough, so carpet builds huge amounts of soil, and many assume that the fastest method is to use hot-water extraction, he says. But if a BSC is religious about low moisture, at proper intervals dictated by traffic load and other factors, there may never really be a need to extract.

Another consideration related to low-moisture cleaning is that old equipment and even hot-water extraction equipment can be used with low-moisture chemicals.

“About all a BSC would find that tends to cost more is the chemistry,” says Warner, “as it’s rather sophisticated, and tends to cost a little bit more than traditional extraction compound.”

Initial investment, however, is lessened. BSCs can trust a brand new employee without a lot of training to handle the equipment. It runs off a basic 110-volt circuit, needs no special hoses or electrical hookups that result in extra cords running through a customer’s facility.

“A BSC might be thinking to himself that his operation can be faster, and as a result, more profitable. It uses less electricity, and there is no real carbon footprint because there is no truck running. Far less water is used in the process. There is no wastewater created, or to remove. It’s about the same amount of chemical, and the reason for that is the mixtures used to work in low-moisture environments are rich mixtures, whereas hot-water extraction uses lean mixtures. It’s the rich solution that allows encapsulation and dehydration into particles,” Warner says.

BSCs who are knowledgeable about different carpet-cleaning techniques will be able to offer their customers a broad base of expertise and experience from which to recommend the method that is best for each customer.

Lauren Summerstone is a freelance writer based in Madison, Wis.