When it comes to carpet maintenance, there is no topic more controversial than bonnet cleaning. According to many in-house managers, when done properly, bonnet cleaning can be a very effective and favorable method of interim carpet maintenance. But if done incorrectly, the effects can be costly for departments.

To ensure custodians don’t damage carpets, it is imperative that they are trained on the proper techniques of bonnet cleaning.

Proper Technique

According to Mark Scholl, corporate sales manager at The Janitors Supply Co. Inc. in Fort Wayne, Ind., bonnet cleaning is a great interim method for cleaning carpets and is recommended by many distributors.

“Just like dust mopping when cleaning floors, bonnet cleaning is a valuable step in the carpet cleaning process,” he says. “It is a great way to control stains, keep carpets clean and get in and out of areas quickly.”

Steve Spencer, facilities specialist with State Farm Insurance in Bloomington, Ill., agrees that when done correctly, bonnet cleaning is a great carpet care method. But, he stresses that it is only a form of interim cleaning and insists that the process has changed a bit over time.

“It should no longer be called bonnet cleaning,” he says. “It should be referred to as interim cleaning that happens to use a bonnet.”

No matter what it’s called, custodial managers agree that this type of carpet care requires precise steps and proper technique in order to guarantee effectiveness.

Before bonnet cleaning, cleaners should vacuum carpets thoroughly — a step Spencer says is often overlooked. This step will remove dry soils before moisture is introduced, making cleaning easier and more effective.

“If you add moisture to dry soils, it will become mud, which seeps deep into carpet fibers,” Spencer says. “This mud is difficult to remove with bonnet cleaning, which is designed to clean only the tips of carpets.”

Once carpets have been vacuumed thoroughly, pretreat the floors with shampoos that encapsulate soils or are specifically designed for bonnet cleaning. Using the wrong chemical can increase the chances of soap build-up, which will attract more dirt to carpets in the long run.

“A past problem with bonnet cleaning was that most people used the wrong chemical,” says Scholl. “You can’t use a chemical that dries oily or sticky. You have to use one that encapsulates or dries to a powder.”

Once carpets have been pretreated, take a minute to soak a number of bonnets in clean water, making sure to keep each moist so it is ready for use. Using clean water is essential during this step. These water-soaked bonnets will attract and remove the pretreated soils from carpets.

Managers warn against mixing shampoos in with the water during this step. Bonneting with a mix of water and cleaner would only transfer those shampoos to the carpets, not remove them from carpet fibers.

Experts also recommend using one bonnet for every 100 square feet of carpeting and discourage the practice of flipping bonnets to clean additional square footage. Doing so may only push dirt around.

The final step, another round of vacuuming, takes place once carpets are dry. This will break up detergents and pull up any soil left behind.

“If you don’t use the right bonnet cleaning methods, in the correct steps, you can end up spreading soils and dirtying carpets even further,” says Spencer.

Because bonnet cleaning does not use a lot of moisture, cleaning times can be quick, allowing crews to get in and out of areas relatively quickly. When done properly, dry times should only be 30 minutes.

“If you don’t have a lot of time to clean an area, bonnet cleaning is a nice option,” says John Vogelsang, facilities services director at Illinois Central College in East Peoria, Ill. “If someone comes to you and says there will be a meeting in that room and the carpet looks a bit dirty, you can quickly come in and bonnet clean the carpet surface for a fresh look.”


Because bonnet cleaning can be a quick solution to improve the look of carpets between deep extractions, recommendations for cleaning frequencies can fluctuate.

“Frequency all depends on the soil load,” says Scholl. “You could do it every month, or hit high traffic areas on a weekly basis. And you don’t have to go wall-to-wall with bonnet cleaning. You can target just the high traffic areas to prevent patterns from forming.”

Most managers like bonnet cleaning because it does not require a lot of time and offers a nice “face-lift” to dirty carpets between extraction.

“The most important thing is to get the job done right, but sometimes you just have to get it done,” says Vogelsang. “Bonnet is a quick method with acceptable results. We bonnet clean when we are short on time and need to accomplish a goal quickly.”

Although there are many benefits to this cleaning technology, experts can’t emphasize enough that bonnet cleaning is best used for interim cleaning and should only be done between regularly scheduled extraction maintenance.

“Bonnet cleaning only reaches the top third of carpet fibers,” says Scholl. “If you keep dirt from being driven deeper into carpets, you wont have to extract as often. But this method does not replace regular extraction benefits, it is just part of a regular maintenance program.”

Bonnet Pros And Cons

Not all opinions of bonnet cleaning are positive. In fact, many facilities refuse to bonnet clean because of the elevated risks associated with the technology and firm warnings from carpet manufacturers. These manufacturers often discourage the use of bonnet equipment and to make their point known, will void warranties if this carpet cleaning method is used.

“Carpet manufacturers don’t like bonnet cleaning because the equipment functions at 175 revolutions per minute (rpm) with a pad holder on it,” says Spencer. “Add that to a machine that usually weighs 90 to 100 pounds and you have a piece of equipment that uses a lot of power with a lot of weight behind it.”

Some bonnet equipment can function as high as 350 rpm, says Spencer. Combine that with water and add friction from carpets, and an untrained cleaner can heat up carpet fibers beyond repair.

Another risk to using bonnet equipment, according to carpet manufacturers, is that the rotary motion of the machine can untwist carpet fibers, which can create shading, fraying and color fluctuations in the carpet.

These risks, added to the firm warranty warnings from carpet manufactures, is what deters Candy Hammer, facilities services supervisor at Issaquah School District 441 in Renton, Wash., from using bonnet cleaning as a carpet maintenance method.

“We used bonnet cleaning years ago, but with the carpets we have now, warranties would be voided, so we found alternative methods of interim cleaning,” says Hammer. “I’m sure bonneting has its place on the right kind of carpet and in the right department, but it’s just not something we use.”

Like Hammer, many facilities are warned by manufacturers not to bonnet clean carpets. Departments often comply because the cost of alternative cleaning methods outweighs the risk of forgoing valuable warranties. But, if done correctly and in compliance with manufacturer guidelines, bonnet cleaning can have positive results.

According to Spencer, this form of interim cleaning is often abused and the lack of training is what results in inefficiencies and often, added expenses for departments.

“It is like the telephone game. By the time the message gets to the 10th person, the program becomes bastardized,” he says. “Processes need to be written down, so everyone does them correctly every time.”

To determine whether bonnet cleaning is an acceptable method for carpets, contact manufacturers for preferred maintenance recommendations.

“Before we do any cleaning, we make sure our cleaning methods are acceptable and recommended by the carpet manufacturer,” says Vogelsang. “You can’t assume your cleaning methods are fine. It is always best to check with the manufacturer on what is acceptable and what will void the warranty. In our case, bonnet cleaning is accepted by our carpet manufacturer and preferred by our crew.”

Spencer agrees, adding, “You have to know the maintenance guidelines for new carpeting, which are often available for free online. If you are looking for new carpets and you have bonnet equipment, look for carpets that allow cleaning using those same machines. Be proactive and be part of the decision process on which carpet to purchase.”