Between the end user and the manufacturer are the linchpins of the jan/san industry — the distributors. They help housekeeping managers select the most appropriate equipment and chemicals for their facilities’ specific needs, train and educate end users and even act as maintenance and service liaisons. Distributors understand what end users need to achieve their productivity goals and are quick to recommend low moisture carpet care.

Yes, many distributors still recommend conventional high-pressure hot-water extraction for restoration cleaning on carpets where soil has been ground well into the backing. But they stress that low moisture interim cleaning that treats the top half to three-quarters of the carpet fibers is ideal for many facilities and comes with the added bonus of, among others, labor savings, chemical reductions, better indoor air quality, less facility down time and the likelihood of increased carpet life.

Time Is Money

Dana Kowalski, director of marketing for Arnold Sales Complete Janitor Supplies Inc., Bay City, Mich., highlights labor savings when using low-moisture machines and refers back to the ISSA standards: “In general, a low moisture extraction would cover about 12,000 square feet per hour. Restorative deep extraction would only cover about 4,000-5,000 square feet per hour.”

To reduce the need for restorative carpet cleaning, experts recommend daily maintenance such as vacuuming and the use of matting. Kowalski also recommends interim cleaning with low-moisture machines to remove soil and stuck-on fibers that the vacuum can’t reach.

“Interim cleaning extends the need for restorative cleaning to a year, 18 months, or even two years, depending on the traffic load within the facility,” says Kowalski.

Cleaning frequency aside, distributors comment that carpet care equipment, when used properly, can significantly reduce labor time, which ultimately impacts departmental budgets.

“The price of this equipment directly relates to productivity and efficiency,” adds Steve Hanson, owner of Brainerd Lakes Cleaning and Supply, in Brainerd, Minn. “Low moisture machines are very comparable in cost to conventional equipment. But you can reduce costs by replacing labor with equipment. We can pinpoint exactly when users turn a profit with the reduction in labor and chemical usage. For some customers, it’s as little as three months.”

The green benefits to these machines also result in savings. These machines can improve indoor air quality, reduce slip and fall risks and most importantly, use far less chemicals and water. The technology uses about one-tenth of the chemicals of conventional deep extraction and less than one-third of the water, says Kowalski.

In addition to financial savings, low-moisture machines can reduce cleaning times. With a drying time of minutes vs. the hours or even days necessary for traditional restorative extraction, hospitals, hotels, universities and other 24/7 facilities are experiencing far less disruptions.

“We work with a medical clinic,” says Hanson, “and appearance and sanitation need to be high. Typically low moisture can be in action in 30 minutes versus conventional, which is three hours. Workers can clean more frequently, during business hours and keep the carpet in better condition.”

Jeannie Murphy, owner and president of Murphy Sanitary Supply in Tulsa, Okla., agrees.

“The fast drying times associated with these machines means that traffic can return to the area quickly,” she says. “You want to get up to speed as quick as possible.”

The Right Machine

In addition to quick-dry results, the number of options in the low-moisture carpet-cleaning category are quite expansive.

“Every piece of equipment has its place,” explains Hanson. “That’s why you see so many types of equipment. The key is to identify the use and implement the proper training.”

Machine types include low-speed bonnets and rollers used on pre-treated carpet that transfer dirt to pads; encapsulation crystals that attract dirt and are then vacuumed up; and one-pass hot-water extraction machines that can use hot tap water, or heat with on-board mechanisms for much hotter water. They can be pull-along style, walk-behind, stand-on and ride-on, and come in a variety of coverage widths, from 12 to 36 inches. Some even have a switch to go from carpet to hard floor and from traditional extraction mode to low moisture mode.

Some models can hook up to a special reservoir and wand for conveniently prespraying spots or getting into corners and stairs, says Kowalski. Another has an on-board spotting and upholstery tool, so the operator can use one machine for multiple tasks.

Murphy adds that as manufacturers make machine refinements based on ideas and feedback from end users, the equipment is becoming more convenient, labor-saving and easier to use. For instance she likes the built-in turn-off feature that prevents motor damage in the instance of too much foam in the recovery tank.

Ergonomics are improving, too, she says. “Handles are more ergonomically designed and have several positions for the hands, which is important during long cleaning tasks.”

Hanson agrees and comments, “Less fatigue means more productivity, better quality and happier employees.”

Power Options

Battery operated machines afford additional labor savings, as well as promote safety. These machines eliminate the need for stops-and-starts necessary to unplug and move the machine, as well as the risk of trip and falls associated with long machine cords.

“When technicians have to stop, they often get distracted from the job,” observes Murphy. “Battery options keep employees working and reduce these distractions. Even better are ride-on machines, as carpet is done in a fraction of the time, and workers are still full of energy and can incorporate additional duties into their schedule.”

In addition to eliminating the logistical nuisance and trip hazard of a cord, some battery operated machines now have on-board battery chargers that can be plugged into any wall to recharge, says Kowalski. Also, absorbed glass mat (AGM) batteries and chargers are lower maintenance than traditional batteries because they eliminate the need to add water and reduce the possibility of acid spills.

But as convenient as batteries are, electric power still has its place in regards to carpet care equipment.

“Most small units are electric, to keep the size and weight down,” Kowalski says. “They also cost less over the life of the machine because you’re not replacing batteries, although batteries should last years if maintained properly. Batteries typically have a three-hour run time, and if cleaning a large carpet, you’ll need either two pieces of battery-powered equipment, or just one electric powered machine. You definitely don’t want to run out of battery power in the middle of the job.”

Training Made Easy

Regardless of the type, “these machines are very simple to use,” says Hanson. “Based on our experience, an individual that’s never run a slow speed machine can have the operation down within five minutes. With a hot water extractor, I’d say the person can have their individual wand stroke down in about 30 minutes, to where he or she won’t over-wet.”

The primary method to the prevention of over-wetting is training — knowing how to operate the equipment and performing the work correctly.

“People can have the misconception: ‘I’m using a low moisture system, so I can use more’ — and that’s where they can get into trouble,” says Hanson. “If a person makes multiple passes with the jets on and is not following with double vacuum passes, they can easily over-wet the carpet.”

Used properly, low-moisture machines can extend the life of the flooring by reducing the risk of wicking, mold and ruined backings.

“Low moisture is faster and less invasive to the carpet,” concludes Murphy. “With deep extraction there is a lot of moisture and you have to go slow. If you go too fast you won’t get enough chemical on the fiber.”

Experts add that many cleaning departments also wait too long before cleaning carpets, a habit that can cost more in the long run.

“A grain of sand has 35 cutting edges on it, so you need to do what you can to keep that sand from grinding into carpets,” says Hanson. “That’s why people should have proper cleaning intervals.”

Experts point out that even with all it’s benefits, low moisture is not foolproof. Interim cleaning is essential. Cones and signs should still cordon off the site until it’s dry. Fans are still recommended to speed up the drying process. And in restoration mode, for every pass with spray there should be at least two passes with the vacuum, as over-wetting is still possible.

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