For jan/san distributors who think they have no new carpet extraction equipment to offer their customers, carpet care manufacturers have one message: think again.

Last year proved to the year of the extractor extravaganza as manufacturers unveiled a host of carpet-cleaning solutions. There were machines that wash in front and rinse in back; some with internal systems; some with external systems; some that use very little water and some that use only water. Perhaps the biggest departure from traditional extractors was the roll-out of the much-talked-about ride-on carpet extractor introduced by Nilfisk-Advance, Plymouth, Minn.

“We’ve been dabbling with the idea of a ride-on extractor for about nine years,” says Dave Ditty, director of product management for the company. “We often tell our distributors to ask their customers, ‘Why walk when you can ride?’”

Explaining the benefits of a ride-on extractor to those who are actually doing the cleaning isn’t difficult; it’s the purchasing managers who sometimes need to be won over when they see the higher price tag.

“Honestly, our extractor costs around $2,000 more than most push-behind carpet extractors,” says Ditty. “But it pays for itself within the first few months. Workers are more refreshed and they can be more productive. I sometimes ask people, ‘How are you mowing your football field? Do you use a push mower or a ride-on mower?’ They’re able to take a job that people hated before — carpet extraction — and turn it into a job that’s far less taxing on the body.”

Called On the Carpet?
While Nilfisk-Advance says distributors and end users are coming around to the advantages of a ride-on extractor — the company recently reported that it sold more ride-on extractors in 2003 than any of its past annual sales totals for other push-behind models — other manufacturers have made a strong case for the continued evolution of the push-behind extractor.

Clarke, a division of Alto, another leading carpet extractor manufacturer, has conducted research that shows push-behind extractors can be ergonomically improved to compete with the ride-on models.

“Ergonomics is a huge issue for us,” says Shawn Wright, product manager of soft floor care for Clarke, Springdale, Ark. “After our ergonomic study, we created a carpet extractor that puts 18 percent less stress on the back, 60 percent less stress on the elbows and 80 percent less strain on the user’s shoulders. It’s designed with the same philosophy as the backpack vacuum — to put less stress on the back and arms.”

Another advantage of Clarke’s new model is the ability to wash and rinse carpets in one pass. “When you wash your hair, you also rinse out the soap at the same time,” says Wright. “We use the same concept with our extractor: the front of the machine scrubs the soap into the carpet, and the back of the machine rinses it out.”

With new innovations in extraction technology, Clarke is betting that most distributors will continue to trust the performance of push-behind extractors. Although ride-on extractors might be better suited for gigantic surface areas, most end users don’t require that kind of equipment, he adds.

However, Nilfisk-Advance has attracted ride-on extractor customers from a diverse demographic, says Ditty. “It’s not just for the largest areas — the airports and the large casinos,” he says. “It also saves time for smaller facilities. We have testimonials showing that the ride-on extractor can extract 18,000 square feet per hour, whereas our push-behind models only extract between 8,000 and 10,000 square feet per hour.

Keep Your Eye On the H2O
Traditionally, distributors have had to caution their customers to use the right amount of water when they extract a carpet. If too little water is used, the end user risks leaving chemical residue in the carpet that can attract excess soil and ultimately damage the fibers. On the other hand, if too much water is used, the extractor might not recover enough of it, resulting in a muddied carpet (when soil is tracked in) and a possible breeding ground for mold spores.

Last year, a few manufacturers stepped up their training of distributors in the area of water recovery, helping them separate fact from fiction.

“Unfortunately, most carpet extraction does more damage to carpets than good [when done incorrectly], according to the carpet manufacturers we talk to,” says Kevin Morey, vice president of product development for NSS, Toledo, Ohio. “The analogy is that too much chemical is like putting a mile of glue down on the carpet. You need the right amount of water to really cleanse the carpet of that chemical, but you don’t want to overdo it.”

Currently around the jan/san industry, there is a lot of talk about water recovery, but different manufacturers communicate their extractors’ recovery benefits in different ways, adds Morey. “For example, the claims that you see are often: ‘My extractor recovers 90 percent of the water it puts down.’ That’s great, but if you’re putting down three times as much water as another extractor, then that leftover 10 percent really adds up,” he says. “The [problem] is in the relationship between recovery percentages and the actual amount of water that is being left on the carpet.”

NSS holds six training classes per year designed to help its distributors sell and operate carpet extractors more effectively and comfortably. Another water-related topic that is often covered in these seminars is deep cleaning vs. every-day cleaning.
“We’ve got quite a network of distributors who are helping us with our carpet extraction development,” says Morey. “If I was to look ahead, I’d say that the evolution of our product is toward more of a deep-cleaning extractor. You use a lot more water in deep-cleaning extraction, but you really do a quality job on the carpet that doesn’t need to be repeated as often.”

Attraction to Extraction
After observing the strength of the carpet extraction market, a few jan/san manufacturers have decided that now is the perfect time to get on board. One of those manufacturers is Pioneer Eclipse, Sparta, N.C., an established floor care manufacturer that has recently made its way into the carpet care supply business.

“We’re just now making inroads to the carpet extraction business, and some of the solutions we’re offering are really exciting for distributors,” says Chris Meany, sales manager for Pioneer Eclipse. “We offer box extractors that have the flexibility to clean carpet on staircases and small areas, as well as bigger, self-contained extractors that will do the bigger jobs,” he says. “We see the purchases increasing, and extractor machines offer several great opportunities for our distributors.”