Carpet cleaning is a specialty service. It is also one of the biggest money-makers in this industry for both the distributor and the cleaning contractor customer. A good overall knowledge of carpet cleaning — and specifically, carpet extractors — will not only help the distributor market carpet-care products, it will allow them to teach the customer how to clean carpets most effectively.

Eventually all carpeting needs to be cleaned to remove the accumulated soil and dirt that vacuuming can’t. It is important that carpets be cleaned before soiling becomes visible, since dirt and soil that penetrate the fibers can shorten the carpet’s life.

The cleaning methods recommended by carpet manufacturers to preserve a carpet’s life should be followed closely. These methods include shampooing, bonnet cleaning, dry foam, dry compound, and carpet extraction, also known as steam cleaning. All systems remove oil and grease and share the same goal: a clean carpet.

The Main Method
Steam carpet extraction is the most common method used by professionals to clean carpets. According to industry estimates, approximately 88 percent of carpets are cleaned using steam extraction. Its popularity is a result of its ability to remove deeply imbedded soil. Carpets should be “steam cleaned” at least once a year and even more often in certain commercial settings. Cleaning industry expert and author Jeff Bishop says this depends on: the size of the building; the quality of existing maintenance; the training of the custodial staff related to carpet maintenance; traffic count of the facility; and the staff’s ongoing spot cleaning.

There are several types of extractors including portables, walk-behinds and truck mounts. Extractors work by combining a cleaning agent with hot water, which is injected under pressure into the carpet. Powerful vacuums then extract the soiled mixture immediately to avoid over-wetting and to minimize drying time.

Portable extractors are the most versatile and least expensive of the three varieties. Distributors should stock these machines for customers who perform carpet extraction but are unsure of how much they should invest in carpet cleaning equipment. Distributors should encourage use of a portable until the customer knows what long-term direction to take.

Portables have six to 12-gallon solution/holding tanks. Built-in water heaters are available on some models. Customers will want machines with 50-foot power cords, 35 to 50-foot hose sets and stainless steel wands. Waist-high control switches make for easier use.

A walk-behind machine looks like a large vacuum cleaner. As you walk it over the carpeted area, it applies the detergent solution, scrubs the solution into the carpet, and then vacuums dirt up with the excess solution into a recovery tank with a squeegee action. Most commonly used in large banquet halls, lobbies, and long hallways, customers should be encouraged to purchase the optional hose set for cleaning tight corners and stairs.

The most powerful — and expensive — carpet extraction systems are truck-mounted units. These can vary in price from $7,500 to well over $20,000 with installation. Their engines range in power from 15 horsepower to more than 350 horsepower, and they have much higher water recovery tank capacity, water pump pressure, and water flow rates than either the portable or the walk-behind units. These machines are for customers — especially contractors — who have decided to make carpet cleaning a major part of their business.

Whichever type of extractor customers choose, distributors should encourage them to look for carpet extractors that have (water pump) pressure ratings of 100 PSI (pounds per square inch) or higher. Truck mounted units use water pressure ratings ranging from 350 to 500 PSI. The machine should have adequate pressure and suction to thoroughly penetrate the soiled carpet as well as remove the solution.

Certain options are available as well, including units with a scrub brush for improved stain removal, and heated systems that keep water near 160 degrees to 200 degrees at the wand tip. These provide the best overall cleaning and removal of oily or hard-to-remove soil and stains. Machines with adjustable and solid-state temperature regulating systems ensure more consistent heat when cleaning.

Check that the machine has an adequate holding/recovery tank to meet your needs and an emergency auto shut-off. Since carpet extraction is taxing on the back, the machine’s weight and maneuverability are also important factors to consider.

Follow the Leader
Distributors play a major role in the carpet cleaning industry. Customers turn to them for advice, training, service and for quick assistance in carpet cleaning emergencies.

The distributor’s “consultative” role is not only good business practice but it also leads to more business and greater customer loyalty. Bonnie Brownsey-Speer of L.M. Brownsey Supply Co., Chicago, is a strong advocate of providing training for her clients and customers. She feels training not only results in closer customer contact but is also one of the reasons her firm has been successful for almost 50 years.

Her company offers one-on-one training — as well as training for whole crews — on carpet cleaning and extraction procedures. Ongoing seminars in carpet maintenance include the use of steam extraction equipment. Brownsey Supply has even gone on location to help customers with cleaning emergencies, all in the name of good business relations.

To keep machines in top working order, she advises carpet cleaners run clean water through them after every job. She also recommends sending a warm vinegar-water (5 percent acetic acid) solution through the extractor after every five to seven cleanings. This is especially important in areas with hard water; it cleans out, or “descales” the jets, lines, and hoses. Some of the chemicals and solutions used in carpet cleaning may require even more frequent vinegar-water rinses.

Brownsey-Speer also teaches specific steps to take before and after using the extractor to get the best results. She instructs her customers to vacuum the carpet before cleaning. In addition, using a pre-spray on all spots and heavy traffic areas is a “must” not only with hot-water extractors but with dry carpet cleaning methods as well.

After cleaning a carpet, she teaches her customers to go over the carpet with a clear-water rinse to remove any chemical and detergent residue that, if left to dry in carpet fibers, can actually speed up soiling.

Getting Up to Speed
Bishop, who is chairman of the board for the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning, and Restoration Certification (IICRC), takes training a step further. He strongly believes that carpet cleaners should have certification, like that offered by IICRC.

In addition, the organization encourages distributors to become part of the IICRC Supporter Program. Distributors and manufacturers that promote professional training in the areas of inspection, cleaning and restoration using IICRC-approved courses and instructors can become registered IICRC Supporters.

Certification also helps consumers and facility managers because it offers assurance that certified technicians or firms will complete their work in accordance with the industry’s highest standards.

Furthermore, Bishop believes increased training and certification will “sell jobs and get jobs.” This bodes well for both distributors and their customers. He encourages carpet cleaners to provide top-quality service and to “stick up for your price.”

It appears that distributors play a greater role in carpet cleaning and extraction than they have realize. Knowing how soiling affects carpet and the best ways to clean and maintain it are essential for the customer. Steam carpet extractors are a major investment, and distributors that provide direction in choosing the equipment that best fits a customer’s needs will be rewarded with the sale. Distributors also need to become trainers in carpet care, including extraction, to become irreplaceable sources of information to the customer.

Robert Kravitz is a 30-year veteran of the janitorial industry. He has written four books on the industry and currently is the International Sanitary Supply Association’s manager of Internet content.