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What Carpet Cleaning Method is Best?

8/1/2017 (Permalink)

Cleaning What Carpet Cleaning Method is Best? An example of steam cleaning.

Five Types of Carpet Cleaning…Which is Best? Ask SERVPRO of Belmont/San Carlos.

By Clayton A. Barry, Partner SERVPRO of Belmont / San Carlos

I’m a second-generation carpet cleaner. My father owned an area rug and wall-to-wall carpet cleaning company that was established in the early 1950’s. As a little boy I hung around my dad’s shop on Saturdays. When I got a bit older, I would go there after school to learn how to clean the fringes on Persian rugs. 

My family moved to San Mateo in 1968 and two years later we moved to Foster City. Since then, during my working lifetime I have seen the evolution of on-location carpet cleaning (and location water damage mitigation). 

I know there is confusion about which cleaning system is best, shampoo, steam or dry cleaning? I can help you understand the difference between the various carpet cleaning systems.

Today, there are actually five types of on-location carpet cleaning in use for wall-to-wall carpets. This article will not address area rug (Oriental rug) cleaning. Instead, I will discuss the different, “modern” cleaning methods for wall-to-wall carpet cleaning. This material will be presented in the chronological order in which the cleaning methods were introduced to the consumer: Shampoo, Hot Water Extraction, Dry Methods, Bonnet and Encapsulation.

Please understand that each of these methods of cleaning will do a reasonably good job as long as a trained professional properly performs the work. Where does this training come from?

In the United States, the carpet cleaning industry is primarily educated by the Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification IICRC. This leading institute has a governing board that is comprised of members from the carpet manufacturing industry, installation industry, cleaning chemical and cleaning equipment manufacturers, scientists and health professionals. Even government agencies such as the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are represented. There are other trade associations such as the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) that also provide education for carpet cleaners. All of these associations have evolved along with the carpet industry. As the physical content of carpet fibers and carpet construction techniques have changed, the associated industries have modified their cleaning agents as well as equipment and products to stay current. Lets examine some of this history.

1930’s: In the very early days of wall-to-wall carpet installation, wool was the principle fiber used for the face yarn. Jute or hemp fibers were often used in the construction of carpet backings. In that era, carpet pads were usually made from horsehair (felt). Shampoo cleaning was the most appropriate method for cleaning those carpets. Shampoo cleaning did not have to use a lot of water. This was critical because a serious over wetting during cleaning often ruined those carpets by causing materials to shrink and dye colors to bleed. 

1950’s / 1960’s: After the Second World War, our population exploded.  The resulting housing construction boom called for more wall-to-wall carpets than ever. This demand outstripped wool production. Kodak, DuPont and Allied Fibers introduced synthetic (plastic) fibers along with new carpet backings that were virtually waterproof. The backing materials and underlayment (pads) evolved. By the end of the 1960’s, during the transition from natural to synthetic fibers, steam cleaning (today called hot water damage) became the preferred method. Carpets were being manufactured to withstand more moisture. Cleaning equipment manufacturers developed synchronized high-pressure water sprayers and powerful extraction vacuums to clean these manmade materials.  Finally “steam” carpet cleaners could use pressurized water to flush and rinse the dirt and cleaning agents away.

It was during the transition era of wool carpets to synthetics that the first “dry” systems of carpet cleaning were developed. A highly successful franchise was built upon the ingenious use of corncobs being ground into a spongy powder that was saturated with dry-cleaning solvents to be spread across carpet surfaces to absorb soils. The spongy bits of corncob fiber were brushed into the fibers to adsorb soils.  When the little bits of spongy corn cob dried they could be vacuumed away.  However, these and other dry methods didn’t make much of an impact on carpet cleaning until the 1970’s as you will discover next.

1970’s: Unfortunately, when water extraction cleaning is not performed properly, carpets can become or remain over-wetted. Synthetic fibers won’t shrink, but the adhesives that hold the carpet layers together can delaminate. Wet carpets can also cause water damage to furniture. Molds may develop and sour smelling air often permeates the indoor environment. These kinds of negative experiences happened when low priced, portable cleaning equipment became readily available to the public.  Unfortunately, the do-it-your-self crowd wetted and damaged a lot of carpeting. There was also a wave of “part time and weekend cleaning companies” without advanced training who gave a bad reputation to steam cleaning in general. This opened the door for a new batch of “dry” carpet cleaning companies. In fact, aggressive franchises advertised the advantages of “space age chemical technology” that could solve or prevent the over-wetting problems caused by “steam” cleaning. Dry cleaning methods used minimal moisture and they did an excellent job of surface cleaning. Carpets were dry and ready for use in just a couple of hours.

Advertising savvy dry carpet cleaners made a strong argument. However, as time went by, the public became aware that dry cleaning systems left a great deal of chemical residue in the carpets. The public noticed that high levels of cleaning chemical residue caused fibers to rapidly re-soil. Concerns arose over indoor air quality. During the next three decades steam and dry cleaners battled each other for public acceptance.

1990’s: Bonnet cleaning became a meaningful “comprise” method of cleaning. Let me explain what I mean by “compromise”. Shampoo carpet cleaners always reasoned that their system gently scrubbed and agitated the fibers. Scrubbing action is a good cleaning feature. Steam (hot water extraction) advocates spoke about the benefits of heat and the rinsing action that their water based system provides. Heat has proven to activate cleaning agents. Rinsing removes residues. Dry cleaners promoted the benefits of advanced chemistry… low moisture and rapid drying. Each system of carpet cleaning offers distinct advantages. However, bonnet style carpet cleaners believe their system combines the best parts of the other cleaning systems. Let me explain.

Bonnet cleaning utilizes thick, cotton pads that are dampened with water combined with various cleaning agents. These pads are fitted onto shampoo cleaning machines. The prepared pad is methodically worked across the surface of the carpet to gently agitate the fibers and to loosen the soil. With skillful operation, bonnet cleaning will provide more than just surface action. It can provide a deep cleaning. As soon as an area of carpet has been treated, the cleaning pad is removed and replaced with a clean, dry cotton pad, which is spun over the surface of the damp carpet to adsorb the moisture (and soils) from the fibers. The carpet is left fairly dry and ready for use within thirty minutes to a couple of hours. 

By the way, dry bonnet pads can be utilized in another way.  A dry bonnet pad can be spun over the surface of damp carpeting that has just been wet cleaned by, either, shampoo or hot-water extraction methods to provide an additional measure of extraction. Doing so will accelerate overall drying. While bonnet cleaning seems to be a versatile, effective, popular carpet cleaning system, cleaning technology is constantly evolving and changing.

2000’s: Recently, the IICRC has endorsed the encapsulation method. Today, many of the leading manufacturers are promoting “encapsulation” as the latest advancement. Some encapsulation systems use a new design of rotary brush to apply the cleaning agent and agitate the fibers. However, the more dramatic advancements are in the area of chemistry. Revolutionary polymer encapsulation cleaning agents blended together are able to target different soils in one application, capture these soils and, then, dry (cure) them into tiny crystals to be vacuumed away.

The science of encapsulation has become so popular among carpet cleaners that some of the chemical manufacturers are now making their liquid cleaners for use with bonnet machines and even for use with hot water extraction equipment. There are still old timers who are performing shampoo carpet cleaning… and some of the “encapsulation chemical companies” are making encapsulating shampoo just for them.

Let’s distill all this information down to practical application. What is the best carpet cleaning system for someone who owns or manages investment property? My best advice is to focus on finding the right company. My criteria for the right company would be:
1.    Choose someone who is certified with the IICRC, 
2.    Someone who uses more than one cleaning technique, especially a combination of hot-water extraction and the latest bonnet-encapsulation.

There will be circumstances that demand both disciplines. For a greasy spill, hot-water combined with powerful vacuum extraction may be the most effective and inexpensive way to remove the majority of the source material. Then, if required, a bonnet method can also be used to provide further “extraction” drying. There will be other situations in which quick turnaround of rental property is required, a bonnet encapsulation method is a great answer. 

When it comes to maintaining carpeting, it’s not just the overall cleaning method that has to be considered. Specialty spot cleaning and deodorization skills must be part of a professional carpet cleaner’s offering. When it comes to spots and spills, there is no one carpet cleaning method or “miracle cleaning agent” that does it all. Wine spills, candle wax drippings, blood, pet urine and chewing gum blobs happen, and their successful removal requires special treatments, advanced skills and experience.

Find a carpet cleaner you feel comfortable with, one who has experience, shows up on time, charges a reasonable price, and is able to enhance a carpet’s appearance. If he practices two systems of carpet cleaning, not just one system, that could be a real advantage.

SERVPRO of Belmont / San Carlos would be pleased to provide carpet cleaning for your residence or commercial facility.

Clayton Barry is a second-generation cleaning expert. He is a partner in one of the largest SERVPRO franchise operations in America, SERVPRO of Belmont/San Carlos and licensed territory also includes Foster City and Redwood Shores.