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Product Review 1: Carpet Cleaning

So, You want to clean your own carpets? or, How to Successfully Clean your own carpets – March 2001

— WESTFIELD: Selecting Rug and/or Floor Cleaning Equipment for residential use necessitates several, immediate decisions: (1) will you be cleaning the rug with a wet or with a dry cleaning method? (2) if a wet cleaning method, will you want to use a “box” machine with a hose and wand assembly; or, will you prefer a “self-contained” unit with an add-on (or, attached) hose (3) if considering a bare floor cleaning unit will you be scrubbing or just buffing the floor? (4) will you need to sand or strip the floor periodically, etc., as well? and most importantly (5) what kind of quality are you looking for in any of the above equipment selections (this decision will greatly affect the quality of the results).

The following section is broken down into a number of parts: (1) Methods of Cleaning Carpets (2) Characteristics and Types of Results to be expected from each method and (3) Procedures for Carpet Cleaning. The last section – #4 – will deal with Hard Floor Cleaning and Maintenance.

(1) Methods of Cleaning Carpets

Carpets can be cleaned by the homeowner using the following methods: (a) shampooing (b) wet extraction cleaning and (c) dry carpet cleaning [today the preferred method is to used a Dry Steam Vapor Cleaner – Ed.].

Shampooing is a traditional method of wet cleaning a carpet whereby a floor machine fitted with a soft-bristled shampoo brush – or brushes – (and, sometimes, riding on a supporting, accessory “dolly” made to control the weight transfer of the floor machine to the carpet) and a solution tank can be used to dispense a dilute rug shampoo/water
solution which is then scrubbed into the carpet with rotary brush(es).
The historic advantage of this method is that a floor machine can also be used for scrubbing and buffing hard floors – thus, one machine has several functions.

The disadvantages are that: (1) the machine does not pick the solution back up out of the carpet – it must air dry (a somewhat lengthy process if an air mover is not used) and (2) specifically, the carpet fiber manufacturers are today recommending against the use of larger, rotary brush(es) because such tend to “flare” the tips of the carpet fiber (makes the fibers “fuzzy”). Some commercial carpet cleaners use a “two-step” process whereby they first shampoo the carpet and then immediately come behind with a wet extraction machine. In this instance, we prefer to see a wet extraction machine used with an attached, horizontally revolving brush mechanism that provides the increased agitation similar to a shampooer but allows the process to take place all at once in one step.

Wet extraction cleaning involves two types of machines for home use – a box machine which uses a hose and a wand or a self-contained unit. On a box machine, the user controls the application of a dilute carpet cleaning solution and uses a wand with a triangular-shaped head with which the carpet is scrubbed back and forth. The solution is sprayed
into the carpet under pressure – the pressure usually is provided by a pump. The dirty solution is extracted back by a vacuum motor into a recovery tank which then can be emptied.

Other accessories such as an upholstery nozzle can be used in place of the wands and rug head.

A self-contained wet carpet extraction machine somewhat resembles an upright vacuum and usually has rotating brush(es) on the bottom to aid in the cleaning process. The unit is moved back and forth and, again, the operator controls the application of a solution which is injected into the carpet under pressure and then extracted back into a
recovery chamber. The brushes help scrub the carpets clean and minimize operator labor. On the better units, an accessory hose is attached whereby the user can clean stairs, cars and upholstery.

A dry carpet cleaning machine is used with a brush or brushes that effectively scrub a dry cleaning agent into the carpet. The dry cleaning agent is usually sprinkled onto the carpet by hand – some units can also dispense the agent from a compartment on the machine. After the brushing process the agent is then allowed to remain in the carpet for
varying periods of time (usually, several hours or so) and is then vacuumed out – usually with the regular household vacuum.

(2) Results of Carpet Cleaning Methods Generally speaking, a wet carpet cleaning method is a more thorough, aggressive method compared to a dry cleaning method. A wet solution can more thoroughly penetrate a carpet; thus, resulting in a more complete result. A few caveats should be noticed:

Most wet carpet cleaning methods employ a chemical based on the alkaline side to effectively clean the average, synthetic carpet and the water used should be hot water. A natural fiber carpet such as wool should be cleaned on the “sour”, or, acid side and the water should be cold. There is also a dry time associated with wet cleaning that does
not apply, per se, to dry cleaning methods. During the dry time oneself should not walk upon the carpet cleaned with a wet method. The dry cleaned carpet, however, can be, essentially, freely walked on with no adverse results even while the dry cleaning agent is still on the carpet.

A wet method is a bit more involved than a dry method – i.e., chemicals have to be mixed, the fresh solution tank on the carpet cleaner filled and the recovery tank emptied as needed.

Care has to be taken with furniture so that a wet cleaning solution does not cause either wood furniture legs to “bleed” stain or metal legs to rust onto the carpet. Thus, the furniture has to be protected with styrofoam blocks or tinfoil, etc. under the legs.

A dry cleaning method has certain advantages: it is bit faster over all; it requires less effort; while there is a “dwell” time involved for the cleaning agent there is, essentially, no “dry” time; and, the carpet can be walked upon at any point during or after application. It should be noted that it is important that a good vacuum be used to effectively remove all the dry cleaning agent.

While a rotary floor machine such as is used for wet shampooing of a carpet can also be used for dry cleaning a carpet, the best dry cleaning equipment is “dedicated” for this purpose and uses a horizontally rotating brush – or, brushes – both to effectively apply the drycleaning agent and to also avoid carpet “flaring”.

3) Procedures for Carpet Cleaning The procedures for cleaning carpet are essentially the same whether shampooing, wet extraction cleaning (we make the distinction of “wet” extraction cleaning because there is a process called “dry extraction cleaning”; however, it is a commercial process and is not in the price range of the average homeowner –
maybe Bill Gates might own such a unit) or dry cleaning. The steps to be followed are listed below:

(a) Vacuum thoroughly to remove all possible loose soil. Spot clean all individual spots and stains with appropriate spot removers. Only clean a spot as clean as the rest of the carpet is dirty – i.e., don’t overclean a spot or you will wind up with a clean carpet and a cleaner spot when you are all done. Prespray the carpet with an appropriate prespray paying special attention to the dirtier traffic lanes. Allow the prespray to “dwell” on the carpet approximately 10 – 12 minutes. Do not let the prespray dry – if it does – prespray that area again before beginning
the final cleaning process.

(b) Clean the carpet with the selected method. sually, the simplest approach to cleaning an area is to break it down into sections, or quadrants. Shampooing involves moving the shampooer across the carpet while dispensing the shampoo solution as needed by means of a dispensing trigger. The carpet is being scrubbed by the rotary shampoo brush(es). The shampoo is designed to foam and pull out the embedded soil. As noted above, the shampoo chemical is allowed
to dry and then later vacuumed. A good shampoo formulation is designed to “powder out” so that no gummy residue is left in the carpet to attract fresh dirt.

Wet extraction cleaning using a box machine involves moving the extraction wand of a box machine backwards over the carpet while dispensing the extraction chemical with a trigger control on the wand. The wand is then moved another two passes back and forth in the same spot to scrub and to dry (the wand is sucking back the dirty solution the entire time). With this method, it is necessary to have a fair amount of solution sprayed onto the carpet as this solution “lubricates” the carpet fibers and enables a free movement of the wand. This is a very labor intensive method of carpet cleaning. As with the shampoo method, a good chemical should not leave a gummy residue in the carpet. Contrary to the shampoo chemical, a wet extraction chemical is specifically designed not to foam. A defoaming chemical is available and necessary for those who are wet extraction cleaning a carpet that has been cleaned prior to that with a shampoo method. Did you ever see a glass of beer foam when the beer was too hastily poured? That is what an extraction recovery chamber looks like when any shampoo chemical residue is extracted at high speed without the addition of a defoaming chemical to the chamber.

(c) Dry carpet cleaning is the simplest method of all. A dry cleaning agent – frequently resembling moist sawdust – is applied/sprinkled onto the carpet and then simply brushed thoroughly into the fiber with the dry cleaning unit (oneself could actually dryclean a carpet by vigorously brushing in the agent with a soft brush on the end of a
broomstick – yeech! too much work). Once dry, it is vacuumed away.

(4) Hard Floor Cleaning & Maintenance Hard floors can be broken down into a number of different types of surfaces – i.e., resilient tile, linoleum, rubber, cork, ceramic, slate, granite, marble, terrazzo and wood. If you have a specific problem or question pertaining to maintaining any of the above floors, please feel free to call us at 908-
232-5723 or to contact us via e-mail ( and we will respond to your inquiry. The intent of this particular article is only to provide information on different methods of cleaning and maintaining carpet or hard flooring.

Depending upon the type of surface, hard floors can be sanded, ground down and resurfaced, stripped, waxed, polished, burnished, etc. For the average homeowner, the maintenance of a hard floor usually involves fairly simple procedures such as cleaning or buffing.

Cleaning/Maintaining hard floors: Wood floors: Most wood flooring today is sealed with a urethane finish. Thus, oneself is no longer dealing with a wood; but, rather, a plastic, surface. This surface can be wetmopped (suggestion: only with a tightly wrung out mop), or, spraybuffed or dry buffed with a floor machine. Since the surface is
literally a hard plastic finish, there is a limitation as to how much further buffing will enhance the gloss with a residential type of unit. We do have available small, easy-to-use commercial-type units that work well on residential wood floors.

Older wood floors sometimes are still maintained with a paste wax. In this instance, the wax is usually applied with a steel wool pad on the bottom of the floor machine. The process cleans dirt and removes some of the old wax while replacing it with new wax and simultaneously buffing the wax to a moderate gloss. As noted above, we do have
available today a small commercial-type floor machine that is excellent for this purpose. If a floor has paste wax on it, oneself really cannot effectively damp mop it – it can, of course, be swept with a broom or dust mop. Essentially, maintaining floors with paste wax is an antiquated pain-in-the-neck procedure.

When wood floors become too unsightly, the only proper remedy is to sand them and refinish them (with a urethane finish). Usually, if the homeowner wants to do this themselves, specific sanding machines are rented for this purpose. However, the commercial-type Oreck Orbiter floor machine we referred to in the immediately preceding paragraphs does an excellent job of sanding wood floors with a minimum of effort and no swirl marks from the sanding disks.

Resilient floors: Resilient floors in a home normally include linoleum, resilient tile and congoleum floors. Such can be maintained with floor machines – scrubbed, polished/buffed, stripped, etc. They can be waxed with the latest acrylic (plastic) and thermo-acrylic floor finishes for a “how much gleam do you want?” look. They are the easiest types of floors to maintain because, when the finish is wearing off, etc. the floor can be stripped and refinished. These floors can be swept, dry mopped, wet mopped, wet scrubbed with a floor machine and buffed/polished.

Stone floors: Stone floors include ceramic, slate, quarry tile, granite and marble. They all can usually be stripped and then have a stone sealer/finish applied almost exactly like a resilient floor. They can be swept, dry mopped, wet mopped, wet-scrubbed, and buffed/polished. Marble and granite can be re-honed professionally with floor machines
equipped with diamond hones to restore the original high gloss. This is expensive – a better idea is to seal the floor with a good stone finish and properly maintain it to prevent the actual stone surface from being worn and dulled.

The above provides a basic primer on carpet cleaning and hard floor maintenance. The subject is vast, and major books and manuals have been written on it all. Please contact us with specific questions and needs and we will respond.

For answers on questions pertaining to cleaning and maintaining carpets or hard floors, visit The Eardly T. Petersen Company at 224 Elmer St., Westfield, NJ; or, contact them by phone at 908-232-5723, by fax at 908-232-8761 or by e-mail at