FINDING a carpet- cleaning service is as easy as looking for the letter ”C” in the Yellow Pages. But finding a carpet-cleaning method that works for you might not be so simple.
”There are five different carpet-cleaning methods in use today,” said Kathryn Sellers, spokeswoman for the Carpet and Rug Institute, an industry advocacy organization based in Dalton, Ga. ”All five work, as long as the person doing the cleaning knows what he’s doing.”
Ms. Sellers explained that the five methods include hot-water, dry or foam extraction; rotary shampoo and the absorbent-pad method.
The hot-water-extraction method — what most people mean when they say they are having their carpets ”steam cleaned” — uses a machine that sprays a hot detergent solution onto the carpet, and then immediately vacuums it out.
The drawback to the hot-water method, Ms. Sellers said, is that if it is not done right, the carpet and padding can get soaked, thereby providing a breeding ground for mold and mildew. Also, she said, if too much detergent is used, or if all the detergent is not removed, the carpet will get dirtier sooner. Detergent left in a carpet, she said, serves as a magnet for new dirt.
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With the dry-extraction method, on the other hand, a powdered detergent compound is brushed into the carpet with specially designed machines. Soil particles in the carpet bond to the chemicals and are removed by vacuuming.
The foam-extraction method, Ms. Sellers said, employs the use of a foam instead of dry chemicals and the foam is vacuumed out of the carpet while it is still wet.
With the rotary-shampoo method, she said, the cleaning solution is pushed into the carpet by a machine that uses rotating brushes to work the solution into the fibers. The resulting dirt-filled foam is then removed by wet vacuuming.
Finally, Ms. Sellers said, there is the absorbent-pad, or ”bonnet,” method. With this method, she said, chemicals are sprayed into the carpet fibers and after they have had a chance to work their magic by percolating the dirt up to the surface, the chemicals are removed by a machine with a large round absorbent spinning pad like the one on the bottom of a commercial floor buffer.
In the wrong hands, however, the spinning pad can turn your deep-pile carpet into a puckered moonscape. ”The absorbent-pad method should be used only by a properly trained cleaning professional,” Ms. Sellers said.
And Phil Manwarren is just such a man.
”Our cleaning method is so different from steam-cleaning and shampooing that it isn’t even funny,” said Mr. Manwarren, the owner of the ChemDry Northeast franchise in Clarks Summit, Pa.
With the ChemDry method, he said, the cleaning solution is sprayed onto the carpet where it begins to bubble, thereby ”emulsifying” the dirt and lifting it to the surface.
”It’s like using club soda to get a stain out of your shirt,” Mr. Manwarren said, explaining that for stains in the carpet, the ChemDry company has a whole array of spot removers.
”We have specialized spotters for just about every stain under the sun,” Mr. Manwarren said. ”And the best thing about our system is that we use about one-tenth of the moisture used with steam-cleaning and shampooing. And that means your carpet will be dry in one hour instead of 10.”
Mr. Manwarren said that while prices vary among ChemDry franchisees, his charge averages around 20 cents a square foot.
Of course, not everyone shares Mr. Manwarren’s enthusiasm for carbonated chemical carpet cleaning.
”Chemically cleaning your carpet is like eating spare-ribs and then using a towelette to clean your hands,” said Mel Land, regional sales manager for Environmental Cleaning Systems, a carpet-cleaning company in Valley Stream, N.Y. ”No matter how long you rub, there’s always a little grease left. A hot, wet towel works better and soap and water works best.”
Mr. Land said that when his company cleans a carpet it uses a combination of the rotary-shampoo method and the hot-water-extraction method. When using those methods, he said, it is critical to apply only enough moisture to clean down to the bottom of the fiber, but not so much that the carpet backing or pad gets soaked. He also acknowledged that wet cleaning takes longer to dry than chemical cleaning.
”It should take eight or 10 hours for the carpet to completely dry,” Mr. Land said, adding that drying can be accelerated by opening the windows and using fans to circulate the air or by turning on central air-conditioning if that is available.
Most carpet-cleaning companies — including his — will not move furniture, he said, but they should always put plastic pads or foam disks under furniture legs to protect both the furniture and the carpet itself while the carpet is drying. And he cautioned consumers to beware of companies that advertise ”bargain rates,” which may not be bargains at all.
”You’ll see ads where they say they charge $7.99 a room for steam-cleaning,” he said. ”Then you find out that if you want soap included, it’s going to cost you an extra $2, and if you want a ‘deep-cleaning’ or shampoo, it will cost another $2 on top of that.”
Mr. Land said that his company charged about 15 cents per square foot for shampooing and steam extraction.
It is also possible, of course, to clean your carpet yourself.
”We’re finding more and more homeowners renting or buying commercial-grade machines for use in the home,” said Vince Marchetti, president of Cherokee Equipment, a carpet-cleaning machine distributor in West New York, N.J. ”You can save a couple of hundred dollars a couple of times a year by cleaning your own carpets.”
Mr. Marchetti, who provides in-the-home demonstration and training for customers who purchase his machines, said that if a homeowner is careful, he or she can get the same results with a $600 machine that a professional carpet-cleaning company can get with machines that cost as much as $4,000. In most cases, he said, homeowners will rent or buy steam-extraction machines that have a sprayer and a triangular-shaped plastic wand at the end of a hose that is used to vacuum up the solution as it passes through the carpet fiber.
”The key to getting your carpet clean is pre-treatment,” he said. Pre-treatment, he explained, is generally needed to remove individual stains and soiled areas from a carpet. ”Pre-treating your carpet is like pre-soaking your dishes. It allows the cleaning solution to eat through the caked-on dirt.”
Once stains have been addressed, Mr. Marchetti said, the carpet should be cleaned using the ”aggregation” approach — that is, by pushing and pulling the cleaning wand over the same area several times, making sure to finish up by extracting as much moisture from the carpet as possible.
carpet cleaning methods at homeMs. Sellers, of the Carpet and Rug Institute, added one note of caution for do-it-yourselfers: ”Most homeowners think that if a quarter-cup of cleaning solution is good, then a half-cup is better,” she said. ”That is human nature, and it is totally incorrect. It’s one of the main reasons we don’t actively encourage do-it-yourselfers.”