Cleaning & Restoration Association News

I'd Do Anything But Vacuum

You have probably heard the phrase before. But would you believe that the majority of carpet cleaners have a propensity to avoid vacuuming?

Vacuuming is one of the most important pre-cleaning treatments carpeting can get. In real estate it's "Location, location, location." For carpet cleaning, it's "Vacuum, vacuum, vacuum."

We all know about how bad the air can be outside, particularly from gas fumes, pollen dust, diesel oil particles, and wood-burning fireplaces. They all contribute to the outdoor pollution problem.

Well, prepare yourself; at times that outside air could be better than the air you breathe inside your home. It's very possible that various pollutants can be higher inside than on the outside. We aren't talking moderate numbers but, on occasion, levels 10 to 100 times higher than outside. "How so?" you ask. Simply put, based on energy conservation demands, some homes have been corked and sealed up tighter than last year's New Year's champagne bottle.

Thank goodness for carpeting and the role it plays in tying down the cycle of home pollution. It's a well-known fact that carpeting will hold airborne contaminants as well as surface dirt, and that the most practical way to remove them is by vacuuming. By removing surface dirt with a vacuum cleaner, you not only look good, but you look like you know what you're doing. And think about it: that vacuum bag full of surface soil would have to be converted to mush in order for your super-dynamo truckmount to be able to extract it from the carpet.

Vacuuming is a process that makes carpet cleaning easier, but how efficient is it? One carpet cleaner I spoke with advocates vacuuming so strongly that he actually sells vacuum cleaners to his clients. Once the homeowner understands the importance of vacuuming, he says, she becomes a candidate for a potential sale. And we're not talking about a little extra pocket change; this particular cleaner explained how he put two daughters through college on vacuum cleaner sales alone.

Next up, a trip to Wal-Mart. This was quite the experience, as there were 15 different vacuum cleaners sporting a wide range of prices. But what really caught my eye was the large assortment of vacuum cleaner bags, each with different labels stating the bag's efficiency. Some bags were as low as 35 percent, others as high as 98.7 percent. There were also a series of HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Allergens) bags.

One of my approaches for studying different vacuum filtration systems was to obtain a computerized particle counter to measure size distributions. Specific weights of chemical powder were applied to low-pile carpet, and the carpet was then vacuumed. I recorded the results of the ambient air before and during the operation of vacuuming to measure the differences of the filters as well as the distributions in air particles. The results varied; however, the computer readouts showed results that were more or less expected.

The results show that a standard economy paper filter is 66 percent less efficient, on average, than a HEPA filter. Basically, you get what you pay for. But it's nice to know that the efficiency claims on those labels are valid. The bottom line is, pre-vacuuming is an essential function for carpet cleaning, and HEPA filters should be used at all times for minimum airborne particle size. Surprisingly, vacuum cleaners do not contribute the excessive number of particles to the air that I had anticipated. With all the forced air noise that comes from a typical vacuum exhaust, the number of airborne particles at 1-micron size ranged from 400 to 600, compared with 1,200 to1,600 particles outdoors in the same size range.

When on-site, explain to the homeowner that she should have mats to trap soil at all entry points into the house. Next, explain the benefits gained through vacuuming, including reducing airborne particles before the soils become embedded in the carpet. You are there to improve your customer's home and health, which makes you, the carpet cleaning professional, that much more important.

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