Portable Extraction Equipment in the Commercial Arena

October 23, 2002
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A portable carpet extractor is a carpet-cleaning tool comprising a solution tank, a recovery tank, a brush or method to agitate carpet fibers and a vacuum motor. The unit flushes a combination of water and cleaning solution through the carpet and extracts it along with the soil and other particulate in the carpet.

A number of different companies manufacture portable extract equipment that fall within this broad definition, but there are many variables for the maintenance professional to consider when considering a portable extractor. The machines use of an external or an internal vacuum motor, its approach to cleaning and extraction, and its ability to control water temperature are just a few examples. Commercial Floor Care presents an introductory look at four types of portable extraction carpet cleaning equipment and their use, features and suitability for the commercial marketplace.

Self-Contained Extractor
The self-contained extractor is a portable that the general public usually comes in contact with, as the machines can be rented from hardware or grocery stores. Commonly known as a walk-behind (the user controls the machine from behind), a self-contained system is just that, housing the solution system, recovery system, agitation system and vacuum motor in a single unit.

The all-in-one construction of the self-contained extractor provides a certain convenience of use, according to Jeff Fystrom, senior products manager for Tennant Commercial Products, a division of Tennant Co.

"It's only one machine, so it's easy to store, easy to move around, and easy to maintain," Fystrom says. "You can simply pre-spray your carpet, fill your extractor with solution, get the job done rapidly, and store the machine away again."

Typical use of self-contained units includes quick hits and spotting on carpet, as well as for topical cleaning of lightly soiled areas, Fystrom says. Additionally, self-contained units offer the user the ability to get into remote areas of a building without needing to transport additional equipment.

Steam Extractor
The name “steam extractor” is a misnomer, as steam is not used in the machines. Rather, the extractors use several applications of hot water to enhance cleaning action. The water can be raised to very high temperatures, but its usefulness is diminished if it actually becomes steam.

Steam extractors operate on the principle of "speed is everything," according to Hank Unck, vice president of marketing and sales for Steamin Demon.

"The funny thing is that we all like to believe that cleanliness is what everyone is after, what with all the issues about IAQ (Indoor Air Quality), allergens and the like," Unck says. "But I think what happens is, because of time constraints, people are just happy to make the carpet look good for the time they've spent on it."

Steam extractors work by flushing a high volume of hot water and solution into the carpet, then extracting it.

"For building service contractors, where time means money or where a limited number of staff are on hand, you can cut cleaning time in half,” Unck says.

Box Extractor
Also known as a “box-and-wand,” a box extractor is just what it says: a box-like extractor with a wand and other attachments. Box extractors can be light, housed mainly in plastic, or they may be heavy, sporting large reservoirs and bladders for solution and waste, depending on the user’s specific requirements. The machines usually lay flat on four swivel casters or wheels, but some manufacturers tout versions that allow the body to be tipped onto two wheels and be moved like an upright.

“With box and wand units, a user pre-sprays the carpet, then rinses the chemical and soils out with a wand,” according to Bob Robinson Sr., president of Kaivac. “Wands can easily clean corners and underneath furniture, reaching some areas that other machines, due to their construction, may be unable to.”

Rotary-Jet Extractor
Rotary-jet extractors are designed to agitate and thoroughly rinse a carpet with rotating multi-spray jet heads. The machines are usually geared more toward restorative cleaning than basic cleaning, and often need to be hooked up to an external or portable vacuum source.

"Our machines are heavy duty," says Darren Watts, national sales manager for CleanMaster. "Five heads go around at 130 revolutions per minute, making 650 cleaning passes per minute."

Instead of hitting a carpet fiber in only one or two directions, a rotary-jet extractor hits a fiber from many different directions at the same time. Increased agitation and pressure spraying allows for deep cleaning and a better-looking carpet, Watts says.

"Really, cleaning comes down to four principles: time, agitation, temperature and chemical," Watts says. "If you lack one of those elements, you want to increase another. And even if you don't have a heated portable, agitation is the portion where you can most effectively increase cleaning."

Chuck Monson, general manager for Rotovac Corp., compares a maintenance professional using a rotary-jet extractor to a carpenter using an electric skill saw.

"A rotary-jet extractor will do the work for you mechanically,” Monson explains. “You can become a technician more than a manual laborer."

Like Watts, Monson stresses that the units are best used for restorative cleaning, as well as on heavily soiled areas.

"It's more to take those bad traffic areas away, which may only be 30 or 40 percent of the job,” Monson says. “You can speed-clean other areas that aren't as dirty, but if you speed-clean a traffic area, you're not going to get good results. Add a good pre-spray, and rotating heads and rotating spray jets cut through grease like a hot knife through butter."

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