Cleaning & Restoration Association News

Carpet Cleaning Basics: Odor Control: Service With a Smile

February 1, 2007
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Odor control is a service easily offered along with carpet cleaning, and it can be very profitable. There are two general steps to effective odor control: remove or contain the source of the odor, then deodorize.

Identify the source or you won’t permanently remove the odor.


Attempts to deodorize without first removing or containing the source of the odor will be temporarily successful at best. In order to remove the source of the odor it is necessary for the technician to locate and identify it. In some cases this easy and in others it may be quite difficult. Especially in urine-related situations, it may be quite difficult to locate the source of the odor and the extent of contamination. You may find the main spot and miss another one on a wall just a few feet away.

Unless you’ve addressed the entire source with proper corrective actions, the odor will return. If dealing with pet-related contamination, identifying the source may involve removing carpet to determine extent of contamination of pad and subfloor. Although some cases may require only a moisture probe and an ultraviolet light to determine the area and scope of correction, the time spent ensuring that all odor sources have been corrected will pay off as the job progresses, helping prevent costly callbacks to address spots that were not found on the initial site visit.

Once you have determined the areas affected by the odor-causing contamination, you can begin to plan the required procedures and assemble the necessary resources. In some instances of light odor, which develops in some carpets from atmospheric contamination, the actual odor-generating contamination may be physically removed by simply cleaning the carpet. Some cases may require containment of odor-causing residues by using a chemical sealer, e.g. extensive urine contamination in a wood subfloor.

If the odor is caused by a bacterial contaminant, disinfectants may be necessary. Disinfectants fall under the control of the FIFRA (Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, Rodenticide Act), and must be used only as specified on the label, and only on surfaces specified on the label.

After correcting and controlling the odor source, it is necessary to eliminate the odor itself. There are several mechanisms commonly used to deodorize, including masking, pairing, and neutralizing.

Masking is simply introducing a newer, stronger odor to cover up the remaining malodor until all odor generation has been halted by the systems previously put in place. Now that the odor source is corrected, a simple air exchange will keep odor from reaching an offensive level. Odor removal in large areas may require sprayers or foggers for efficient broadcast of odor-control materials.

Pairing is a process that involves the pairing or “coupling” of molecules in such a manner as to eliminate certain odor-causing molecules thereby removing unpleasant odors. As in masking, pairing may require the use of sprayers and foggers for effective distribution of odor-control substances.

Neutralizing offensive odors may be accomplished by proper utilization of the aforementioned masking or pairing processes, and may be dictated by the details of the particular challenge at hand. Some odor-control products on the market (re: compounds) utilize two or three systems. Some, however, are very specialized and are effective only on specific types of odors. The tech should have sufficient knowledge of odor-control theory to select the proper agent for each situation. If there is not enough information available from the product label or the MSDS sheet, take the time to call the technical department of the product manufacturer for assistance.

Having identified the malodor source and determined the proper course of action to correct the problem, you must now decide how to apply the odor-control agents. Remember, to be effective, the odor-control agents must come in contact with the odor-causing materials.

The method of application selected will depend on the type and severity of the odor. Most odor-control agents, such a disinfectants, antimicrobials and neutralizers, are liquids and may be either injected, sprayed or fogged, depending upon the area to be treated.

There are several sprayers available in the market place that use industrial-size needles to attack odors present in subsurface areas such as carpet pad/cushion or inside sheetrock walls. Compression sprayers or electric sprayers will easily cover large areas like carpet faces and exposed backings floors or walls.

Various types of foggers are effective in deodorizing air space or for treating the unexposed back of a carpet while still in place on the floor. Wet fogging of subsurface area of carpet utilizes snail-type drying fans.

Ozone gas can be helpful in deodorizing large volumes of air space by oxidizing odor molecules present in the air, but may not be too effective at oxidizing solids left on affected surfaces. Ozone should only be used in non-occupied areas with proper warnings affixed to entry and exit doors.

If after all of this you are not able to successfully correct a malodor situation, it is usually due to less-than-complete removal or containment of the odor-causing materials or improper selection of the deodorizing agents. Urine contamination in carpets or upholstery, and on or in walls, can produce some pretty pungent odors. Properly locating the entire source usually involves disengaging the carpet from the tackless stripping to inspect the backing, the pad/cushion, the subfloors and even the walls with tools such as moisture probes or long-wave UV to establish the extent of the contamination.

Once located, controlling the source may involve sealing or painting the floor, walls, and other porous surfaces. It may also require replacing or decontaminating the pad/cushion. Neutralizing with the proper chemicals and cleaning the backing and face of the carpet should remove odor-causing residues. Final correction of malodor may involve introducing disinfectants and masking agents either in the cleaning solution or with a sprayer or fogger, followed by reinstallation of carpet and pad/cushion. The correction of urine-odor problems requires complete location and treatment of odor source for successful deodorizing. It is a good idea to attend an IICRC odor-control class for a much more complete discussion of what I’ve mentioned here.

One final note on odor: if the odor problem is related to mold or mildew, it is best to walk away unless you have completed a mold remediation class and are properly trained to address the situation.

Odor control can be a lucrative add-on to your cleaning business if you invest the time and dollars for proper training. Without the training, it may lead to big dollar losses from unsuccessful attempts. Just remember to keep on learning! It will pay dividends in the end. If you liked this article, circle 137 on the Reader Inquiry Card.

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