Carpet/Rug/Upholstery Cleaning

Low-Moisture Carpet Cleaning: Where Does the Dirt Go?

On low moisture applications, where they make sense and what to use during the process

April 3, 2013

If you have incorporated encapsulation cleaning – a form of low-moisture cleaning – into your professional offerings and used it on your customer’s carpets, you may have asked yourself where the dirt goes. It is only my opinion, based on my own studies, but I would suggest a fair amount of the soil stays in the carpet. I have performed encapsulation cleaning on soiled carpet with different types of machines and chemicals, and then performed the required vacuuming with a quality vacuum and an empty bag. The resulting soil picked up in the bag was less than impressive and certainly much less then when I cleaned the same carpet with extraction cleaning and dumped the soil down the toilet. 
So when we incorporate the methods of low moisture cleaning into our offerings, are we removing as much soil as with extraction cleaning? Absolutely not! Should we then be offering this sub-standard dirt removal system? Absolutely yes! 

It was exactly one year ago that I wrote on low-moisture cleaning in this magazine. I talked about the equipment used such as the counter-rotating brush machine, triple-head planetary rotating machine, single disc rotary, and the op/oscillating pad machine. This time, I want to talk about low moisture applications, where they make sense and what to use during the process.
Here are some of the reasons to offer low-moisture cleaning:
  • Wicking, browning or discoloration has appeared when using hot water extraction.
  • The carpet is so impacted with soil that hot water extraction only makes it look worse.
  • High production capabilities – more square feet cleaned per hour.
  • Low up-front costs for the professional and a lower cost to the customer.
  • Quick dry times: Anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours.
  • Simple process that is easy to train.
  • Excellent interim cleaning method between extraction cleaning.
  • The carpet may actually look better as compared to hot water extraction.
Low-moisture cleaning isn’t always just encapsulation cleaning. It can involve hot water extraction as well. The second and last bullet point above may be able to be solved by using a combination method with results exceeding what extraction or encapsulation may do independently.

Hybrid System 

A professional carpet cleaner invited me to a commercial job that had previously given him problems. The carpet was an abused, dense low-pile commercial glue down. On the previous restoration cleaning he had extracted it, but it had so much impacted soil that wick back was a problem. On this cleaning, we decided to apply the following low-moisture hybrid system.
  1. We pre-sprayed with an aggressive, high pH solution. We put just enough on to wet the top two-thirds of the carpet.
  2. We ran over it with a counter-rotating brush for extra agitation.
  3. We did a single pass drag wand extraction. The trigger is only held on for one extraction pass. This is to keep the solution in the top two-thirds of the carpet and out of the backing were the soil is condensed.
  4. We then sprayed an encapsulating protector/anti-wicking solution, again only wetting the top two-thirds of the carpet.  
  5. We followed with a dry bonnet attached to a rotary machine. We worked with cotton and microfiber bonnets and both seemed to function equally well.
Did we get all the dirt out of this carpet? No! (Frankly, removing all the soil from this carpet was impossible.) Did the carpet look good? The business owner was very impressed and so was I. Did it stay clean? Yes, much better than any of the previous cleanings. 

Cleaning Made Easy

I taught a class on encapsulation cleaning a few months ago. We demonstrated encapsulation only cleaning using the counter-rotating brush and then combined encapsulation and a dry compound. The dry compound is a saw dust imbedded with cleaning chemicals. In this case “dust” is the wrong word because the wood fiber is actually controlled to a specific size so there is no dust and no embedding of very small particulate into the carpet. I have been pleasantly surprised at the cleaning ability and ease of use of this reinvented product. 
I learned a new technique from one of the class members that really impressed me. As we were about to demonstrate the encapsulation method on some soiled carpet, this young man suggested that I try his method since this carpet was heavily soiled with a lot of dark spots and stains. As we would normally do, we sprayed the carpet with the encapsulation cleaner, then my student took the dry compound and put a light covering over each of the spots. We then went over the carpet as we normally would with the dual-counter rotating brush. The results were amazing. All the spots had disappeared. We let the carpet dry for about 20 minutes and then took the Brush Pro fitted with the renovator capture trays and ran over the carpet again. This action is better at picking up encapsulated soil, sand and embedded grit than any vacuum I have ever used (including pile lifters) and it picked up all the dry compound. 
When there is a spill or situation that causes a spot on the carpet, there is likely to be more staining residue in that area. The added benefit of the dry compound in this case was to absorb the excess staining material much more efficiently than the liquid encapsulation product alone. 

Interim Cleaning

Indeed, encapsulation cleaning with just about any quality machine and chemical is faster and easier compared to extraction cleaning. The idea of interim cleaning with this system is to keep the carpets looking good in between extraction cleaning. It is no longer necessary for our customers to have their carpets looking great after a restorative cleaning just to have it “ugly out” over the next weeks and months until it is restored with heavy extraction again.  
I have noticed more and more commercial carpet that stays relatively clean looking all the time. Using a combination of deep cleaning extraction, followed by a fluorochemical protector and then maintained with two or three encapsulation cleanings before the next extraction, a carpet will stay clean and more sanitary for the long haul. The commercial environment is much improved for those who work and visit there while keeping the cleaning budget intact with fewer expensive extraction cleanings along the way.  

Moisture Control

Most low-moisture systems are used on commercial carpet. I wanted to mention a method I am seeing more residential cleaners deploy to control over-wetting and slow drying. Their first step is to pre-spray the carpet. They are careful to control this step, only putting down enough to dampen the face fibers. They then agitate and pile brush using the counter rotating brush machine fitted with the renovator capture trays. This maximizes the effectiveness of the pre-spray through agitation and picks up an amazing amount of loosened soil. They then find their extraction step to be quicker and easier, while using less water to flush the soil. They report great cleaning results and carpet that is drying quicker.   
I questioned the cleaner’s ability to remove soil with the Brush Pro after pre-spray as opposed to dry soil removal previous to pre-spray. They said they have tried both systems and swear they get a “ton” out following the pre-spray, while saving a step doing it. You may want to try it yourself  so you can be the judge. 
Our customers want the soil removed from their carpets and they want the carpet to look clean, to boot. While low-moisture systems may not remove as much soil as extraction cleaning, they can be very successful when it comes to a “clean look.” Whatever your use and motivation for employing a low-moisture system may be, I hope you will find it rewarding and profitable. Keep up the good work!

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