Cleaning & Restoration Association News

Carpet Cleaner or Exterminator?

September 11, 2000
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Basic carpet cleaning chemistry, in its cleaning process, has the ability to eliminate certain microbes by disrupting the environment. A variation in pH, hot water, chemical imbalance, together with conventional hot water carpet cleaning, minimizes the life makeup of a microbe...

We’ve all seen them at one time or another: grotesque pictures of fleas, ticks and mites that make even the most hardened individual cringe at their appearance.

So, what do bugs have to do with carpet cleaning chemistry? Not to disappoint you, but 90% of the carpet cleaning process is to deliver a healthy carpet. The other 10% is to remove surface soils, which I label as cosmetic cleaning. There are some carpet cleaners who counter-claim that thought, because in their opinion, “how do you sell something you can’t see?” Tell that to an insurance agent and he will laugh at you.

Fortunately, a clean carpet is a healthy condition and is an extra plus in carpet cleaning. The bottom line is that a carpet should be cleaned when it’s biologically soiled, and should not be delayed until its surface is soiled. The prime consideration is that carpet cleaning will be promoted for health purposes and not to just clean a carpet.

Understandably, we all use the title “carpet cleaner” because it easily depicts this profession. Mark my words—a new title will be used as we roll into the 21st century. Perhaps ”carpet cleaner” will be changed to “health engineer.” Most likely, this won’t occur in my lifetime.

Eradicating Microbes in Carpet

Microbes, by their count, do inherit the earth. Some of are good and some are bad. Most are harmless. Basic carpet cleaning chemistry in its cleaning process has the ability to eliminate certain microbes by disrupting their environment. A variation in pH, hot water, chemical imbalance, all in line with conventional hot water carpet cleaning, will minimize the life makeup of a microbe.

Essentially, household fabrics have a city zoo of microbial bugs. I’ve come up with some interesting figures about bugs in general: An estimated 80% of house dust consists of “skin fluff.” What I refer to as “skin fluff” is the broken off skin particles that are constantly shed from the skin’s surface. These keratinized cells, which are pushed off by new cells in the dermis layer, a process that occurs about every 12 weeks.

It stands to reason that if skin fluff is only one major constituent, there are other bug attractants in our unhealthy carpet scenario. Free roaming insects that have entered the house, such as flies, mosquitoes, spiders, etc., have either died or left their casings, and will be fodder for some other insect or microbe. This residue will become organic matter that resides almost permanently in the fabric. No vacuum cleaner will ever remove microbial development.

Dust mites, known as Dermatophophagordes pteronyssimus, have been acknowledged as one of the biggest offenders. Measuring in at approximately 0.01 of an inch long, the dust mite enjoys the warmth and moisture of a sealed home—an endless supply of food. Rest assured that this species will have a long and enduring life, until the dreaded carpet cleaner enters the forbidden jungle.

A bedroom could be classified as a kingdom. Frequently, washed pillowcases can easily result in a head count of 10,000 mites. However, poor cleaning practices can easily result in 400,000 mites.

Another zoo animal that many people have encountered is the silverfish, a strange animal that only feeds at night and under the carpet where it’s dark. Once exposed to the light, it scampers off like a swimming fish by oscillating back and forth. Standard carpet cleaning practices will remove it from the premise. Again, high heat along with the proper cleaner will do the job.

There are many methods that can remove various pests of the carpet, but there is one magic bullet common to all carpet cleaners—water. The zoo pests found in our carpet cannot live up to the extremes that hot water can deliver.

Water at temperatures above 150oF will destroy them. Chemicals added to the formula are basically the frosting on the cake that helps in controlling water hardness, surface tension, grease and oil resistance and other benefits. The key factors in pest removal are hot water and pressure. Once they get the heat treatment, they are on the way out.

Questions have come up as to whether soft or hard water would make a difference in pest removal. Neither would be involved in affecting the pests. It’s the heat that literally knocks them out. Hard or soft water importance is based on the solubility of the cleaning chemicals and will determine the cleaning performance. Soft water is based on switching sodium and magnesium/calcium ions that allow for easier cleaning. It has nothing to do with determining biocidal properties on the carpet.

Just as heat is used to purify water from a mountain stream, the same principal applies to safeguard carpet cleaners and customers alike from excessive exposure to bacteria.

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