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Common Conditions Encountered by Carpet Cleaners

April 11, 2005
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If you've been reading my stuff for any time at all, you know I am an advocate of performing the on-site inspection before pricing the job and accepting it.

The on-site inspection provides you with an opportunity to qualify the job, clarify expected results and establish a price. Remember, anything you tell the customer before you begin the job is information; what you tell them after a job failure are excuses. And as well all know, excuses are like noses: everybody has one and they all smell.

Here are five common conditions that you should discuss with your customer before accepting any job.

Ripples, Buckles, Bulges
During the first few years of actual hands-on cleaning, the average cleaning technician will be going through a rather steep learning curve as he or she encounters various problems that pop up. This learning period can be shortened considerably by taking advantage of some of the classroom training available in our industry.

One of the most common problems that arise falls under the heading of ripples, buckles and bulges. On stretched-in installations, this problem is generally the result of improper installation, a failure to properly power-stretch the carpet. If the buckling is on a glue-down installation, it is a result of adhesive failure.

If you encounter this condition on your initial on-site inspection, inform the customer that the ripples will not be corrected by your cleaning; indeed, they may get worse for a period of one to two days. However, the carpet will lay back down when the humidity in the home has stabilized.

The problem is caused by hydraulic pressure; the materials used to attach the secondary backing absorb water during the cleaning process and swell. When this moisture is removed as the carpet dries, the carpet will go back to its original size, and the ripples, buckles and bulges will disappear.

Apparent Soiling
The next most common problem you will encounter is apparent soiling. The term may be used in two contexts. In one case it describes soil that is very visible or apparent. This condition is generally corrected by a thorough cleaning. The second use indicates a condition in which there appears to be soil but there is none.

When dealing with the second situation, which is caused by pile distortion, cleaning will not correct the condition. The customer should be "preconditioned," or warned, before you accept the job. Pile distortion will often occur in areas of pivoting traffic, such as a traffic pattern around a corner or around a piece of furniture. This pattern will appear to be dark when viewed from one direction, and light when viewed from another direction.

Physical Damage
Another common problem you may encounter is physical damage like tears, rips, loose seams, loose edges or burns. If you offer repair services, these become profit opportunities for you. Just be certain to point them out to your customer before you start the job. If you are using any type of rotary agitation, it is best to very carefully approach seams from a shallow angle with minimum of seam overlap to avoid causing or worsening damage.

Filtration Soiling Filtration soiling is a very common problem that may be encountered in any situation, but will be much worse in light-colored carpets. This condition is the result of air flowing through the face fibers of the carpet. It is normally found at walls but may also be found in doorways where a door is usually left closed. I found it last week in the doorway of the utility closet in a town house. The air-conditioning unit was located in the utility closet, and pulled air under the door. Filtration soil is a very fine material often bonded to the carpet by sticky atmospheric residues and thereby presenting a real challenge for removal. If you will not guarantee removal or correction of filtration soils, you will be well served to give your customer advance warning. There are several specialty products on the market formulated for filtration soils.

Mold
One problem that has become a major factor in our lives in just the past decade is mold. Although mold has been with us for centuries, the last 10 years have seen it dragged directly into the spotlight.

If you are not offering mold-related services, you may not see mold problems very often but, even if you offer only carpet and upholstery cleaning, you will encounter mold from time to time. It may be from exterior water intrusion or interior water leaks, and the customer may only refer to it in passing, but it is still on the radar.

A very common cause for mold conditions here in the sunshine state is through the wall or window air-conditioning units, what we call wall shakers. Improperly installed or drained units will sometimes result in slow leaks down the wall and into the carpet, waiting undiscovered until you move a piece of furniture and find a wet floor or wall covered by mold.

The best thing to do at that point is show it to the customer and don't touch it. If you disturb existing mold, you may distribute throughout the areas you are cleaning and you may be billed for its removal. Here's the rule: if you are not qualified to deal with mold, don't mess with it.

Oh, and one more thing: never say oops. An "oops!" is sure to bring the customer on the run. Then you'll have a helper for the rest of the job whether you want one or not.

All right then, that's that. Until next month, see ya!

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