Hot, Hot, Hot: Steam Vapor Cleaning Rises to the Top

November 6, 2001
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A cleaner uses steam vapor technology to clean a hard floor.


Vapor cleaning units can be used to clean supermarkets without chemicals.
In the carpet cleaning industry, as in any industry for that matter, business owners and their employees constantly seek ways to make their businesses more profitable. Some carpet cleaners find that extra profitability in add-on services, such as upholstery cleaning or water damage restoration.

For some cleaners, vapor steam cleaning has become one of those profitable add-on services. And it works on virtually any surface, from walls to floors to stainless steel, tile and grout.

"The vapor steamer has allowed me to expand my market area to cleaning Roman shades and other draperies," says Paul Brown, the owner of Certified Cleaning in Santa Rosa, Calif. "I also use it to steam mattresses after hot water extracting them. Stains in mattresses can be easily blasted away. I am absolutely amazed how effective steam is for cleaning and am surprised that more cleaners haven't added this tool to their arsenal."

Vapor steam cleaning uses high temperature water vapor to clean and sanitize a wide variety of surfaces. Typically, a machine heats water, turning it into steam. Since no chemicals are used, the steam - usually heated to between 200 and 225 degrees Fahrenheit - produced by the machine is the only cleaning agent. According to manufacturers, the hot vapor then lifts away dirt that other cleaning methods leave behind.

Steam vapor technology was "invented by an Italian bartender. Every night the bartender had to stay behind to clean the glasses," says Amerivap Systems, Atlanta, Ga., (www.amerivap.com) president Werner Diercks.

Some cleaners use vapor cleaning units on carpet.
According to the story, glasses smeared with lipstick stains were particularly hard to clean. The solution? The bartender cleaned the lipstick-stained glasses with steam from a cappuccino machine, and vapor cleaning technology was born.

"Basically, we use an advanced cappuccino machine" to do this type of cleaning, says Diercks, who believes that vapor cleaning is "always better" than traditional cleaning methods because it doesn't pollute the air with toxic chemicals that people breathe.

How can carpet cleaners incorporate vapor cleaning into their services and why should they for that matter? Rick Hoverson, sales and marketing manager of Advanced Vapor Technologies (www.advap.com), Edmonds, Wash., suggests that carpet cleaners use vapor cleaning as a marketing effort to augment their total package of services and, more importantly, to get that next cleaning job.

Offering vapor cleaning can make a carpet cleaner "better and different than others in the marketplace," Hoverson says. "Let's take what they've got and make it better."

Steve Andrews of Royal Carpet Care in Franklin, N.C., characterizes vapor cleaning units as "a niche tool with unique capabilities" and as "a grossly overlooked piece of equipment."

Andrews, a cleaning consultant, IICRC-certified inspector and upholstery cleaning instructor, says vapor cleaning is ideal for cutting through the grease and body oils found on upholstery. He has used this heat transfer method to remove gum from carpets, to clean ovens and crayon-marked concrete and for upholstery restoration.

When he began using the technology about 10 years ago, Andrews says he didn't advertise the new unit. Instead, he used it as the situation warranted. According to Andrews, the heat produced creates very small water molecules that get into the cracks and crevices that might remain untouched using other cleaning methods.

Phillip Newell, the owner operator of All Star Carpet Care, Grand Haven, Mich., says he didn't expect much from the technology when he first gave it a shot.

"To look at it, you may laugh," he says. "I was skeptical too. But it cleans great. I love to use it in conjunction with my LST on upholstery."

Becky Justice, owner of Justice Cleaning in Clawson, Mich., cites vapor cleaning as a great selling point for landing new clients. She uses steam vapor to clean moldings, walls and grocery store cases. In some grocery stores, traditional cleaning methods have damaged store property.

Because she uses steam vapor technology, prospective clients with similar experiences are more open to using her services. In short, being able to offer steam vapor cleaning gets her business. Furthermore, Justice believes this process has cut her cleaning time in half.

"I don't even own a mop," says Fran Vogt-Strauss, president of Florida-based Robby Vapor Systems (www.robbyvapor.com). Because of her sensitivity to chemicals, Vogt-Strauss cleans her home using a vapor cleaning unit.

Vogt-Strauss also calls steam vapor cleaning an "alternative method" of cleaning. "It's about changing the mindset of the individual who's doing the cleaning," she says.

She says Robby Vapor Systems has been "educating the United States about a concept that's been used in Europe for the past 30 to 40 years." A course in environmentally safe cleaning techniques offered by the company supports this educational philosophy. Developed nearly six years ago with help from Clemson University, the course certifies cleaners in the use of vapor cleaning.

According to Vogt-Strauss, vapor cleaning is ideal for cleaning hard surfaces, such as tile and grout. "It [vapor cleaning] will command a premium price...people need it and have no place to go for the service. There is virtually no competition," she explains.

Nathan Koets, CRS, agrees. The owner-operator of Advanced Restorations, Inc., Grand Rapids, Mich., says his unit is "a great machine," which does exactly what he wants it to do.

Steam vapor cleaning is an investment and, for some carpet cleaners, perhaps a costly one. However, for many cleaners that investment has paid off in more successful, easier cleaning and in client loyalty. In order to offer customers a more comprehensive cleaning package and, more importantly, to become more competitive in an increasingly crowded marketplace, owners of carpet cleaning businesses can find a competitive edge in add-on services like steam vapor cleaning. And for some cleaners, that edge can make all the difference.

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