ICS Magazine

ICS 50th: John Sales

February 4, 2013

John Sales is the founder of Steamaction International.

In 1956, I was 13 years old and cleaned rugs on Saturday at a rug cleaning plant. Back in those days, we would use a rug beater to beat the back of the carpet to knock out and loosen the sand and grit. We then turned the rug over and vacuumed the rug with a Hoover-type vacuum. The rug was scrubbed with a rotary shampoo machine, then we ran it through a washer and ringer, which flushed the rug and pressed out the moisture. The rugs were then hoisted in the plant to dry.

When I was 19, I started a rug cleaning company to clean rugs in the home. At that time there was a new synthetic called Rayon Viscose, which became popular for rugs in the home. A few years later, they started installing Rayon Viscose and wool carpet wall-to-wall. At a later date, new synthetics like Nylon and Acrylon were introduced. Some of the challenges were to get the new synthetics clean, especially Acrylon. 

I invented a machine called Steam Injection, which was a large pressure cooker with an electric heating element. To our knowledge, it was the first true steam cleaning machine producing 212º heat under pressure. We would plug in the machine and get the water boiling hot and inject it into a rotary scrubber. The combination of a rotary scrubber and hot soapy water cleaned carpets better than anything I had ever seen. I would then vacuum the carpet with a wet-dry vacuum. 

A few years later, a company came out with the first portable extractor. It weighed about 200 pounds and had a drag tool to extract the water. Plastic or fiberglass machines came along and replaced the heavy stainless steel portables. 

I started a company by the name of Modern Carpet Cleaners in Denver, Colorado. There, I would pile lift the carpet with a pile lifter vacuum, then rotary scrub with steam injection. The next step was to rinse the carpet with a portable extractor. We would spray down a magic potion called Dual Delay Carpet Protector, which did nothing except put Bentonite Crystals into the carpet. Bentonite crystals were a very refined clay – or in other words, dirt. It had an absorbent quality and adhered to the soil in the carpet. The housewife would vacuum the carpet at a later time and her vacuum would pick up the refined clay and soil. This resulted in a four step system – pile lift, rotary scrub, extract and protect. 

We were known as the most expensive carpet cleaners in Denver, cleaning for doctors, lawyers and business people and charging the exorbitant price of 30 cents per square foot.  Our quality was second to none and we grew the company to the most profitable carpet cleaning company Denver ever had. 

At 27, I sold my company and went into the manufacturing business under the name Steamaction. I developed a carpet cleaning machine for apartment owners and homeowners where you could hook up to the kitchen sink, turn on the hot water, inject chemicals through a wand, then spray and vacuum the carpet with a wet/dry vacuum. I also developed portable carpet cleaning machines with clear tanks where you could see the clean and dirty water. I franchised this process and sold several hundred units.

Over the past 50-plus years, I have seen the rug cleaning industry become the carpet cleaning industry and the restoration industry. There have been four people who have made significant contributions to these industries: Gene Bates, Dr. Aziz, Dr. Michael A. Berry and Steamaction.

A guy by the name of Gene Bates developed a diesel-powered truckmount called the “Big Red.” I went on to develop a diesel truckmount called the “Big Blue.” Our first Big Blue is still in existence and still runs. I quickly found out that most cleaners could not afford a big diesel powered truckmount. I went on to develop gasoline-powered truckmounts which were more reasonable in price. 

Dr. Aziz, who now owns his own company, developed some of the best cleaning solutions I had ever seen while working for Chemspec. Dr. Aziz’s work in the chemical industry developed micro-emulsification, the blending of natural solvents like orange turpines with cleaning solutions. The result of this process in removing oily type soils from the carpet was a great improvement.

Dr. Michael A. Berry introduced his book Cleaning for Health, which was an inspiration to our industry. After studying his book carefully and researching his private and confidential scientific findings on bacteria growth in carpet, I came to the conclusion that we must not only get the carpet appearance clean, but we must get the carpet biologically clean. An example of the impact of his research is in water temperatures. The cleaning temperatures have risen from tap water to a controlled 240-280º high temperature which biologically cleans the carpets and removes oily type residues and soils more efficiently. 

In order to obtain high temperature cleaning, Steamaction developed and held the patent on the first heat exchangers. Heat exchangers rated at 12,000 psi and operating up to 280oF have taken the place of kerosene and propane heaters, reducing fire hazards. The introduction of steam injection, as mentioned earlier, changed the industry from hot water extraction to true steam cleaning at the wand. Steamaction’s truckmount design diverted heat away from engines, extending the life of the equipment, and diverted heat from combustible fuels, improving safety. Our truckmounts get the fibers physically and biologically clean, removing soil and moisture in such a way as to allow the carpets to dry in minutes instead of hours. Our chemical additives remove living organisms out of the carpets safely with no environmental impact.

The way I see the industry’s future is a combination of technologies. Our company is already combining the latest technologies in truckmount cleaning, earth-safe chemicals and cleaning tools that lead the industry to higher standards in equipment, in the environment and in consumer health.