ICS Magazine

Low-Moisture Cleaning and the Warranty Conundrum

April 14, 2010


Riddle me this: how is the carpet cleaning professional expected to maintain commercial carpets when it seems the carpet manufacturers themselves have said, “We won’t take it anymore!”?

Previous decades have seen such conundrums as “How Hot Is Hot?” on stain resist carpet, “How Clean is Clean?” with cleaning chemicals being systematically banned, and “How Approved is Approved?” with the Carpet and Rug Institute’s Seal of Approval program.

This one is a little more like “Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary, How Does Your Warranty Go?” These days, for cleaning professionals operating low-moisture cleaning equipment, it doesn’t go very far.

Since most professional carpet cleaners focus on residential work rather than commercial, this change may not have had much impact on your operation. In addition, research shows that almost 90 percent of all professional cleaners use hot water extraction to clean carpet, again lessening the impact of warranty changes on the industry as a whole.

For the other 10 percent, however…

Suppose you perform commercial carpet cleaning and maintenance, and you have to maintain thousands of yards of carpet on a regular basis. What cleaning methods will you use to keep that carpet looking good forever?

Trust me, I am not going to fire up a truckmount or portable extraction machine each time a carpet needs cleaning. Hot-water extraction cleaning, while thorough, is too slow and costly for me to use on a routine basis. I use HWE on an “as needed” basis and turn to low-moisture cleaning methods for routine cleaning operations.

Low-moisture cleaning methods appeal to me for two reasons: they are highly productive and cost pennies per square foot to perform. This allows the professional carpet cleaner to contract jobs – specifically commercial jobs – that would otherwise be financially untenable; some low-moisture methods of cleaning allow a proficient technician to clean and maintain upwards of 3,000 square feet of carpet per hour.

I have been in this industry for more than 30 years, and I have maintained tens of thousands of yards of carpet for multiple years using the bonnet method without it ever becoming an issue. Trust me now or believe me later, but commercial carpet can be maintained for years and never really need an extraction cleaning, if all things are properly spec’d.

Here is the heart of the situation for commercial carpet cleaners: carpet manufacturers believe certain low-moisture cleaning methods/processes distort carpet fibers.

I agree. I also believe all methods of cleaning cause distortion and damage to carpet fibers to some extent, starting with vacuuming, the best method by which to accomplish dry soil removal according to the IICRC S100 Standard and Reference Guide for Professional Carpet Cleaning.

The question the professional carpet cleaning community should be putting to the carpet manufacturers is, How would you suggest we maintain all this commercial carpet, given the time and financial constraints associated with maintaining it (off-hour programs, high-rise buildings, water and disposal accessibility, etc.) yet do so without voiding your warranties?

Do we need to tell our clients the facts, in that certain methods of cleaning will void carpet warranties? Should we force them to make the decision of how much to spend, and have them sign a waiver releasing us of liability if they choose a low-moisture method? What are we to do, after having invested thousands of dollars in equipment?

As a professional cleaner, no one would ever accuse you (well, hopefully not) of having control over how often the carpet in a facility has been/is being maintained since it was first installed. Unless you had the contract since Day One and had the autonomy to establish the cleaning procedures, frequency and personnel involved in all facets of carpet maintenance during all hours, that’s not something you had any way of controlling.

What if the warranty in a particular facility has already been voided because your client ignored the cleaning frequency you recommended from the start, following the guidelines of the IICRC S100? What if – shock of shocks – prior to your company getting the contract, the carpet had been maintained by another company that employed a “forbidden” cleaning method? Did they already void the warranty and, if so, are you now free to use whatever method you feel is best suited to the situation? How would you know?

How this all shakes out in the end, when it comes to warranty issues from using low-moisture equipment in commercial settings is, at best, a coin toss. All I can say is, time will tell.

Warranty Information
Shaw Industries: www.shawcontractgroup.com>performance>warranties
Tandus Carpet Mills: www.tandus.com/warranties (at www.tandus.com/maintenance there is a Rotary Machine Prohibition statement)
Mohawk Group: www.themohawkgroup.com/>resources
Interface: www.interfaceflor.com/>products>technical>Installation and Maintenance >Maintenance Specification Guide