ICS Magazine

Myths and Misconceptions

May 9, 2003


As I sit and think about my 30-plus years in the carpet cleaning business, I am fascinated by the old wives’ tales, or OWTs, that persist and, in some cases, thrive within the industry.

Consumers make up the vast majority of those asking questions founded in OWTs, questions usually involving misunderstandings from years ago that have passed down through generations. The cleaning professional must deal clearly and directly with the consumer when these questions are asked. If the company representative is able to respond to questions intelligently and correctly, it will boost the consumer’s confidence in your company and help them to select it as the right choice. Non-answers or incorrect answers won’t do much to help them make that decision.

One of the most common OWTs concerns consumers who wait as long as they can before deciding to get the carpet cleaned. When asked why, the answer usually consists of, “My mother/father/grandmother/carpet salesman told me that when you clean the carpet, there is some type of coating that is removed and the carpet will get dirtier faster after it is cleaned.”

In years past (about 20 to 30 of them, and before the introduction of hot water extraction), carpets were cleaned using shampoos formulated from coconut oil soaps, which were quite sticky, and no rinse was performed. These residues were actually powerful enough to wash your shoes. Obviously, the carpets would re-soil very rapidly.

Today we do not use soaps; we use synthetic detergents that dry to a powder or crystal. They are often rinsed with warm or hot water. Wash, rinse and dry means the consumer can have the carpet cleaned when they feel like it.

Another OWT emerges from the consumer with the wrinkled carpet who wonders, “Will the wrinkles go away when you clean the carpet?” Back in the days of double jute-backed carpets and loose rugs with natural foundation yarns, shrinkage was common; carpets would “tighten up” as they dried. On occasion they would shrink enough to tear seams open and pull tackless strips from the floor.

Today, carpets are made with synthetic backing and foundation yarns. Not only will they not shrink, they may actually grow as they dry, resulting in wrinkles or buckles. These wrinkles and ripples are not usually permanent and do not require stretching to correct. If there were no ripples in the carpet when you started cleaning, there won’t be any when you finish drying. Incidentally, if direct-glue carpets ripple during cleaning or drying, it indicates an adhesive problem. A situation such as this may require a visit from a certified carpet inspector to assign blame if you are asked to correct the wrinkles.

This one I hear quite often: “We never walk on the carpet bare foot because the salesman said that the body oils from your feet will damage the carpet.”

I’m not sure of the source of this OWT, but its resiliency proves it is being perpetuated. I’ve personally never seen any reports or testing that proves or disproves this OWT, but I know I would rather deal with body oils than transmission fluid or engine oil tracked in by street shoes from parking lots and roads.

One question I’ve not heard in years is, “Do I have to vacuum the carpet tomorrow to remove the soils that are loosened by your cleaning process?” As the chemistry of shampoos advanced from coconut oil soaps to synthetic detergents, there was a period of time during which shampoos dried to a powder, and loosened soils were agglomerated (gathered) with the dried shampoo components. The consumer would be directed to remove the residues by vacuuming the next day. Curiously, in this rapidly changing world of ours we have come full circle; removing soils by vacuuming after cleaning is becoming an accepted method for maintaining carpets, particularly in the commercial marketplace, only now featuring crystalline residues rather than dry powdery residues.

I hope these bits of wisdom will be of value when the next potential customer starts to ask questions founded in these old wives’ tales. Until next month, see ya!