Take Your Cleaning Skills to the Next Level

May 11, 2010
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Several years ago our carpet cleaning company tackled a warehouse office cleaning job that gave us fits. The entrance of this building consisted of about 1,500 square feet of orange – yes, orange – commercial loop carpet.

Every employee, all 2,000 of them, had to enter and exit over this carpet. We cleaned it every two months, and by the time we got to it, it really needed cleaning.

Our original method consisted of nothing but brute force. We filled the tank on our rotary scrubber with shampoos, pre-sprays, boosters, solvents, and then threw in the kitchen sink.


After a thorough scrubbing we would extract several times with our truckmount. The carpet would look OK when we were done, but it was a lot of work.

Our “happy moment” came when we got a new truckmount with high heat and employed a more complete and effective traffic-lane cleaner. Now we were applying science.

We couldn’t believe the difference these two changes made in both the speed and effectiveness of our cleaning. With a simple pre-spray and high-heat extraction, the carpet came cleaner than it ever had, and in half the time.

Many years ago we coined the phrase, “Where the Science of Cleaning Becomes an Art.” What am I talking about when I suggest that cleaning goes beyond science and becomes an art? It’s about you and the tools you use.

I am not going to attempt to make a clear distinction between the art and science of cleaning because a true professional uses science all the time and practices cleaning as an artisan.

Artisan: skilled craftsperson; someone who is skilled at a craft.

The distinction between a cleaner who uses brute force and one who is an artisan can best be shown in upholstery cleaning. The first corduroy fabric (thick rows of raised pile) I was asked to clean was a disaster waiting to happen. I was not someone who was skilled at the craft.

By the time I was done with my squirting and sucking the upholstery looked like it was a beat up rag ready to go to the land fill. If I had only been trained and understood the need to extract with the grain, and the use of a carding and brass brush, things would have turned out much better.

Through training (learning from those who new more than I did) and careful practice and experience, I truly became an artisan as it pertained to upholstery cleaning. By combining the correct chemistry, tools and techniques, I felt like I could tackle any piece of upholstery no matter how soiled, delicate, or intricate.

Whether cleaning upholstery or carpet, consider the artisan’s approach.

Training

I would like to think that most professionals reading this have their certifications in basic carpet and upholstery cleaning. If not, attend the classes, take the test and become certified. Then continue your education and attend seminars and classes where specialty programs are offered. There is always something to learn.

After training, pick up the chemicals and tools you need from your local distributor and go try it out on your mother-in-law’s carpet and upholstery. She is always very forgiving of mistakes.

Chemicals

I have spent my professional life developing chemicals to make the job of professional cleaning more successful. The application of a particular booster or solvent when cleaning can make a world of difference in cleaning.

Olefin carpets present problems as they have a strong affinity to oils, they “ugly out,” and they will wick back soil upon drying. Specially designed pre-sprays will break the soil and oil from olefin carpet better than your normal pre-sprays.

An acid side rinse is essential in reducing wick back. To double-ensure the carpet looks good after drying and stays that way, consider an after-spray of a specialty encapsulation and anti-resoiling solution.

Body oils and cooking oils mix with newspaper print, pet and kid traffic to create some pretty durable soil on upholstery. For the nylons and olefin fabrics, a heavy-duty pre-spray and hot extraction rinse may do very well.

But what do you do if you don’t know what the fiber is?

A Jacquard weave will often have several different fiber types and could present problems of immediate bleeding, uneven shrinkage, or delayed bleeding that occurs in the last stages of drying when you are long gone. Even some of the “durable” fabrics need the extra boost and cleaning technique that an artisan could add to the effort.

A formula I often used (testing on an inconspicuous area of the upholstery is always a necessary first step) with success consisted of a foaming fabric shampoo, oxygen bleach, buffering agent to reduce pH, and a citrus solvent additive to aid in cutting the oils. This was my preconditioning formula.

Tools

Certainly the equipment or machine you use to extraction is highly important. We could spend a lot of time and ink discussing this, but I fear that many of us have substituted what have been very good upholstery cleaning portables that allowed finesse and control for truckmounts that apply brute force where it is not needed or desired.

We will have to leave this for another day. For now, let’s consider a couple of examples where various accessories and tools can be helpful.

  1. Carpet: Above, we discussed getting Olefin carpet clean. A tool we often used with success was the rotary scrubber. After applying the specially formulated olefin pre-spray we would dampen a scrubbing bonnet (the ones with the green poly stripes in them) with a little bit of the same pre-spray and scrub the carpet. This would give just enough extra agitation to the tips of the fibers that were the dirtiest. Another option: use a counter-rotating dual brush machine to agitate. It is fast and effective.
      Upholstery: I suggested a formula for chemical preconditioning a few paragraphs ago. We now have to figure out how to apply it. If you are concerned about excess moisture – and this is always a concern except on the most durable of fabrics – consider using a natural sponge or a synthetic sponge designed as a substitute. Dip the sponge into the solution and work up rich dry foam. Apply this to the upholstery and agitate it while keeping the moisture penetration to a minimum. Where moisture penetration may not be as much of a concern, use a horsehair brush to apply the solution. The horsehair brush maximizes agitation without distortion to the fabric. Usually a hot acid side rinse is then appropriate, again being careful to minimize moisture left in the fabric.

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