Cleaning & Restoration Association News

The Big and Small of It: A Chemist's Point of View

September 18, 2007
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I’ve always maintained that in spite of all the laboratory testing being performed, there is nothing like the good-old-fashioned approach of having a cleaning formulation tried out by a seasoned carpet cleaner.

R&D works best when a successful carpet cleaner who has worked the gamut of cleaning experiences evaluates the capability of a product. His verdict, with years of cleaning experience behind it, weighs heavily in a formula’s final evaluation. Because of my contact with numerous carpet cleaners, I have observed various approaches to how a carpet is cleaned. It’s amazing to see how innovative carpet cleaners can be when reacting to problems they encounter on the job.

One carpet cleaner I know maintains a portable unit as a back up in case his truckmount develops problems. We use a portable in the lab as a first-step test and rely on it heavily for performance direction. For ease of use and speedy end results, the portable can’t be beat in laboratory R&D.

I’ve had discussions with people whose livelihood depends on a portable unit. Those who know me understand my preference for truckmounts – they have unbelievable performance in temperature and pressure. But there are several advantages to a portable as compared to a truckmount. One of them is gas consumption. With gas hovering around $3 a gallon, those truckmounts eat up a lot of your bottom line, in addition to what you’re spending getting the vehicle to the job.

A few years ago you would have thought someone was crazy if you were told it would cost $100 to fill a gas tank. I don’t know about you cleaners out there, but to me that’s a sizeable sum. When Hank Williams sang “I got a hot rod Ford and a two dollar bill,” I have to believe the man was thinking he’d get farther than half a block.

So it points out easily that a portable has one advantage over a truckmount – it doesn’t require gas – but my friendly carpet cleaner doesn’t stop there. He mentions that in high-rise buildings, which seem to be the trend nowadays, a portable will clean well on the 16th floor and doesn’t require hauling a hose up 16 stories, which can be quite a challenge. No noise, no backbreaking hauling and no potential engine shutdown. It works well not only in commercial office buildings, but in high-rise condos, two or more story apartments, and hospitals (where noise is a big issue).

However, a truckmount connotes business strength. But with that strength comes the cost of operation, up to ten times that of a portable. Some of that truckmount cost would be in the wands, pumps, relays, heat transfers and many other gizmos for its operation. Portables, on the other hand, are lighter weight, easier to maneuver and have considerably lower operating costs.

And truckmount wands have historically been heavy! But recently we’ve seen some modifications as lightweight metals are making their way to the forefront. Titanium has been the buzz lately, but this raises the cost significantly. This lightweight wand is very desirable to large corporation cleaners. Unfortunately, because of its high cost, multi-purchases are often prohibitive.

How does all this fit with the world of chemistry? As I have indicated, when a formulated cleaning product reaches the marketplace, that product has been through extensive R&D. One of our approaches to portable use is to supply that market with liquid products. Utilizing powdered cleaners have a cost benefit for truckmounts, but the portable unit is much more susceptible to clogging tips and lines. I highly recommend the use of liquid products targeted for the portable market. These chemicals are already in solution and mixed, without the possibility of insolubles clogging up tips and lines.

Portables definitely have their place in the carpet-cleaning world. But whether you use a truckmount, a portable or both, the important thing for the carpet cleaning industry is to do the best possible job with minimum cleaning concerns. That’s because you, the carpet cleaner, is really addressing health issues, not just cleaning a carpet, and that raises your status in the eyes of the both your clientele and the business community as a whole. As they say, “You da Man!”

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