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Touching on Odors

February 9, 2006
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A recurring odor can make you want to pull your hair out.


While a comprehensive article on odor remediation would take up much more space than I'm allotted, I'd like to touch on some of the basics regarding the essential and potentially lucrative add-on service of odor control. Call it "Odor Control 101."

I use the terms 'potentially' and 'add-on service.' The term 'potentially' is inserted in the aforementioned sentence because, sadly, many carpet-cleaning companies do not charge a penny for basic deodorization. It's included with their cleaning. If I had a dime for every coupon I've come across boasting of "Free Deodorizing," I'd be sipping margaritas in Cancun right now. Let me clarify.

Misting an air freshener after cleaning is a fabulous tool, and makes for happy repeat customers. Remember, in their minds it's clean when it smells clean. When talking about deodorizing, I am not referring to this final step. We never charged a penny extra for that squirt of cherry or spice following a cleaning. Of course, many refer to this as "free deodorizing." It is not deodorizing, no more so then that Glade plug-in you have in your wall socket. It may mask odors temporarily, but it is not a form of odor remediation.

Many years ago, a local carpet cleaner asked me if I'd like to help out on a large residential job consisting of several rooms of furniture and carpet cleaning. It was a slow winter month, so I agreed to join the party. After completing the job and reeling in my hoses, I went back into the home. My partner for a day was spraying a pleasant-smelling lemon concoction in the air using a small trigger sprayer. I read his final invoice, which stated "deodorizing and disinfecting included."

I asked him if he had already performed this service, perhaps while I was outside? He responded that I was standing right there when he misted the lemon concoction. In fact, he neither deodorized nor disinfected, but simply masked the air with a nice after spray. The homeowner was happy, and he got paid for a job well done. In this particular case, there weren't any strong odors present, but he did (unknowingly, I might add) misrepresent a service as something it wasn't. Education is knowledge, and knowledge puts more dollars into your business, which transfers to your bank account!

In short, organic-based odors are caused by bacteria growth. Pet (and sometimes human) urine, body odor, food (the homeowner who rarely cleans, you know the one), etc., require an odor 'cide'; in layman's terms, a disinfectant. Bacteria can only be destroyed by disinfecting or sanitizing. This can be accomplished by spraying carpeted or upholstered surfaces with a solution that is labeled as a disinfectant. Many have EPA registration numbers. Again, this is not a general deodorizer, and you should be charging for this service. Sometimes, especially in the case of pet urine, the source has permeated the carpeting and padding as well as the subflooring. While there are injection methods available, in most cases the carpet has to be pulled, the padding replaced and the subfloor treated and sealed. This is a big job that requires considerable training.

Then there are deodorizers known as pairing agents. In short, pairing agents, also commonly referred to as neutralizers, are found in general deodorizers. A pairing agent chemical will combine (pair. Get it?) with malodor molecules and essentially neutralize them, canceling them out. These are applied before and/or after cleaning, and are most effective for general household odors. These chemicals are available in a wide variety of scents. Again, most cleaners don't charge for this service. You should!

I'd strongly recommend taking a course, when available, in odor remediation. It is a lucrative and often misunderstood procedure required daily in our trade.

On a side note, this will be my last "Notes From the Trenches" column. As some of you may know, I'm no longer in the trenches; after 23 years, it's time to move on, though I will be remaining in this wonderful industry in another capacity. I've enjoyed these past four years with ICS, and I will still see many of you at various trade shows and events! Happy carpet cleaning!

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