Understanding Odors

February 4, 2005
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To defeat your enemy, you must first understand him.


One of the most common questions asked of the average carpet cleaner is "Can you deodorize my carpet? It smells like a wet dog/litter box/skunk/etc."

Given the correct conditions, deodorization or re-odorizing will be successful. The basis for the "correct conditions" will be the technician's understanding of proper odor-control measures. There are a limited number of corrective procedures that can be used to accomplish deodorization. These include masking, pairing and neutralizing.

Regardless of the procedure used, the source of the odor must be located and removed or contained. Source removal is not too difficult. In the case of the wet-dog smell, a thorough washing of the carpet surface removes the odor source, much as a shower or bath will correct body odor on a person. There will be some body oils from the dog, so use a pre-conditioner with some solvent content and rinse thoroughly. Proper washing and rinsing of the carpet for the wet-dog situation should not even require a deodorizing product.

Locating the source of the odor may require some sleuthing on your part. Get out your black light and your moisture sensor to aid in finding the source if the odor is that of a litter box or urine. Be sure to check walls and furniture for contamination, and remind the homeowner that if the pet is allowed back on the carpet, the odor will also return.

Masking, probably the most common procedure for odor control, is merely the use of a "perfume" or a scented product to "drown out" the old odor with a stronger smelling odor, one that is hopefully more pleasing to the customer. Masking is generally a temporary correction; once the new odor dissipates the old odor returns, unless its source has been dealt with by removal or containment. A plug-in room deodorizer may be the solution in some cases.

Neutralizing involves using agents to change odor molecules by chemical reaction. Hopefully, changing the molecules will remove their odor causing properties. Ozone is often used as a neutralizing agent; however, it is effective only on airborne odor-causing substances and will not have any deodorizing effect on any solids remaining.

Pairing is the process of coupling odor-causing molecules with deodorizer molecules to move them from the air to where they will not be smelled.

Many of the odor-control products in the marketplace today will use two or all three of the above processes. In any case, it is imperative that the tech understands the function of the odor-control agent, and that it must be used according to label directions.

Now, back to the issue of deodorizing or re-odorizing. Some of your customers will feel as if the only way to deodorize is by substituting a pleasant smell for an unpleasant odor. Even if you do your job very well and correct the unpleasant odor, if the homeowner cannot sense a pleasant smell, he or she will think you didn't do the job right.

This is where masking may come into play; mist a little "smell good" into the air and homeowners will feel as though they really did get a thorough deodorizing job.

The process of deodorizing is extremely complex, and reaches far beyond the scope of this article. I just wanted to cover the basics and provide enough information so your cleaning technicians won't get in trouble for promising too much in the way of results. My experience is, many times, you will receive compliments from your customer about how nice the carpet smells even if they never had any odor issues and you are just there to clean. A little odor from your pre-spray, if it is a "friendly" odor such as citrus, goes along way toward ensuring customer satisfaction, and it may even earn you a few referrals. If you'd really like to offer odor control as an additional service, be sure to first get some training.

Keep in mind that one of the easiest ways to assure that your customer's carpet smells nice after cleaning is to "get ‘em clean and get ‘em dry." See ya next month!

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