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Carpet Cleaning Chemicals

The Cleaning Process

A systems approach to carpet cleaning is the most cost effective maintenance method. This involves starting with the mildest cleaning chemicals and process and working progressively toward more aggressive cleaning methods. As an example, a systems approach to vacuuming could involve several pieces of equipment. This should include the use of a suction only vacuum on a daily basis in traffic areas, a beater bar vacuum used weekly in traffic areas, and preferably the use of a pile lifter vacuum on a monthly or quarterly basis to lift the pile and remove deep down grit and soil that are difficult to get out during wet cleaning processes. The importance of regular vacuuming for dry soil removal cannot be over emphasized and should be an important part of every carpet maintenance program.

Similarly, cleaning would involve daily spotting, weekly or monthly bonnet, crystal, foam or powder cleaning, and wet extraction on a once or twice a year basis. The most effective and economical cleaning schedule is one based on the needs of each area and not solely on the type of surface being cleaned.

All cleaning processes involve four basic steps:

  1. Time
    Dwell time for the process and the chemicals to their work.
  2. Agitation
    Mechanical agitation helps to loosen soil and break its bond with fibers.
  3. Chemical
    To emulsify, dissolve and suspend soils so leaving little or no residue on the fiber without damage to the appearance or texture.
  4. Temperature
    Speeds the process and improves effectiveness. Use the hottest water possible for the best results.If any one step is left out the other steps must make up for the deficiency or the overall results will be impacted.

Basic Carpet Cleaning Chemicals

The primary carpet-cleaning chemical is a spotter. This should be used daily to remove spots that show up on the surface of the carpet. Spotters are classified into two groups, general purpose and specialty. General-purpose spotters are water based and safe for any worker to use as long as they follow the instructions on the bottle and don’t apply too much of the chemical being used. A light spray or misting of the solution on a small portion of the spot is the safest approach. If the chemical works in removing part of the spot, then the chemical can be applied to the balance of the spot. Pouring of the spotter often results in over wetting and wasted product.

The second group of spotters is specialty products, used for specific types of spots such as ink, blood, paint, rust, solvents, food dye removers, enzymes, and other products for specific uses. These chemicals are stronger, more dangerous to use and should only be applied by a technician trained in their proper use. As an example rust removers frequently contain strong acids that will etch glass and eat flesh as well as remove the spot. Rust removers require specific application and neutralization procedures to be safe and effective when used.

The third group of chemicals is known as pre-sprays or traffic lane cleaners. These are applied to heavily soiled areas, brushed in and then allowed to dwell (set) for five to ten minutes before the actual cleaning begins. Pre-sprays break down heavy soils so they have a better chance of being removed during the cleaning process. Most general purpose traffic lane cleaners have a higher pH, in the range of 9 to 11, and may contain a solvent such as butyl, although most manufacturers are phasing out the use of solvents. If you are cleaning traffic areas that contain protein type soils such as grease or food, which are often found in theaters or restaurants, an enzyme based traffic lane cleaner will generally be more effective.

The fourth group of chemicals are process specific in that they vary with the system or process being used. As an example, carpet shampoo is used when rotary shampooing a carpet, an extraction chemical is used with wet extraction, and absorbent powders are used when dry-cleaning a carpet. The best advice here is to use a product made or recommended by the manufacturer of the system you are using and to stick with well-known brand name lines. Other chemicals that may be used include defoamers and topical treatments such as deodorizers, anti-stats and soil and stain retardants. It is important to make sure that whatever products you are using are compatible with each other and will have no negative impact on the life, cleanability, or appearance of the carpet. If you have any concerns check with the chemical and the carpet manufacturer before you begin the cleaning process to make sure that the chemicals you plan to use won’t cause a problem or void any applicable warranties.

Trends in Carpet Cleaning Chemicals

The use of environmentally preferable or “green” chemicals is becoming an important issue. Why use a product that is dangerous to workers or building occupants or will do damage to the environment when safer products are available? This is especially important to government agencies, larger corporations and newer companies that understand the value of setting an example and being a good corporate citizen and neighbor.

Chemical use can also impact Indoor Environmental Quality in a building or area. The process of cleaning should remove contaminants from the environment, not add new odors, VOC’s or residues to the surfaces being serviced.

Rules for Chemical Safety On The Job

  1. Obtain, review, and file MSDS sheets on all chemicals used on the job. Require that workers read and follow the label instructions on all chemicals before use.
  2. Provide training for workers regarding the safe use, storage and disposal of all chemicals used on the job. Keep written training records.
  3. Provide and require that personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, goggles and a respirator be used when mixing or applying any chemicals that are considered hazardous to one’s health.
  4. Store all chemicals on lower shelves, not above chest height.
  5. Purchase, store, distribute and use all chemicals in properly labeled original containers.
  6. Double check to see that the cap is secure on every bottle before it leaves your hands.
  7. Don’t mix chemicals.
  8. Measure all chemicals and water accurately. No glug, glug.
  9. Don’t smell chemicals for identification.
  10. Limit your exposure to chemicals. Provide adequate fresh air. Don’t spray to apply chemicals in confined areas without protection. Wash your hands frequently and apply lotion.

Reducing Chemical Costs

Cleaning chemicals represent only a small percentage of a carpet cleaner’s overall costs. The largest cost is labor, followed by equipment and overhead. Chemicals are way down on the list. At the same time, when you write a check to the supplier for chemicals each month, it doesn’t seem like a small cost.

Regardless of the percentage, the cost of chemicals adds up over a period of time and it’s money that could go into the profit column or for other things. Most importantly, it’s a cost that should be controlled and monitored and, in most cases, reduced.

Buy the best chemicals that you can get that do the job. If it costs less, great. However, quality must be your first concern.

Some carpet cleaners use a lot of powder with their truck mounts; they find them more economical than liquids, easy to use and powerful. Other products like spotters and topical treatments they buy in gallon jugs. Even though it would be cheaper to purchase chemicals in 5’s or 55’s, they like the idea of having the original label on every bottle.

Real life demonstrations are very effective in training employees regarding the importance of properly mixing and applying chemicals. For example, take a soiled carpet and apply traffic lane cleaner full strength. Then let one or two technicians try to clean a test area. Mix the chemical 50/50 with water and have them give it their best shot. Then mix it according to the instructions on the label and try it again. When they see that mixing the chemical properly, brushing it in and allowing adequate dwell time is actually less work for them and gets the best results, they understand it. Chemicals need to be mixed and applied as the label states. More isn’t better. Once trainees go through this experience, they realize they have to scrub harder and work longer if they mix the chemical stronger.

Using the correct product for the task at hand is one of the most important things a carpet cleaner can do. If you apply the right product and use it correctly, you’ll use less chemical, less labor and less water. And you’ll do a better job of removing soil. Turning up the meter on the truck mount to add more concentrate when the carpet is heavily soiled isn’t the answer. Using the right product is the best way to improve the end result.

As an example, try using an enzyme pre-spray on traffic lanes in restaurants, because the soil is grease and protein based. One of the best products for this type of soil is Chemspec’s ENZ-ALL.

When cleaning traffic lanes on carpet made of Olefin fiber, use a prespray made specifically for Olefin. In most homes, apply a general purpose prespray to the heavy traffic areas. And in all cases after applying the pre-spray, brush it in and let it dwell for ten minutes before you start cleaning. This will be far more effective than increasing the amount of concentrate metered into the cleaning solution.

Beware of using cheap products that claim to be as good as the brand name lines. Most don’t contain adequate amounts of the more costly active ingredients found in the high quality formulations.

Another thing that drives up chemical costs is waste. A classic example is failing to provide enough pump tank or metering sprayers on each truck. A technician may mix several gallons of prespray for his present job. Then at the next job he needs to apply deodorizer or stain repellent, so he pours the solution he mixed for the previous job down the drain or on the ground so he can use the sprayer to mix and apply a different chemical on this job. This process will be repeated several times each day on each truck if you don’t provide enough properly labeled sprayers.

Use the metered application type sprayers with quick disconnect fittings that attach to the solution hose from your machine. This saves time and errors because the metering is done automatically as the product is applied. Just be sure that the metering tip or head matches the dilution ratio and that the concentrate is mixed properly before being put in the sprayer. If not you’ll be over or under applying and not get the desired results as well as wasting chemical needlessly. Even the best products won’t rinse clean if you apply them too heavily.

Eliminate the mixing of chemicals on the job site, especially powders. Premix the slurry at the shop in five-gallon containers and put whatever number of buckets needed on the truck at the beginning of each day. The same goes for the more expensive products like protectors. Premix them and place them on the truck in ready to use dilutions. This assures proper mixing and application.

More chemical doesn’t mean better cleaning. It’s important to provide each worker with a funnel and a measuring cup and let them know that they are expected to use them as well as why it’s important. Find ways to make the technicians accountable for their supplies. Whoever pays for the products will be the most concerned that they are not wasted.

Prepare small pre-measured zip lock Baggies of powder and hand out a set number to technicians at the beginning of each day. You might also purchase super concentrates and add your own water.

Pre-vacuuming or pile lifting is necessary to remove as much dry soil as possible before you begin the wet cleaning process. This will reduce the amount of chemical required and results in a cleaner carpet with less passes of the wand.

Another way to increase cleaning effectiveness and cut down on the amount of chemical is to use soft water. In some areas of the country this comes naturally. In other areas the minerals in the water that make it hard use up much of a chemical’s power before it ever gets to any actual soil. One way to prevent this is to purchase and install a water softener unit (about $300.00) on your truck or use a water treatment service (about $6.00 per month) to provide a rental tank that can be changed out monthly. You will notice how much less chemical it takes to clean effectively when you use soft water.

The agitation as part of the cleaning process is also important. Using the rotary head extractor or a rotary floor machine as part of the cleaning process will break up the soil so it is easier to remove and this requires less use of stronger and more expensive chemicals. It’s also a good idea to check the pH of the solution coming out the end of your wand on a periodic basis to make sure the chemical injection system is working correctly.

Make sure your equipment is operating properly to get the best results with chemicals. This includes such things as following maintenance and repair guide schedules for daily, weekly and monthly service, and repairing plugged jets and leaking quick disconnects. Other duties include cleaning metering devices so they don’t get gummed up and preventing the build up scale in the heating coils, all of which will lower chemical effectiveness and cleaning results.

Metering systems, although different on each machine, generally work under the concept of gallons per hour of chemical coming out of the jug. It’s important to monitor how much chemical you’re using and to have the system checked on a regular basis by a qualified service technician.

Buy smart. This means purchasing the correct product for the job, watching for promotional sales, plus buying in bulk to get better prices and free shipping. But beware of impulse buying of large quantities of unproven products at low prices.

High quality products may cost a little more; however, they will generally clean better and leave less residue. Lower quality products have lower dilution rates because they don’t contain as much active ingredient. With higher concentration products you use less and get better results.

The most important savings are in labor and time, not chemical costs. Even though chemicals in the big picture are a small part of operating costs, they are a critical part of doing a good job. The better the product works, the less strokes with the wand you have to make, the less water you use and the faster the carpet dries. From the cleaner’s perspective, there is a big difference between two and four strokes after the first couple hours of work.

Other tips include using freshly mixed products, especially when using enzymes. You get the best result when you use a product within 24 hours of mixing.

Tips To Reduce Carpet Cleaning Chemical Costs

  1. Use chemicals that reduce costs by reducing the amount of time it takes to do the work.
  2. Provide ongoing employee training that helps technicians understand how they will benefit when they use chemicals according to the manufacturer’s directions.
  3. Use the right chemical, correctly, for the task at hand.
  4. Buy the good stuff and save dollars.
  5. Buy the cheap stuff and save pennies.
  6. Provide and use properly labeled sprayers for each topically applied product.
  7. Be sure that concentrates are mixed properly and that metering tips match product dilution ratios for what is in the sprayer.
  8. Provide a funnel and measuring cup to every technician and make sure they know you expect them to be used.
  9. Eliminate on-site chemical mixing by cleaning technicians by providing pre-mixed chemical solutions whenever possible.
  10. Use soft water.
  11. Pre-vacuum or pile lift to remove as much dry soil as possible before wet cleaning begins.
  12. Purchase frequently used chemicals in bulk and large quantities for the best discounts.
  13. Use specific purpose traffic lane cleaners, agitate and allow dwell time before you start cleaning.
  14. Join and participate in local and national trade associations.
  15. Keep your equipment in optimum operating condition by providing regular maintenance per the manufacturer’s frequency guidelines.
  16. Use products that are freshly mixed within the last 24 hours.
  17. Purchase highly concentrated products and add your own water.
  18. Stay aware of new products and innovations and don’t be afraid to test something different.
  19. Read industry publications. Attend trade shows and certification seminars as part of your on-going program of self-development.

As professional cleaners we have a responsibly to monitor changes in chemicals, equipment and procedures that can impact the cost, effectiveness and safety of the processes we use to maintain surfaces, areas and buildings.

Industry publications, suppliers, certification seminars, trade associations and Internet web sites are excellent sources of up to date information on carpet cleaning processes and chemicals.