In an earlier blog I explained how I survey and price a carpet cleaning job so this time I shall explain the process of the actual cleaning. The technique explained here is hot water extraction (often called steam cleaning). Other methods of carpet cleaning are equally valid but this is the system used for almost all domestic cleaning is recognised as being the method that achieves the deepest clean.
Before I leave for the appointment I will read the notes taken at the survey so that I am clear in my mind about the processes, solutions and equipment I will use. I will also take a copy of my quote (in case of dispute) and any other notes that are relevant.
The first stage is all about preparation. Establish with the customer that pets and young children will be kept clear of the working area. Move any items into another room if possible and confirm which pieces of furniture will be moved and which will not. I will also assemble my equipment in a neat and organised manner so that it is all to hand.
Remove dry debris.
Vacuuming. Easy isn’t it and in most homes it is done when needed. Well I do it again. A professional grade vacuum will outperform most vacuums in the home and it is an opportunity for me to look at every bit of carpet. As well as pick up all the coins, remote controls, toys and other items that live underneath furniture. As well as removing dust and grit this vacuuming also helps lift the pile with a brushing action.
Lets go back to the survey when I established what fibre the carpet is made of and also think back to our schooldays and the ph scale. Acids are ph1-6, ph7 is neutral and ph8-14 is alkaline. Most cleaning products are alkaline as they need to tackle grease and oils.
Wool fibres are damaged by all but the mildest alkaline solutions so a specific Woolsafe approved cleaning product is used where soiling levels allow. If the soiling is too much for the low alkaline product then I can use stronger solutions but will need to correct the alkalinity at a later stage.
Man made fibres are much more resilient and I will match the strength of solution to the level of soiling. Ph levels of up to 11.5 are acceptable if the need dictates.
Pre-spray is often not necessary on all of a carpet, so I focus on tackling the footfall areas and any specific marks. It helps if the solution is hot but this is not essential.
Agitation is the cleaners word for giving the carpet a good scrub. If the fibres will tolerate it brushing the carpet helps work the pre-spray around all the fibres, loosens any stuck on dirt and further lifts the pile of the carpet. The brush can be a mechanical rotary machine or hand held. The choice will depend on carpet type as well as room size and aversion to hard work on the part of the carpet cleaner. (Brushing the carpet in two or three houses a day is quite tiring!)
Now the pre-spray is applied and agitated it is time to leave it to do its work. This can be anything from a few to fifteen or more minutes. A good time to have a cuppa and get your breath back following all that brushing. If your cleaning more than one room you can vacuum and pre-spray room two whilst waiting for room one. Being well organised can save a considerable amount of time. Hopefully enough to have that cuppa.
So far everything has been preparation for this stage. Hot Water Extraction (often called steam cleaning) is the process of spraying a cleaning solution into a carpet under pressure and then vacuuming it out almost immediately. The solution will rinse the fibres free of the pre-spray, the dissolved dirt and oils and loose debris.
Back to the survey notes. What is the back of the carpet made of? Most carpet is secondary backed and knowing what type is very important. Hessian type fibres, called jute, are natural and readily absorb moisture. This causes them to swell and the carpet can shrink. If the backing is man-made however too much hot moisture can cause the carpet to expand and ripple.
A carpet cleaner will also factor in the face fibres. Wool absorbs approximately 18% of its own weight in water, which helps prevent the backing getting wet. Man-made fibres don’t absorb water and so don’t stop it getting to the backing.
How much solution to use, at what temperature and how fast to move the cleaning head is all part of the process determined at the survey. Two or three light passes will be safer than one slow heavy handed pass.
Which solution to use is important. Remember our heavily soiled wool carpet has been cleaned with a middle or high alkaline. Using a mild acidic rinse helps neutralise the alkalinity and will leave wool feeling soft to touch.
It is also perfectly acceptable to use a mild alkaline detergent to clean the carpet at this stage also if its type is suitable.
Some cleaners treat specific spots or marks before the extraction. Some do it afterwards. I prefer to do it afterwards as the normal cleaning process may remove them first go. Specific marks could be make-up, paint spills, urine or beer stains. Blu-tac is common in childrens rooms. A well-prepared cleaner will have a range of acidic, alkaline and solvent based cleaning products with a range of scrapers, blotters and cloths to deal with most stains. Another of my blogs deals with stain removal.
Now the carpet is clean it is time to finish off the job. If furniture is to be replaced on damp carpet a barrier should be placed between them. A carpet rake is used to brush the pile again. This aids presentation but also seperates the fibres to help them dry. I use fans to blow a stream of air across carpets to aid drying if time allow. Finally ask the customer to walk round and inspect the work. I wear overshoes to stop dirt transfer and can provide them for the customer if they wish.
Many customers are surprised to see how much dirt comes out. This photo is the waste water from a typical family living room.