Green Cleaning

September 14, 2013

Seldom in the cleaning industry will you find a topic that stirs more differing opinions than that of “Green Cleaning”. What is it, does it really get carpet clean, and why is it more expensive? The questions go on and on, so I will try and attack a few of them here from a practical point of view.

Many industry professionals feel that any environmental benefits of green cleaning are negated by the facts that the cleaning supplies are still made in factories that burn electricity, are shipped in plastic bottles, delivered by large fossil fuel burning trucks, and ultimately used in your home by a guy using electricity and a machine that runs off gas.

All these things are true, and to tell you the truth I have no idea if the benefits of green cleaning outweigh the negatives. It would also not surprise me to learn that nobody else does either. Whichever argument you want to support is up to you, but today I want to talk about how it makes your homes environment a more appealing place to live.

Have you ever walked into a hotel room and although the room looks clean there is that overwhelming smell of cleaning chemicals in the air; or how about that annoying smell of glass cleaner that lurks in the air when you’re cleaning the inside of your car? These are the types of issues that Green Cleaning can very successfully make go away. I clean in homes every day, some not so dirty, and some extremely dirty and it is a very rare occasion that  I can’t get the carpet  or upholstery perfectly clean with green products that have no harsh chemical or perfume smell of any kind. All of the green products I use also leave no undesirable residues behind in your carpet. For the record there are residues that are perfectly OK to leave and cause no undesirable effects. More about those in a future post though.

The whole question of which chemicals can be considered green and which ones can’t is a tricky one right off the bat. Remember I’m a professional carpet cleaner not a chemist or a guy who actually makes soap. That said I’ll do my best to share with you what my research has taught me.

Other than the Federal Governments Leeds Program, which can be quite vague, there is no real binding standard for what qualifies as green. So just because a bottle of soap has a certified green seal on it doesn’t necessarily mean it is any safer than one that doesn’t. In many cases manufacturers can put a “Green” or “Organic” stamp on just about anything without breaking any laws.  Fortunately though, I have found all the certified green soaps I have gotten from the major makers of carpet cleaning supplies to be perfectly legitimate.

Most of the major makers of carpet cleaning supplies now offer certified green cleaning supplies. They don’t contain any VOC’s, perfumes, solvents, or other chemicals that many customers find offensive. They clean just fine, do not have objectionable odors, do not aggravate allergies, and leave carpet safe for children and pets to crawl on. Personally, I think these are all huge pluses when it comes to the indoor air quality of my home.

Finally, consumers should be wary of clever marketing schemes designed around scare tactics. Companies use words like: toxic, dangerous, chemical, or unsafe, when describing carpet soap. In the same commercial they will use words like: all natural, organic, environmentally friendly, or certified green. These terms are carefully used to provoke a reaction from you. Remember, words like “toxic” should be used when referring to things like: nuclear waste, raw sewage, poison gas etc Carpet cleaning soap though? Maybe not so much. On the same note, as Dr. Dean Edell used to say “hurricanes and rattlesnakes are all natural, but that doesn’t mean they are good for you.”

The bottom line is, consumers need to ask enough questions until they are satisfied that they have  found a reliable professional. Do this and your home will be a clean, healthy place.

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Recurring Spots

December 30, 2011

Few things in the carpet cleaning industry are as frustrating as those dreaded recurring spots. As cleaners we show up at your house, do what we think is a picture perfect cleaning job, only to have you call us back in a few days informing us that those pesky coffee, ink, wine, grease, etc spots are back. This is not a terribly frequent problem for the experienced technician, but it does happen and returning to solve the problem is what can really separate the true pro from the mere tyro.

As a professional who is concerned with his quality of work, and his reputation I seldom complain about these call backs (well, at least not out loud), but instead appreciate the chance to return and correctly finish what I started. It’s not always the fault of the cleaner and there are a number of reasons why those spots in your carpet can return:

  • The spot was not fully removed.
  • The spot was removed but the spotting agent used to remove it was not fully rinsed out.
  • The spot soaked beyond the surface into the carpet backing or pad and gradually wicked back up (almost always the case with pet stains).

These are a few of the most common causes and the first two are easily dealt with and only take a few minutes to correct.  In the third case though, once things soak down beyond the carpet surface they can be difficult to deal with. If the spot is small enough there are special tools that may remove it, but often the problem can’t be solved unless the carpet is pulled up, cleaned from the back, and new pad is installed. This creates a lot of extra work and expense and most of the time is not a viable option.

One thing that I have learned over the years is that knowledge often comes from experience. If the cleaning technician or whoever may have come to your house first, takes the time to carefully look at problem areas and then asks a few questions, they will often know right then if these are spots that are likely to return, and can then discuss the possible results. Now, he’s a professional who’s correctly telling you what to expect rather than a guy having to apologize for a lousy job. Big difference!

As the homeowner there are also a few steps you can take to help prevent undesirable cleaning results. We’ve talked about recurring spots but now let’s talk about its close cousin, resoiling. Resoiling would be a post cleaning substance that has been left on the carpet. Sometimes this is also the fault of the cleaner but not always. If the cleaner did not properly rinse the carpet, the soapy residue thats left behind can quickly attract more dirt. In just a few days it will look like the carpet was never cleaned.

What often also happens in the case of resoiling is not the fault of the cleaning company. Most professional cleaners will suggest that you stay off the carpet until it is dry. We can suggest this, but remember, we can’t tell you what to do in your house. If people don’t take the suggestion of the cleaner and proceed to walk around on the wet carpet, by the time it’s dry, it won’t look clean any longer. The wet carpet actually does a really good job of cleaning off the bottom of your shoes. Add to that any accidental food or drink spills and, well you get the picture.

So there you have a few reasons as to why those unwanted spots have a sneaky way of showing up again. In any case, if you are working with a reputable cleaning company, your phone call should always be welcomed, and a return visit should be done in a timely and courteous manner.

Thanks for reading and next time I will try to tackle the difficult question of what is “green cleaning”.

Remember, Avoid Uneducated, Uninformed, and Sometimes Downright Unscrupulous Carpet Cleaners!


Do I need stain protector?

December 13, 2011

As I go about my daily carpet cleaning jobs there are many questions that I get asked with a fair amount of regularity. Today I’m going to address the question of post cleaning stain protectors. You chose your new carpet carefully, did your due diligence in selecting a cleaner, and now after he finishes the job the question of stain protector comes up. In a perfect world I would say, you did your homework in selecting a reputable cleaner, so going on his recommendation would be a safe bet. Well as we all know the world is not always perfect.

Even some of the best cleaners out there often overlook some of the more subtle tools of our trade. I recently heard a manufacture rep. say that only about 50% of cleaners offer stain protectors. My own experience tells me that of that 50%, only about half of them apply the products properly. When not applied properly the products don’t work, and you the customer, have wasted your money. Now that said, let’s talk about the products that are correctly applied.

Most of you have heard of the big brand names such as Scotchgard, Teflon, Stain Shield etc. These are good products that can be valuable tools in helping to keep your freshly cleaned carpet looking clean. Just as important though, they can keep that occasional red wine, coffee, juice etc. spill from leaving permanent stains. Thus when properly applied, I highly recommend protectors in your high traffic areas.

That may be plenty of information for most people, but I know how much some of you like to know how things work so here is a simple explanation of the intricacies of stain protectors. Stain protectors are primarily designed to work on nylon carpet, but using them on any other fabric is a perfectly safe and acceptable thing to do.

The majority of stain protectors are all Fluorochemicals. When applied properly Fluorchemicles can repel both water and oil based soils which can be very beneficial to the life and appearance of your carpet.

Fluorochemical protectors work by lowering the surface energy or tension of the carpet or furniture. Surface energy or tension is the attraction of molecules in a water-based solution. Think of putting a drop of water on a non-porous counter top, the reason it beads up is the result of low surface tension. So by lowering the surface tension of carpet, the result is similar,  the spill beads up and doesn’t soak into the fabric.

Some protectors also contain what are called acid dye blockers. These have all the advantages of fluorochenicals plus they can repel those Kool-Aid and food dye stains. If you were to take one individual strand of nylon that makes up carpet an look at it under a microscope you would see what are called the dye sites (kind of like pores). Acid dye blockers get in and fill / clog those sites creating a negative charge at the fibers surface, thus blocking the food dyes from attaching to the fiber (food dyes are also negative). As you can see, making carpet stain resistant is all about chemistry and it can be a very effective tool in extending the life of your carpet.

We often only think of using protectors on carpet, but don’t forget that they can also be used just as effectively on upholstery.

Thanks for reading and next time we’ll talk about those recurring spots.


Upholstery Cleaning

August 6, 2011

25 years ago when I purchased my first brand new carpet cleaning machine I had a minimal amount of experience in the industry, so understandably I had a lot of questions. I fired off my seemingly endless list, listened carefully to the answers, and then had the salesman take me through a hands- on demonstration of how to clean carpet. Once all my concerns were addressed I started loading all my new equipment into my van and just as I was about to close the door the guy said “don’t forget this”. He held up another tool and said “it’s your upholstery tool. It hooks up to your machine so you can clean sofas.” Cool I thought; now not only can I clean carpet but I’m also a professional upholstery cleaner.

I’d like to say that because of that afterthought I went on to a successful upholstery cleaning business. NOT HARDLY!!!! After one ruined sofa (cost me $700), some almost ruined chairs, and a whole bunch of things that didn’t come clean, I figured it was time for another list of endless questions.

Unfortunately, most other cleaners out there have about that same amount of experience and knowledge when it comes to upholstery.

When it comes to fine fabric cleaning, thorough knowledge of fibers, fabrics, and everything related is not only helpful, but also crucial. This knowledge allows the true pro to qualify the work, and choose the safest, most effective cleaning method.

Fabrics are produced using many types of fiber and construction with different dyes, finishes, and coatings. For these reasons you cannot expect to safely clean every fiber type using only one specific cleaning technique. Today’s professionals must look well beyond the “wet cleaning” or dry cleaning” methods stamped on the furniture’s sewn on labels.

Today’s furniture comes in many different materials and styles and each one has definite do’s and don’ts when it comes to cleaning. Although microfiber and rayon velvet look similar, the difference in cleaning is huge. A properly trained professional needs to know how to identify the fiber, the weave (velvet, chenille, jacquard, etc.).  There are many published standards on how to effectively clean the plethora of textiles out there, and each of them has its own nuisances, but the basics to them all are all the same. The keys are:

  1. Fiber Characteristics: A pro better know how to identify what he’s cleaning.
  2. Yarn Construction: Know what causes problems.
  3. Fabric Construction: Understand different weaves (velvet, satin, jacquard, etc).
  4. Designs: Are they surface designs or woven in?
  5. Finishes and Coatings: Often on the back of the material as well and can easily be damaged.
  6. Dyes: Some are stable, some will easily bleed together.
  7. Trim: Arm covers, wood trim, welting, cushion foam, etc.

So, as you can see there is much more to cleaning your upholstery than just buying a tool and a machine. When considering a professional make sure to ask questions and check his credentials. If the answers you get are not satisfactory or sound at all made up, call somebody else.

Thanks for reading, next time we’ll talk stain protectors.


Carpet Types

June 26, 2011

When buying new carpet most consumers have a hard time trying to figure out the difference between all the different fibers, and which one would be best for them. There are many different fibers available on the market today, but for this article I am going to stick with the most common types found at your local carpet stores. There are also many different variations of certain fibers and again I will try to keep this as non- technical as possible.

The majority of carpet today is made of one of four materials: wool, nylon, polypropylene (Olefin), or polyester.

Nylon

First discovered in 1938 by DuPont chemists, it is the most commonly used fiber in carpet today. Rated as one of the longest wearing fibers, it is also very cleanable, stain resistant, resists abrasion, moth proof, and non-allergenic. All of these pluses make for a very durable carpet. Nylon comes in two types, type 6, and type 6.6. Some retailers will swear 6.6 is better, but many studies have been done by chemical engineers and they find little overall performance difference between the two.

The leading brand names in nylon that you have probably heard of are; Invista (formerly DuPont) and Mohawk (formerly Solutia Wear Dated). Invista makes Stainmaster, and Mohawk makes Wear Dated. Both Invista and Mohawk have done a great job making their products stain and wear resistant; but buyers beware. Like anything else there are different qualities of each, and the better the quality the better the carpet. In Stainmaster there is Extra Body II, then Tactesse, then Luxerell Stainmaster as their top of the line.   A good salesperson will be able to show you examples of each which is why I always recommend a reputable retailer over a “big box” store.

When buying nylon carpet I personally recommend looking at the newer “soft nylons”. The manufactures did a pretty good job in making the fiber very soft in order to try to duplicate the feel of wool. They cost a little more but the quality is definitely better and most people are very happy with the choice.  Names to look for in soft nylon are Tactesse and Luxerell by Invista, DuraSoft by Mohawk, or Anso Caress by Shaw.  Here again is where you will need the help of a knowledgeable salesperson.

I clean more nylon than any other fiber type and with proper care it will  look and feel great for many years.

Wool

If you want the most luxurious feel and look possible wool carpet is still your best choice. It comes in pretty much every style and color, commercial or residential, with the best wools coming from New Zealand.

Appearance aside wool has many other advantages including:

  • Natural flame resistance (very important in commercial settings where smoking is permitted).
  • When the proper color is chosen for the environment it is excellent at hiding soil.
  • Wool is a very strong, yet still flexible and resilient so it springs back well.

Wool will stain much easier than synthetics so if you tend to spill a lot of coffee and red wine, or if you like to wear your boots in the house, and only vacuum on special occasions, then wool may not be for you.

Wool is not hard to maintain but when it comes time to clean it, I cannot emphasize enough, the importance of choosing a well trained, experienced carpet cleaner. With a little bit of care your carpet will always say; luxury and style live here.

Still my personal favorite.

 

Polyester

Polyester first entered the carpet industry in the 1960’s. Although it was a fairly durable fiber there were many other problems with it. So much so that many retailers stopped selling it and we really didn’t see much of it for quite a few years. Now jump forward to the mid 1990’s and we had the birth of the “new polyester”. The new polyester fiber is called PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate), and it is definitely not the polyester of old.  It is stronger, more abrasion resistant, and is very resistant to staining. I have cleaned it in many homes and very seldom come across a spot or stain that I can’t get out.

The fiber is partially made from recycled plastic containers, and this is what they’re talking about when people say their carpet was made from 7up bottles. Recycling does not affect the PET’s performance so it can be recycled over and over again.

When considering Polyester carpet you will also hear about a material called PTT. Although it is similar to PET, PTT is actually not considered polyester. It has been sold under various names, but currently it is called Triexta. It is a very soft fabric that kind of combines all the best qualities of nylon and polyester. If your carpet gets a lot of heavy use from kids, parties, pets, spills, etc. this may be a material you want to consider. Keep in mind though that since this is still a reasonably new fiber it will probably go through a few changes so you need a carpet professional who really stays on top of those changes. Again look for a reputable retailer.

Olefin (Polypropylene)

Anyone who knows me has heard me say that, just because something is not expensive and often gets a bad rap, doesn’t mean it does not have a place. Olefin is the most stain resistant fiber out there and tends to wear well when used in low pile carpet. The main problem with it occurs because they have to add oil to it during the manufacturing process. This oil stays in the fiber so after it’s installed in your home it will soil and mat down faster than other materials. The fact that it easily mats down is the reason you only want it in low pile styles. It is also a very heat sensitive fiber and melts easy. Even something as simple as dragging a piece of furniture on it can generate enough heat to leave a burn, and if you smoke this is not a good choice. On the other hand, if you only need new carpet to last a few years and it is going to take some heavy abuse, then take a look at Olefin. It costs less than the other materials and it may suit your purpose just fine.

I hope this bit of information will make your shopping a little less confusing. Remember to only buy from a reputable, educated and informed carpet store and your new carpet will be a happy purchase.

Next time we’ll talk upholstery.


Carpet Cleaning Methods

June 5, 2011

Being a responsible home owner, you have decided that it’s time to have your carpet cleaned. You spent a lot of money on your carpet and want the job done right. Some people say dry cleaning is best, others say steam cleaning is the way to go, then your mother says “don’t worry honey, I’ll bring over my shampooer and do it for you”.

As a long time industry veteran I can tell you that the “best method” depends on which professional you talk to. I can also tell you that his idea of the “best method” is the very method that he happens to use (surprise, surprise). In my day to day I use every common method there is, along with some not so common methods, to safely clean all types of carpet. With no particular bias, let’s talk about if there is really a “best method”.

 Steam Cleaning

Properly called Hot Water Extraction this is the granddaddy of carpet cleaning. Commonly a pre spray detergent is applied, then using either Truck mounted or portable equipment, the carpet is rinsed with high pressure hot water, and simultaneously vacuumed to remove the soap, water, and soil.

This is the method that most carpet manufactures recommend in their warranties, but be careful. When not done properly, as it often is not, it is the method most likely to damage your new carpet. There are many different machines, tools, soaps, and attachments out there, so the consumer needs to ask questions of the company. Every carpet mill has standards that must be abided by when cleaning their carpet. It’s true that most manufactures recommend Hot Water Extraction but they also are specific on what kind of detergent to use.

This is the method that I most often use and when done with quality equipment, an expert operator, the proper detergent for the job, and a proper rinse, very good results are usually the norm.

Encapsulation

This method of carpet cleaning is becoming more and more popular in commercial carpet maintenance. The encapsulating cleaner (a liquid cleaning agent) is sprayed on and then worked into the carpet using a type of brush machine. The encapsulate then surrounds the soil particles, releases it from the carpet fiber, and crystallizes so it can’t reattach to the carpet. The encapsulated soil is then removed by normal vacuuming.

Since it’s a low moisture system, dry time is very fast. This method is designed to be used fairly frequently as part of an overall maintenance plan in commercial settings.  Often every third or fourth cleaning has to be done with Hot Water Extraction in order to thoroughly rinse the carpet.

Shampoo

Probably the oldest of cleaning methods, it’s also the simplest. A high foaming carpet shampoo is scrubbed into the carpet using a rotary brush machine. The dirt releases from the carpet fiber, sticks to the shampoo, and that’s that.

I know what you’re thinking and you’re right. All that dirty soap is left in the carpet, so even though the carpet looks a little better, it is very temporary. That said, this can be a quick fix when a very fast, short lasting, job is called for.

Absorbent Pad or Bonnet Cleaning

Like encapsulation cleaning this method works better on commercial carpet, but many companies are using it in residential settings. A dry-solvent or water based cleaner is sprayed onto the carpet. Then a thick pad made of cotton, rayon, or polyester is attached to a rotary machine and used to agitate the carpet. The idea is that the dirt is released from the carpet and absorbed up into the pad (just like when you use a towel and cleaner to wipe the kitchen counter).

This method is often laughed at by “we steam clean everything” firms, but I have personally cleaned many thousands of square feet of carpet this way and got great results. I only like this on low pile commercial carpet though.  

 Absorbent Compound

Usually uses some type of powder that contains detergents, solvents and some type of very low moisture. A specially designed brush machine is used to agitate the powder into the carpet where it breaks up the soil and absorbs it (by now I’m sure you are beginning to see the common theme here). Vacuuming is then used to remove the soil saturated powder or compound.

Many of the absorbent compounds on the market are considered “organic” and very safe to use. The only problem may occur if the brushes cause the carpet to fuzz up. I always test first in a closet.

Absorbent compound generally do not do a very good job of cleaning, but like previously stated they are very safe. There are some carpets out there that you can’t get wet without ruining them (sisal and rayon to name a couple). If you happen to own this type of carpet, don’t let it get visibly dirty. Absorbent compound cleaning every couple of months is the only way to go.

So there you go, carpet cleaning in a nutshell. As you can see there are different ways to clean carpet and each one has it’s place, thus the need to seek out  a qualified professional.  Finally no matter which carpet cleaning method is used vacuuming should always be the first step.

Next time we’ll talk about the different materials used to make carpet.

Remember

Avoid Uneducated, Uninformed, and Sometimes Downright Unscrupulous Carpet Cleaners!


Choosing a Company

May 28, 2011

So you’re looking at your carpet and decide that it is time to have them cleaned. You call around to some local carpet cleaners and an hour later your head is spinning with terms like:

  • Hot water extraction
  • Encapsulation
  • Rotary jet extractor
  • Empowered water
  • Surfactant
  • Green Cleaning
  • Low moisture

Each company claims to be the best and to have the best equipment this side of Yonkers; sound familiar? Let’s see if I can get you through all the argot and help you with a more common sense approach to finding somebody to just clean your carpet.

When choosing a carpet cleaner the first thing you should do is simply ask around. Just remember to ask somebody who has similar quality standards as you. If you are meticulous about your house don’t ask your untidy neighbor who is only interested in the cheapest possible job. After you have a few names it’s time to call.

While on the phone  you will begin to get a taste of their sales pitch, and here you can learn a lot about the company just by listening. Were they friendly and polite? Did they sound like a true professional or like somebody just spewing out meaningless drivel he read on the internet?

If the company passed your initial screening it may be time to have them come to your house in order to give you a written estimate. If the company will not do this it should be a huge red flag. Having somebody come to your house for an estimate will most likely answer any questions you may still have about hiring this company. When they show up take some immediate mental notes: were they on time or did they call if running late? Is the person wearing a uniform and have a clean appearance? In my 25 years in the business I have never seen an unkempt individual do a good cleaning job (that’s pretty much a no-brainer). Dirty boots, inappropriate clothing, baseball hat on backwards, unshaven, reeking like cigarettes or alcohol, would all be reasons for me to not even let the person in my house. You might want to take a look at the van too. Is it clean?

If they are still there, now it’s time for some more sales pitch. He should ask quite a few questions about the carpet and the traffic it gets. The main things you want to know are:

  • Does his cleaning method meet manufacture standards (if he has no idea what the standards are, don’t hire him).
  • Is he properly trained? IICRC certified (Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification) is the most common level of education.
  • Does he seem to show respect for you and your home? Little things can tip you off here; e.g. shoe covers, wiping feet before entering house, asking permission to look around at the areas to be cleaned, remembering your name, etc. etc.

At this point if no red flags have arisen you may have found a cleaner. Remember all these small things are important to the end results and it’s not just about who will do the cheapest job.

Next time I will address all the different methods of cleaning.

Remember

Avoid Uneducated, Uninformed, and Sometimes Downright Unscrupulous Carpet Cleaners!