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.

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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!