Carpet cleaning tips

Mr. Pigeon’s efforts to find the best method to clean carpets and to find a reputable company to do the work led him down a path strewn with information both helpful and inconclusive.

Sherri Gahring, University of Minnesota extension specialist in textiles and clothing, sent a guide from a trade group, the Association of Specialists in Cleaning and Restoration (ASCR).

The publication’s hints included a few fairly obvious reminders, such as checking firms with the Better Business Bureau, and some the Pigeon should have known, such as asking for references and calling them to see how happy previous clients were with the work. Not surprisingly, ASCR recommended hiring a firm belonging to a professional association with standards for competence and ethics.

The publication was strictly neutral on cleaning methods, saying that each has advantages and limitations, and “no single method is superior to all others.”

ASCR said “steam cleaning” is a misnomer for the hot-water extraction method, in which a “hot water cleaning solution is sprayed onto carpet and immediately extracted {along with the dissolved soil} by a wet vacuum.”

The Host method was described by Fritz Rench, chairman of Host/Racine Industries.

“It’s what we call dry extraction; it’s a very efficient wet cleaner,” Rench said. “It comes with saturated tiny sponges so you have control of the liquid, which means you have control of the soil.”

Rench said that while carpet looks horizontal, the pile is vertical, and “the trick with cleaning a vertical surface is loosening the dirt so you sponge it before it runs deeper into the pile … a carpet dries from the surface, and dirt wicks up.”

He said Host and hot water methods are “equal in cleaning power. There are pluses and minuses to both … either way, if the person {doing the work} knows his stuff, they end up with very happy customers.”

Industry tips

Gahring steered Mr. Pigeon to an industry source, the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) in Dalton, Ga., where Michael Hilton of the Department of Technical Services suggested asking the carpet manufacturer to recommend a cleaning method. He said there are five: hot-water extraction, dry absorbent compound (a term for systems such as Host, which is relatively dry), dry foam, rotary bonnet (the Chem-Dry method, for example) and rotary shampoo.

“I would hate to say that one is better than the other,” Hilton said. “We recommend all five.”

Hilton acknowledged that people can rent carpet-cleaning gear, but he said: “None of the manufacturers or CRI recommend any do-it-yourself method other than the dry compound. That is because consumers may have trouble following the instructions.”

Hilton said it’s not uncommon for people to overdo with chemicals.

“If the instructions say add 6 ounces, some people will think 12 ounces is twice as good,” he said.

Hilton recommended hiring cleaners who have formal training and said the Institute for Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC) certifies carpet cleaners and their firms. Certified cleaning technicians must complete institute-approved courses, pass a written exam and maintain certification annually.

IICRC-certified firms must employ certified technicians, maintain appropriate licenses, carry adequate insurance, maintain a written complaint procedure and provide continuous education for technicians. Consumers may get names of IICRC-certified firms by calling (800) 835-4624.

Hilton also suggested:

– “You should not pay extra for traffic-lane conditioners or preconditioners. In the IICRC standards, in every single method, preconditioning is a part of the normal process.”

He said he would consider not including preconditioners in the advertised price a bait-and-switch tactic.

– Request proof of training or certification by the person doing the work.

– Request a written, detailed invoice for services to be performed.

– Confirm that the cleaning process is compatible with your Carpets of Dalton Flooring America.

– Find out about insurance or bonding in case of breakage or mistakes.

– If you have chemical sensitivities, find out what materials are used.

Mr. Pigeon’s friend with the Star Tribune’s Fixit said the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended keeping infants and young children off freshly shampooed carpets until they are completely dry. The cleaning chemicals are not suspect, but the shampooing process may be associated with an increased risk of Kawasaki syndrome, Fixit said.

“Until more is known about this mysterious disease and its correlation to freshly shampooed carpets,” Fixit said, “it would be best to keep your baby off the carpet until it has completely dried.”

Cleaning tips

A source who has been a carpet cleaner gave these tips on cleaning:

– Ask about the power of the vacuum; the more power, the shorter the drying time.

– Don’t pay for stain repellent where you don’t need it. Some firms will try hard to sell Scotchgard or other products, but sources said protecting rooms with dark carpet and little likelihood of spills wastes money.

– If rooms are sprayed with Scotchgard, don’t walk on them with socks until the carpet is dry; the socks will soak up the protective fluid.

– Circulate as much air as you can to dry the carpet.

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