Visit our

Daily Care

By Michael Hilton

Daily Carpet Care

To quote Walt Disney, "Sooner or later gravity will catch up with you". Everything eventually ends up on the floor regardless of the flooring you select. Fortunately, carpet can be vacuumed and contaminants can be extracted and removed from the home. Unless you plan to vacuum your hard floors, you are never actually removing a sufficient quantity of soil. This is why you find "dust bunnies" with hard floors.


Vacuuming is by far the most important daily carpet maintenance activity that can be performed, but it is rarely performed frequently enough or with the type of zeal necessary to effectively remove soil.

Dry soil is by far the most damaging type of contaminant routinely exposed to carpet. Dry soil has razor-like edges that cut and scar carpet fibers. These scars cause the reflection of light to be bent, which creates a dull, hazy, dirty appearance on the carpet surface. Similar to scratched glass, the fiber appears dirty, and this damage is irreversible. When water is added during the carpet cleaning process, the water fills these crevices and the carpet appears clean. Once dry, the soiled appearance returns.

This could be the reason that traffic lanes appear soiled. The only way to minimize this occurrence is by selecting a good vacuum cleaner, and performing vacuuming diligently. I have mixed feelings about recommending any vacuum cleaner, but a Hoover Wind Tunnel vacuum cleaner offers a red light/green light feature, which indicates when soil is being removed. However, Hoover (currently) has opted NOT to participate in voluntary carpet industry testing of vacuum cleaners, so actual performance of this vacuum cleaner is unknown.

I found that after using a dry powder carpet cleaning product, it took 172 passes (in one 18 inch by 4 ft area) to remove all of the powder from my carpet pile. Normal soil could require 20 or more passes in some areas. This "soil finder" feature found on the Hoover Wind tunnel Vacuum Cleaner takes the guesswork out of vacuuming. However, after using this vacuum cleaner for several months, the dirt finder function failed to function so I was forced to return to the old tried and tested method of concentrating on traffic areas.

For the best carpet cleaning results, no matter which brand of vacuum cleaner you purchase, be sure to inspect it periodically to make sure it is mechanically fit.

  • Keep brushes clean and replace them when worn.
  • Keep vacuum hoses and attachments free of obstructions, which restrict air passage.
  • Inspect the vacuum head for rough edges or bent metal that may damage your carpet.
  • Inspect belts frequently to make certain they are working properly.
  • Always keep a spare belt for replacement as needed.

Follow the vacuum cleaner manufacturer's instructions, and change the vacuum bag when it becomes more than half full. With most vacuum cleaners, as the bag becomes full, soil removal efficiency is reduced. A vacuum cleaner with a half-full bag loses more than 80% of its suction.

The majority of your vacuum efforts should be made in entries, in principal passage routes, and in front of furniture. These areas of heavy soil accumulation should receive multiple vacuum passes. 80% of the dry soil that is tracked into the home is localized within the first 12 feet of exterior doors. If this dry soil can be removed in this area, the rest of the home can be treated as a light vacuuming area. The illustration at left givens an illustration of the number of vacuum passes necessary to remove adequate soil for entry areas.

In addition to entry areas, any area adjoining a hard surface flooring material will soil quickly as well. Hard surface maintenance does not utilize an effective soil extraction procedure, so soil is tracked to the nearest carpet surface where it localizes. These areas should receive additional vacuum passes as well.

Finally, you must stay ahead of soil deposition! Preventive carpet care is the easiest method of staying ahead of soil deposition. By placing a carpet runner outside your home, long enough for 3-4 footsteps, more than half of the soil normally brought into your home can be trapped before entering your home. An entry mat placed just inside the door can be used as a final shoe wiping area or a landing area to remove and store shoes.

What's the biggest problem with using this preventive carpet care system? Once the carpet runners and entry mat becomes over-filled with soil, it then becomes a source for soil. Not only will a carpet runner become so filled that it cannot absorb soil, it actually can begin to transfer soil to your shoes. For this system to work, you must be diligent in cleaning (beating, shaking, vacuuming) these entry mats. Replace them often! It is much cheaper to replace these mats, rather than replacing a room full of carpet-installation costs are certainly cheaper.

One final not on these mats. There are janitorial supply businesses, that lease these mats and come on a regular basis to supply new mats. They pick up the old mats, clean them, and replenish your soiled mat with a freshly cleaned mat. Many businesses take advantage of this service. Few homeowners are even aware that this type of service is available.

Proper Vacuuming Procedure

Among the most often overlooked characteristics of daily care is proper vacuuming procedure. While any vacuuming is good vacuuming (it can become a drudgery and rarely performed with sufficient frequency), it is important to use good procedure to limit the amount of time on task and to improve soil removal efficiency.

It is surprising that the vacuum cleaner industry doesn't become more involved with their product. They offer a lasse' fair attitude and believe consumers will buy their product based on their marketing claims, alone.

I remember approaching vacuum cleaner manufacturers to assist the carpet industry in saving market share for carpet. The carpet industry believed that a reduction in market share for carpet, translated to a reduction in vacuum cleaner sales and other carpet-related products. The vacuum cleaner industry attitude was "we are real sorry about carpet market share, but consumers will buy our product for hard floors or whatever."

As a result, the carpet industry spent millions of dollars in developing an unbiased test procedure for rating the efficiency of vacuum cleaners. Now the vacuum cleaner industry became concerned, because testing revealed that some vacuum cleaners suck (pun intended) and others do not. The carpet industry theory was based in the fact that proper maintenance was the key to holding carpet market share. The more soil and allergens that could be removed through vacuuming, the happier the consumer would be with their product. The vacuum cleaner testing performed by the carpet industry was a real eye opener for both the carpet industry and the vacuum cleaner manufacturers.

Details of this vacuum cleaner rating program can be found in our selecting equipment section, but even a properly functioning vacuum cleaner requires the most efficient procedure.

The vacuum cleaner industry never realized that proper procedure would enhance the performance of their product (or they never bothered to tell consumers). This probably can be attributed to the procedure used to evaluate the performance of their vacuum cleaners. The Vacuum Cleaner industry procedure produced a 65% variability in results, so the results could not be certified as reliable. The carpet industry developed a test procedure that produced a 3% variability of results. This opened the door for other evaluations including proper vacuuming technique.

It was quickly learned that the direction in which the vacuum cleaner was pushed/pulled in relation to the direction of carpet manufacture, made a significant difference in the amount of soil that was removed.

Carpet is manufactured directionally, with the pile leaning toward the direction of manufacture (see photo right). You can easily determine your carpets' pile direction by placing a piece of paper on the carpet pile and laying a round pencil on top of the paper. Rotate the pencil back and forth and the paper will begin to "move" in the direction of manufacture. In the photo to the right, the paper will "crawl" to the left.

Most vacuum cleaners rotate in a direction that directs soil to a collection point at the rear of the vacuum head. If the brush roll could propel the vacuum, it would move (the vacuum cleaner) forward based on the direction of brush roll rotation.

Test results showed that by moving (pulling) the vacuum cleaner in the opposite direction of the carpet pile lean and in the opposite direction of the brush rotation (pull rather than push), the carpet pile is stood upright, thus removing more embedded soil.

Failure to fully understand carpet manufacturing always has been a weakness of the vacuum cleaner manufacturing industry. Failure to reach out and work with other industry's to produce a better product illustrates the arrogance that many of the larger manufacturer's display. While smaller manufacturers were quick to jump on board and actively participate in testing and test development, the larger Hoover's and Eureka's opted to remain unengaged and even participated in subtle obstruction (in our opinion) to prevent the vacuum cleaner rating system from becoming a reality.

This vacuum cleaner test procedure and rating system has accomplished more in it's first 6 years to improve the performance of vacuum cleaners than any other event. Consumer Reports used the vacuum cleaner industry's test procedure for many years and the results they published were flawed, based on the use of a procedure that produced highly variable (65%) results. The vacuum cleaner manufacturing industry may have been concerned that adopting a more reliable test protocol would "upset the apple cart" or transfer the balance of power from the larger manufacturers to the smaller, more pragmatic manufacturers. It also proved that just because a marketing idea sounded plausible (such as using water to trap and filter soil), the actual soil removal and filtration results may not be up to par.

The industry also learned that common sense may not be reality. Most vacuum cleaners produced a reduction in soil removal when using a high filtration vacuum bag. Smaller pore size (of the bags) reduced airflow (suction) through the unit, thus reducing suction and soil removal. Oreck found (through the test procedure) that by using a high filtration vacuum cleaner bag, their soil removal results actually improved. The better news (for Oreck) was that the high filtration bags (for their unit) were less costly, than their lower filtration vacuum cleaner bags. Net result: "higher profitability, better performance, happier consumers".

In shopping for a vacuum cleaner, look for the Green CRI Vacuum Cleaner Testing label that shows the vacuum cleaner meets Carpet Industry Minimum performance standards. If the Vacuum Cleaner does not display the label, one must assume it does not meet minimal performance standards.

About the Author
Michael Hilton was the original creator of Carpet Buyers Handbook. Having owned and operated a carpet wholesale company, Hilton has a vast knowledge about all-things carpet related as well as other types of flooring.

Other Helpful Links
Simple Carpet Care Tips
Selecting a Vacuum Cleaner
Preventative Care
Regular Carpet Care
Daily Care
Carpet Cleaning Tips
Tips for Keeping Carpets Light
Simple Carpet Cleaning Tips
Removing Carpet Stains