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Carpet Cleaners

By Michael Hilton

The potential for success in the carpet cleaning business is enormous. We see carpet in virtually every indoor environment, on football fields and even entire golf courses. Someone has to clean this carpet. Or do they?

Most residential and commercial carpet is cleaned far too infrequently and the expected life cycle of carpet is significantly shortened due to poor carpet maintenance.

Regular carpet cleaning can extend carpet life; whereas a negligent carpet care program will significantly shorten carpet life.

While many carpet cleaners attempt to frighten consumers with fabricated stories of toxic carpet and life-threatening bacteria in carpet, history does not support this cleaning for health philosophy. The average citizen has been far healthier since carpet became a standard (and affordable) interior furnishing than prior to widespread carpet use. In fact, in the 1960's before mass production made carpet affordable to all, many physicians routinely recommended carpet installation to limit airborne mold and allergens.

Steam Carpet Cleaning

Carpet performs magnificently in trapping these airborne allergens and removing them from the breathing zone. Carpet cleaning studies using good science have revealed that steam carpet cleaning can remove 99% of these trapped allergens with one cleaning. While the cleaning for health sales strategy provides consumer awareness and an immediate emotional trigger, most people do not clean their carpet because they are sick, or to prevent their family from becoming sick. They have their carpet cleaned because it "looks" dirty.

If the carpet "looks" dirty, then it is too late. Carpet damage has already begun. Selling a consumer on the fact that dirty carpet will shorten the life of the carpet rarely works either. I know that my automobile will probably last longer if I change my oil every 5,000 miles, yet the little sticker on my windshield reminds me each day that it has been 8,000 miles since my last oil change.

Now if Sammy down at Triangle Muffler were to call me and say, "It's been 3 months since your last oil change, let us pick up your car, change the oil, and take it back to you", I would probably change my oil more often. Similarly, if my carpet cleaner used this same approach, my carpet would be spotless.

Sticker Shock

The problem with this strategy (in carpet cleaning) is sticker shock. When a carpet cleaner is contacted to perform a carpet cleaning it has probably been 3-5 years since the carpet was last cleaned. The cleaning takes longer, leaves the carpet wetter, and the consumer may pay $0.30 per square foot for the restorative service. 1000 sq, ft of carpet may cost $300 or more to clean. However, if the carpet cleaner were to clean the carpet every year, this cleaning could be performed for $100, because the carpet cleaner could get in and out quickly. This lowers carpet cleaning prices, but increases profits.

Since most of their jobs require restorative cleaning, carpet cleaners rarely consider how they can earn more by charging less. Consumers rarely consider how cleaning their carpet each year can increase their savings and extend the life of their investment. The consumer can actually have their carpet cleaned each year for 5 years for $500 (total) rather than twice in 5 years for $600. While the carpet cleaner may feel they are earning less, they actually earn more since regular cleaning reduces the effort required to clean this area, ,limits the time in each home, and their number of weekly cleanings increase dramatically. Regular customers produce more referrals than infrequent customers and in the long run, everyone benefits.

Selecting a Carpet Cleaner

More than 33,000 carpet cleaning professionals operate in the United States. They are truly professional, ethical businesses, ably equipped to handle any cleaning and restoration need and to whom the consumer can trust their valuable carpet or rug. The selection of a carpet cleaning professional can be facilitated by taking the following into consideration.

The first decision that should be investigated is the type of cleaning method that is acceptable for your particular needs. There are five general cleaning methods: absorbent compound, absorbent pad (rotary bonnet), dry foam, hot water extraction (steam cleaning), and rotary shampoo.

Absorbent compound is a minimum-moisture cleaning method. In heavily soiled areas, a preconditioner may be applied prior to the application of the absorbent compound for more effective cleaning results. This method consists of applying a dry absorbent compound to the carpet pile and working the powder into the pile with agitation. The compound attaches to soil particles and is removed through vacuum cleaning.

The absorbent pad or rotary bonnet method is recognized as a minimum-moisture cleaning method. This method involves the use of a cotton/rayon/polypropylene absorbent spin pad. A preconditioner is applied to heavily soiled areas. A cleaning solution is applied to the carpet pile and mechanically agitated. The cleaning solution and attached soil particles are adsorbed by the absorbent pad.

The dry foam method uses a cleaning solution that has been aerated before it is applied to the carpet. The solution is whipped into a foam and applied to the pile fiber using a "reel type" brush action employed by a dry foam application machine. Once the foam application is completed, suspended soil and excess foam are extracted by wet vacuuming. This method is considered a minimum-moisture method.

Hot water extraction (steam cleaning) employs a method of injecting hot water and a cleaning solution into the fibers with high water pressures. The quantity of solution injected must match the vacuum extraction capability. The solution, soil, and residual moisture should be thoroughly extracted immediately to avoid overwetting the carpet and reduce drying time.

The rotary shampoo method injects shampoo onto the carpet through specially designed brushes. Some rotary shampoo machines contain their own extraction capabilities. Others may require an additional wet vacuum step to remove the suspended soil and shampoo.

Each of the five recommended cleaning methods can be very effective, provided the operator has sufficient skill. A carpet manufacturer may prefer a specific method for its carpet. In selecting a carpet cleaning professional, the method employed should match the recommendations of the carpet manufacturer.

Once a cleaning method has been selected, a cleaning firm should be selected. In evaluating various firms, the consumer should ask about formal training required for management and cleaning technicians. Many firms require that employees receive certification from recognized national organizations. Such certification programs require cleaning firms to update their training on a continuing basis. Some national companies may elect to certify their employees through their own continuing education programs.

Ask leading questions that may provide insight into the cleaning professional's experience. The number of years the cleaning firm has been in business may provide some insight into the capabilities of the cleaning professional. If the cleaning firm has been in business for a short while, request more information about the firm's background. Just because the firm has only been in business for a short time does not necessarily mean they will not provide acceptable service.

Request an itemized list of charges for services that will be provided. Be wary of cleaning firms that advertise prices that are too good to be true. If you have any questions regarding specific services that the company includes, such as reapplying stain treatments, antistats, or other extras, contact the carpet manufacturer for their recommendation. Extra charges may have been added for services that are not needed. Also, confirm the total price so that additional charges are not added without your prior knowledge.

Professional firms may offer a variety of services that are unrelated to carpet cleaning such as deodorization, upholstery cleaning, spotting and stain removal, and application of various soil and stain protectants.

References should be requested from each cleaning firm interviewed. These references should be contacted. The selection of a cleaning firm should never be based solely on price. The local Better Business Bureau may be able to provide information about the history of the cleaning firm. If a complaint has been filed against the company, it may be on record. Ask for guarantees of workmanship in writing. Inquire about insurance or bonding for your own assurance.

Do's and Don'ts to help in Selecting a Carpet Cleaner

Most of the professional carpet cleaning companies in the United States are ethical businesses. Unfortunately, like in any business, exceptions may occur and it is in response to inquiries relative to those exceptions that this information has been prepared. Fortunately, common sense measures can be taken to guard against unacceptable practices. Prior to selecting a carpet cleaning professional, the following considerations should be taken into account.

  • Use caution when scheduling an appointment with someone who contacts you by telephone. In responding to computer generated calling programs, never leave a message with answering machines.
  • Thoroughly investigate any cleaning firm canvassing your neighborhood before signing a contract.
  • Be skeptical of anyone who advertises a cleaning price by the room. Room sizes vary. Any charges should be based on the total area cleaned.
  • Do not pay for extras such as removal of spots, preconditioning, deep cleaning, triple processes, pile setting, vacuuming, or color brightening. These services are ordinarily included as part of normal cleaning.
  • The use of brand name cleaning products or chemicals does not necessarily suggest any affiliation with these companies or added credibility for the cleaning service.
  • Do not sign any documents or contracts until you fully understand the contents.
  • Pay for the services after completion of the work. If you do not feel the work has been performed to your satisfaction or you feel you have been overcharged, consider withholding payment until a solution can be arranged. Never pay by cash or write checks to individuals. Checks should only be written to a company name.
  • Never allow anyone to take your credit card from your home.
  • In selecting a carpet cleaning professional, look for a professional appearance and behavior.
  • Do not be afraid to ask questions. You may first wish to contact your retail carpet store for information. Make sure that all of the cleaning methods and chemicals are approved by the manufacturer of your carpet.
  • Be aware that some extra treatments may be necessary from time to time.
  • Contact your carpet manufacturer before allowing any additional treatments to prevent voiding warranties. Be cautious if you are pressured into accepting any of these treatments.
  • Do not allow the cleaning company to dispose of dirty water on your lawn or into the street.
  • Contact the Better Business Bureau before contracting with any carpet cleaning firm. Investigate whether any complaints have gone unreconciled.
  • Request proof of training or certification.
  • Always require picture identification and/or credentials prior to allowing anyone into your home.
  • Request a detailed, written invoice for services to be performed. Thoroughly review the itemized list of services to be performed and confirm any standardized services that should be included as routine cleaning.
  • Ask for references. It would be wise to contact references. A reputable carpet cleaning professional should have a prepared list of satisfied clients or businesses that utilize their services.
  • Confirm that the cleaning process is compatible with your carpet warranties.
  • Inquire about the use of any dangerous chemicals in the cleaning process. Most carpet cleaning professionals do not use chemicals that are considered toxic. If there is a concern about specific chemicals, request a copy of Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) information for the chemicals to be used.
  • Move your own breakable objects before the cleaning firm arrives.
  • Determine beforehand if there is an extra charge for moving furniture or if it is included.
  • Insist on a scheduled appointment. If this is impossible, request an afternoon or morning promise. Try to be at home during the scheduled cleaning.
  • Inquire about insurance and bonding retained by the cleaning professional.

While most carpet cleaning professionals possess integrity and use good business ethics, it is helpful to follow these guidelines when selecting a carpet cleaning professional. Other considerations should be evaluated in selecting a carpet cleaning professional. Do not select a cleaning professional on price alone.

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.

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