Carpet, Upholstery & Rug Cleaning
Carpet Cleaning Methods
Hot water extraction. This method employs a heavy-duty hot water extraction system, usually truck-mounted. After a thorough vacuuming to remove dry soil, a cleaning agent is applied using a portable sprayer and then agitated into the carpet with a soft brush. After about 15 minutes, the technician will rinse the carpet with a high-pressure jet of clean, hot water, which is immediately pulled back into the reservoir along with the dirt, grease, and oils that were released from the carpet. A properly cleaned carpet will typically dry within 12 to 24 hours. Stains sometimes reappear when water carrying the stain wicks back up individual carpet fibers during drying. This can be avoided if the technician applies an anti-wicking powder.
Hot water extraction is often referred to as steam cleaning, but the two techniques are different. Because steam cleaning methods actually involve higher temperatures than hot water extraction, stains can become permanently set. Steam cleaning also does not rinse the carpet, which can result in detergent residue remaining on the fibers.
Dry cleaning. A technician applies a medium of soft, synthetic particles or microscopic sponges mixed with cleaning solution. A special machine works the medium into the carpet fibers. The particles pass over the fibers, collecting dirt, and the soiled medium is then vacuumed up. These methods require more technician time than the others and usually are more expensive.
Encapsulation cleaning, another dry method, is primarily performed on commercial carpets, but the method is gaining ground in residential carpet cleaning. After the initial vacuuming, encapsulation cleaning solution is applied to the carpet with an oscillating carpet-brush machine. The cleaning solution bonds to dirt in the carpet and holds it in tiny, quick-drying crystals. The carpet is then vacuumed again, and all the cleaning crystals are carried away along with the trapped dirt. This method is considered ideal when carpet has to be dried immediately, but it is less effective on carpets with high concentrations of oils or grease.
Upholstery cleaning methods can vary based on the type of stain and the fabric type. Hot-water extraction cleaning will work for most fabrics, but check your furniture for cleaning instructions first. Cleaning details are often found on a furniture tag located out of sight, such as underneath a cushion. Water-based cleaning, usually denoted with a “W” on the tag, is used for synthetic fabrics.
Solvent-based cleaning, or dry cleaning, is generally marked with an “S” on the tag and often used for natural fibers. Cleaning instructions typically accompany the fabric to the upholstery shop or furniture maker, but many shops do not bother to affix this information to the furniture. If the cleaning instructions are missing, check with the furniture store from which the piece was purchased.
If there is neither a tag for determining the cleaning method nor any helpful information available from the furniture seller, a trained technician can use a burn test, in which a strand of fiber is burned after being removed from an area of the upholstery that is not visible. The way the fiber burns can reveal the fabric type.
Trouble Spots and Repairs
Stains. Basic spots will often be removed during the normal cleaning process, but before any work begins, point out all known stains to the technician. Professional carpet and upholstery cleaners know which stain-removing products to use for which stains.
Resoiling. As some cleaning detergents and spotters dry, they become chemically sticky and may actually attract dirt. If these are applied to the carpet during cleaning or stain removal and are not removed by rinsing, the carpet may resoil.
Restretching. When an undamaged carpet is properly installed, it is stretched tightly and should remain flat and taut. Manufacturing problems, installation problems, or post-installation damage may cause a carpet to lose its stretch and develop bumps or wrinkles. If the carpet is permanently damaged or has become delaminated, which occurs when the carpet and its backing separate, then restretching is not an option. However, in many cases, restretching permanently fixes the problem. Your technician should use a power stretcher to deliver the best result.
Patching. Patching is an option for areas where carpet fibers are permanently damaged, such as where a hot iron accidentally melted the carpet. The technician cuts out the damaged portion of the carpet and replaces it with a piece of the same carpet, which is usually removed from a closet or other non-visible area. Depending on pile length, how well the patch blends in can vary.
Maintaining Clean Carpets
Vacuuming. Vacuuming protects the fibers from a buildup of gritty particles and prolongs the life of the carpet. Most professionals recommend vacuuming at least once or twice a week, and high-traffic areas should be cleaned more often. When vacuuming, use front-to-back, overlapping strokes to loosen and eliminate as much dirt and residue as possible. Vacuuming can also improve indoor air quality. When purchasing a vacuum, look for a machine with a good filtration system.
Shoes and door mats. If possible, all household members should remove their shoes immediately after entering the home to prevent soil and other particles from getting on the carpet. Door mats are also useful in keeping dirt off the floor, especially if shoes will be worn indoors. The mats should be cleaned often.
Rugs and furniture. To extend the longevity and original appearance of carpets, reduce the impact of traffic in certain areas by protecting those places with rugs. Well-traveled areas usually receive the most wear. For these locations, rugs can provide protection and also prevent particles from becoming embedded in the carpet fibers. Rugs should be vacuumed often in addition to receiving regular professional cleaning. Periodically rearranging your furniture may also prevent too much wear in one area by altering your home’s traffic patterns. Heavy furniture may crush carpet pile and cause deep indentations, but this can be easily fixed by spraying a small amount of water on the affected area and using a pile-grooming brush to lift the fibers back into shape.
Prices that seem too good to be true usually are; be sure to read the fine print. Other purported deals will stretch the definition of carpet cleaning. A technician who does a hasty job on the carpets has not given you an actual deal on carpet cleaning.
Phone estimates are a common industry practice. Stain removal and other repairs usually cost extra, so mention all problem spots to get an accurate estimate.