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What kind of carpet cleaning is best?

Posted by Hammond Knoll on Jun 2, 2017 3:29:26 PM

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One of the most frequently asked questions our customer service team answers is; "what kind of carpet cleaning do you recommend?"

With the variety of methods and some of the confusing advertising claims, it can seem overwhelming to make a good decision. They all have some good points and bad points, but with the millions and millions of square feet of carpeting we have maintained and our interaction with manufactures, retail stores and industry experts over the last 78 years, we have an intimate knowledge of the what method is right for every situation.

So with full disclosure, we’ll break down 5 of the most common methods for installed carpeting; Shampooing, Dry Cleaning, Bonnet Cleaning, Hot Water Extraction and Portable extraction cleaning and the good and bad points of each;

With the exception of one (bet you can guess) we do all methods as some methods are better than others for certain situations or when mixed and matched for heavily soiled/greasy areas which can produce amazing results.

Let's be like M.C. Hammer and break it down:



Carpet Shampooing-Imagine shampooing your hair, right down to the main ingredient in shampoo Sodium Lauryl Sulfate which is also a chemical used in carpet shampooing. An optical brightener is often added which take invisible ultraviolet light to convert it to form a visible light, making the carpet seem brighter than it really is, for a while.

Shampooing typically uses a rotary floor machine (the same kind used for stripping and waxing vinyl floors). These machines are heavy, weighing in at 75 to a 100 lbs spin a stiff brush at 175 rpm.

This is a method that has been used since carpet began to be installed wall to wall in homes and businesses. In the past, this method resulted in carpeting that got dirty much faster because it left behind a good deal of that shampoo in the carpeting. It just wasn’t rinsed out at all.

Today, when done properly, shampooing can be effective as a pre-conditioning step to break down heavy soils in carpeting and area rugs. Then it is followed by a second method like hot water extraction to remove residues and soils.

Mostly, it is used in commercial applications that get very heavy traffic like restaurants, hotels and car dealerships.

The good:

Helps to break down heavy ground-in soils and stains.

It’s relatively fast and many square feet can be cleaned quickly.

It does use water as part of the cleaning agent, but it does dry pretty quickly. In most cases, in under 1 hour.

The bad:

Not for use on any delicate carpet fiber as the mechanical agitation can untwist fiber and cause damage to the texture. Also, wool carpeting can be particularly sensitive to this method creating a “felted” or "matted" appearance to fibers.

Most manufactures exclude this method from their recommendations because of the potential for damage from the aggressive brushes and weight of the machines and also from inexperience operators not rinsing excess detergents from fibers, causing that rapid re-soiling and discoloration as we mentioned above.

One of the biggest negatives is that it doesn’t remove any residues from carpeting. All soils and spills are just pushed deeper into the back of the fibers where they are less likely to be seen. Imagine a pet urine stain or a food spill not being removed, but just pushed to the back of the carpet and you can understand the limitations of using shampooing as your only cleaning method.


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 Dry Cleaning with absorbent powders -or also known as carpet absorbent cleaners. The word “dry” is a bit of a false statement as the compound includes water, detergent and solvent. The compound is sprinkled over the carpet or worked into the carpet with a machine. The purpose is for the compound to attract the soiling with little “sponges”, kind of like a magnet for dirt. Typically a special machine with cylindrical brushes is used to lightly agitate the soil, followed by vacuuming up the compound particles and dirt.

This method has an advantage of very fast dry time since very little water is used.

The Good:

That fast drying.

Doesn’t take much training for the operator

Good for a quick touch-up or interim cleaning especially in a facility that is open 24 hours a day

The Bad:

Only suitable for very lightly soiled carpets as cleaning powders will not rinse and remove heavy spills, oils or soils.

Can cause dust in the home from residues left behind in the carpet.

Powders can build up in carpet fibers over time. We see this in commercial locations often where they are cleaning frequently.

Most carpet manufacturers do not recommend this method since it has minimal soil removal, which causes breakdown of fibers over time leaving traffic areas matted with faster re-soiling.



Hot Water Extraction-also known as Steam Cleaning- which is funny because no steam is used for the process. A mild detergent is used to pre-spray the carpet followed with hot water injected into the carpet and a high powered vacuum extracting the water, detergent and soil out of the carpet. Ideally, this is done with a high-powered machine installed in a van. Long hoses are routed into home or business leaving the noise and odors outside.

Most manufactures including the two largest, (Shaw Industries and Mohawk) both recommend using this method.

The Good:

Very effective at removing soils, stains and spills. The best method for removing pet urine and hair. Also, the best at removing allergens and other contamination. Not a cover-up as this method effectively rinses and removes contamination from home or business.

Uses heat for much more cleaning effectiveness.

Manufacture endorsed and most common method to keep you warranty in effect.

Very gentle on fibers and can be used on most all carpet types including wool.

The ability to use the widest array of spotting procedures to give the best final appearance.

Equipment and noise mostly stays outside your home or business.

Leaves carpeting without residue and will stay “clean” for longest time.

The Bad:

Takes a very experienced operator.

Longer dry times. Typically, from our crews, we see full dry times in the 2-6 hour range.

In the hands of someone inexperienced, carpet can be left over-wet which can cause wrinkling and odor issues. We’ve been called in to correct cleaning from an inexperienced cleaner and they are still wet after 48 hours. This should never happen with an experienced technician.


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Bonnet Cleaning-Much like shampoo cleaning only used with a rotary machine using a brush or pads to mix the foam cleaning solution with the soiling. This method is mostly used for heavily soiled commercial applications and is heavily counted against by carpet manufacturers. Some solution still remains in the carpet unless an extraction is used following the process as the original process does not include much extraction.

 The Good:

Easy and fast

Good for quick touch-ups to improve the appearance in commercial applications.

 The Bad:

If used in a residential application damage can occur to the fibers, fuzzing or even swirl marks can become permanent until the proper cleaning method is done to correct the problem.

Doesn’t actually remove any residue or contamination it just pushes to the backing.


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Do it yourself; rent a machine-or you may prefer to buy your own cleaning machine. Some machines need to have hot water added or some have heating coils to pre-heat the water. A detergent is sold that can be added to the tank. Dry times average 18-24 hours as the suction for the extraction is not as powerful as a cleaning machine used by a professional. If 10 gallons of water is used, some machines will only pick back up half or 5 gallons, leaving a great deal of water in the carpeting. A couple of carpet manufacturers will still cover warranties with this type of cleaning, it’s suggested to check prior to proceeding with this method.

 The good:

It’s handy for a small spill or spot.

Obviously, it’s less expensive than having a company do the cleaning.

 The Bad:

Dry times; it is recommended to stay off of the carpet 18-24 hours.

Very hard work. The low power and limitations of the machine mean more muscle power is needed.

Noisy when machines are running

Heavy equipment to move up or down stairs


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How often should my carpets be cleaned? Depending on the how many family and pet members, color of carpet and location most manufacturers recommend 12-18 months between cleanings.

Still have questions? We suggest calling your carpet manufacturer or the carpet store where you purchased the carpet for a recommendation.

We hope you've found this informative. 

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