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Vacuums / Equipment / Extractors / Carpet Care
June 2013 Feature 7

Creating Transparency For Carpet Extractors

Clarifying terminology can help end-users make wiser purchasing decisions.

June 17, 2013
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We hear the word transparency frequently nowadays.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, one of the definitions of transparency is “characterized by visibility or accessibility of information, especially concerning business practices.”

Expanding on this, financial transparency typically means making information as accessible as possible.

And, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), it refers to “timely, meaningful and reliable disclosures about a company’s performance.”

The word transparency is also heard much more often today in the professional cleaning industry, specifically when discussing cleaning chemicals.

For instance, a few years ago, Stephen Ashkin — long known as the “father of green cleaning” in the professional cleaning industry — predicted that we would see “greater transparency about the ingredients used in cleaning chemicals, including green cleaning chemicals, in years to come.”

This prediction is now coming to pass.

Ashkin believes that this is the result of end customers insisting that manufacturers disclose more information about the ingredients in their cleaning products.

Says Ashkin, “End users want to better understand all the environmental, safety and health characteristics of products before they select them.”

Interestingly, this demand for greater transparency is now expanding throughout the industry as purchasers demand accurate information regarding not only cleaning chemicals, but also when it comes to cleaning equipment of all kinds.

Today’s cleaning professionals want to know exactly how effective equipment will be — whether the machinery in question is a vacuum cleaner, carpet extractor or other system — and how it stacks up against comparable systems before they make their purchasing decisions.

This has long been true for vacuum cleaners.

Now cleaning professionals are demanding greater transparency from the manufacturers of carpet extractors as well.

Terminology And Transparency

Of all the machines used for professional cleaning, vacuum cleaners have offered the most transparency from manufacturers and retailers.

There are a number of terms used to describe a vacuum cleaner’s effectiveness, all designed to help the end-customer select the machine that will best meet their specific needs.

Some of the most important include:

Airflow. This term refers to the amount of air that moves though a vacuum cleaner when it is operated. It is usually expressed in cubic feet per minute, or CFMs.

This is one of the most important criteria for determining a vacuum cleaner’s performance and is closely associated with another term, suction, which is defined below.

In most situations, the more airflow a machine has, the more efficient it will be.

CFM. As mentioned above, this acronym for cubic feet per minute is a measurement of the rate of airflow in a vacuum cleaner.

Power. This is a very broad term andcan relate to several different metrics, including the amount of electrical voltage required to operate a vacuum, the wattage power of a vacuum’s motor, its suction power and/or the electrical voltage needed to operate a vacuum.

Suction. This is the actual pulling power of a machine. It refers to a vacuum cleaner’s ability to efficiently remove soils lodged in carpet fibers.

Water Lift. When discussing vacuum cleaners, water lift measures the strength produced by a vacuum’s suction motor. Suction gauges are calibrated in terms of inches of water lift. This is equivalent to taking a vertical tube, placing the bottom in a container of water, attaching the vacuum hose at the top and measuring how high above the water surface the water in the tube rises.

Watts. Watts are a measure of the flow of electric current. Like the term amp, watts are often used to indicate the power of a vacuum cleaner’s motor.

Most manufacturers of professional vacuum cleaners now use these and many other terms to describe the efficiency of their products. But this terminology can be confusing.

For instance, CFM, airflow and water lift are often misunderstood or believed to mean about the same thing.

Wattage and suction are also confused.

Wattage, according to most experts, simply tells how much power a motor has at its disposable, not how efficiently it will suck soils and debris from floors.

That’s what suction is all about.

The situation can get even more confusing when terms coined to describe vacuum cleaners are applied to carpet extractors.

For this reason, airwatt technology is a new term that has appeared in the carpet care industry. Essentially, some of the above metrics are grouped together under a single term with the goal of helping purchasers decipher terminology regarding extractor performance.

Extractor Transparency

Carpet extractor manufacturers have mainly focused on two metrics to define their products’ effectiveness: CFM, also known as airflow, and water lift.

In this context, water lift refers to the suction power of the machine when extracting moisture, chemicals and soils from carpet fibers.

Airwatt technology actually combines these two metrics.

The result is that the higher a machine’s rating is, the better the machine’s performance for extracting moisture from carpet.

In the end, manufacturers developing an inclusive term should allow cleaning professionals to better understand the capabilities of their machinery using just a single metric.

The goal is to end the confusion that can be caused by using a variety of terms, to help end-customers make wiser purchasing decisions and to add greater transparency for purchasers evaluating carpet extractors.


Erick Hickman has nearly 30 years of experience in the professional cleaning industry. He is a product manager at Powr-Flite, a leading manufacturer of professional cleaning equipment. He may be reached at his company’s website,

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