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Sustainability / Carpet Care
June 2013 Feature 5

How To Evaluate Today’s Green Carpet Cleaning Processes

Understand the differences between the environmentally-friendly carpet cleaning options available to you.

June 17, 2013
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Chances are, you’re well educated on the impact flooring can have on a facility’s appearance.

If the carpet is well maintained, the whole space feels clean and inviting.

For this reason, carpet cleaning is likely the first step you take when you receive complaints about your building’s interior appearance.

Facility managers are constantly challenged to do more with less, while also making buildings and operations more environmentally friendly.

As a result, carpet cleaning options that offer water savings and other environmental benefits have gained popularity in the market.

Understanding the key distinctions between today’s carpet cleaning options — including hot water extraction, encapsulation, spin bonnet and dry extraction — will help you select an option that best meets your maintenance goals.

Hot Water Extraction

The hot water extraction process continues to be one of the most popular commercial carpet cleaning options — and for good reason.

The system is an effective choice for eliminating hard to remove dirt in carpet.

Hot water extraction typically involves preconditioning of the carpet surface, followed by light agitation with a grooming brush and appropriate dwell time.

Next, the surface is passed over several times with a cleaning tool to thoroughly rinse the preconditioner and soil from the carpet.

Although an effective process, hot water extraction usually requires many gallons of water during each cleaning, and this amount can vary greatly depending on the operator, equipment and other factors.

This method calls for several hours to days of drying time before the carpet can be used, and the use of detergents can also lead to residue buildup and resoiling issues.

The Rise Of Low Moisture Maintenance

Compared to hot water extraction, low moisture carpet cleaning options use up to 99 percent less water, and carpet can be used almost immediately after a cleaning.

The most attractive benefit of low moisture cleaning is the price tag.

Most of these processes cost less to use compared to hot water extraction, but it’s important to weigh each option before making a decision.


The encapsulation process, sometimes referred to as crystallization, has gained popularity in the commercial carpet cleaning industry.

Most encapsulation/crystallization products are easy to buy and use, and are relatively inexpensive.

And, because they are low moisture, the entire process offers water saving benefits and reduced downtime

The encapsulation method of cleaning uses a detergent formula to break down, surround or “encapsulate” soil in the carpet fiber.

This forms a non-sticky powder or crystals that, once dry, can be removed by vacuuming.

Although this system can be effective, it is critical that the carpet is vacuumed once the detergent dries.

If the crystals are not properly removed post-cleaning, the soil and pollutants remain in the carpet.

The dirt is dispersed and residue is left behind, causing discoloration and accelerated resoil, which means that the dirt comes back faster.

The accumulated soil can damage the fiber and actually shorten the carpet’s lifespan.

Manufacturers of encapsulation products also recommend hot water extraction cleaning from time to time for deep cleaning.

If this process isn’t used as a supplement to encapsulation, long-term carpet damage and loss of appearance is possible.

Spin Bonnet

Spin bonnet cleaning is one of the oldest methods of low moisture carpet care.

The process is generally inexpensive and has a faster drying time after cleaning compared to other methods.

During spin bonnet cleaning, a light prespray detergent is applied to the carpet and a rotating cotton pad attached to a slow speed floor machine is passed over the floor.

This process wipes the surface of the carpet clean, and the cotton pad must be changed frequently to avoid resoiling.

Some carpet manufacturers don’t recommend spin bonnet cleaning for regular maintenance because of the potential for long-term carpet fiber damage.

Facility managers should always check their carpet’s warranty before choosing a carpet maintenance program.

Dry Extraction

Only a few dry extraction products are on the market for cleaning and janitorial services to purchase and use.

Rather, companies that specialize in commercial carpet maintenance are usually contracted for dry extraction cleaning.

The process uses a dry sponge-like polymer compound that is usually pre-moistened with detergent.

The compound is spread on the carpet and worked into the pile using a mechanical scrubber and then removed by vacuum.

Dry extraction is the lowest-moisture cleaning method available, which requires dramatically less drying time and no soil, dirt particles or sticky residues are left behind.

However, for hard to remove dirt, hot water extraction may be needed to clean the carpet.

In addition to these benefits, dry extraction cleaning is proven to significantly increase carpet lifespan, improve indoor air quality and can reduce up to 99 percent of pollutants and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the carpet.

All of these factors contribute to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Existing Buildings Operations and Maintenance (LEED-EBOM) certification.

When selecting a carpet cleaning and maintenance method, you may also want to consider green chemicals and machines certified by the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) Seal of Approval (SOA) programs or other reputable third party organization.

Sustainable products are now universally accessible and reasonable in price.

According the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC), every method has its place in the world of carpet cleaning and maintenance. However, any system will lose its maximum effectiveness — and can even have adverse results — if not completed properly.

The key is to evaluate the unique needs of each space and keep current with the latest products and trends to make informed decisions about your maintenance and sustainability goals.


Stephen Lewis serves as technical director for MilliCare, a provider of environmentally sound textile and carpet cleaning services for commercial facilities. He is responsible for the company’s research and development efforts, provides technical training to its network of more than 80 franchise partners and is the company’s key point of contact with the textile and carpet maintenance community. For more information, visit

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