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Carpet Care
July 2013 Facility Focus

More Water, More Problems

When cleaning carpets, using excess moisture can create extra issues.

July 07, 2013
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There is a tendency to believe more is better in all types of cleaning situations.

For instance, some building managers believe that, when it comes to thoroughly cleaning carpets, more water is necessary.

This stems from the belief that the more water dispensed into the carpet, the better the water and chemical can loosen, remove and flush out soils.

While there certainly can be a time and place for using more water when performing cleaning tasks, cleaning carpets is not necessarily one of them.

In fact, excessive water use, or water that has not been effectively extracted, can actually cause a number of problems when cleaning carpets, from potentially damaging carpet fibers to causing wicking or wick-back (soil and moisture inching up the tips of carpet fibers in the drying process), to damaging carpet adhesives and negatively impacting indoor air quality (IAQ) and the environment.

Further, carpets with a permeable backing allow moisture to seep through to the floor surface below, which typically is hardwood or cement, causing a whole host of other problems.

When any of these problems arise, the area in question may need to be closed off to foot traffic, which can be disruptive, especially in a busy location.

In worst-case scenarios, the carpet and pad will need to be replaced, a costly repair.

Let’s look closely at the additional problems caused by using too much water on carpeting with a permeable backing.*

Often carpet with this type of backing is glued to the floor/subfloor below. When too much moisture is used in the cleaning process and not thoroughly extracted, some of the problems that can materialize include the following:

  • Minerals and even soils in the floor below may wick-back in the drying process and stain the carpet
  • The glue/adhesive may be damaged, causing the carpet to loosen
  • The subfloor may be damaged
  • Mold or mildew may develop due to extensive dry times, negatively impacting indoor air quality (IAQ).

All of these problems may be exacerbated by the type of carpet installed.

For instance, a cut pile carpet — the type with loops created in the weaving process — is more of an open-face yarn.

Individual fibers are exposed, providing scores of places for moisture, along with soils, to hide.

If the cut pile carpet also has a permeable backing, the combination is a recipe for potentially serious problems.

When Less Is Truly More

Now that we understand the potential problems that can materialize when too much moisture is applied or left in carpets after cleaning, we can uncover an equal number if not more benefits that come from using less. These include:

  • Less potential for wicking or wick-back
  • Less facility downtime; carpets dry faster with less moisture and there is less chance that areas may need to be re-extracted to remove excess moisture
  • Less chance for resoiling; carpets tend to resoil after cleaning if too much chemical or moisture is left in the carpets
  • Less chance for mold and mildew to develop in carpets
  • Less equipment needed; for instance, fewer or no air blowers may be necessary to speed drying
  • Less chance of the secondary backing of the carpet separating from the carpet which can essentially ruin the carpet
  • Less chance of carpet colors bleeding or discoloring.

To realize these benefits, facility managers are encouraged to look for carpet extractors that are reputed as low-moisture machines. For a machine to be considered a low-moisture carpet extractor, it should fulfill one or both of the following criteria:

  1. Use less water in the cleaning process. While conventional carpet extractors may use 1.5 or more gallons of water per minute, a low-moisture system may use one gallon or less per minute to clean carpets. This often also means less chemical is used, which can make the entire carpet cleaning process more environmentally friendly.
  2. Have more powerful vacuum motors. In recent years, vacuum motors have been developed that not only are more powerful than older motors but are also sealed to help quiet the entire system.

To top off the benefits of low-moisture cleaning, some carpet cleaning technicians report carpets actually come out cleaner using less moisture.

Using less resources while improving performance and results; this may truly be an example of less being definitely more.

*Permeability is a rating that expresses the ability for water to travel through a material such as carpet.


Mark Cuddy is a veteran of the professional cleaning and carpet cleaning industries and is now national sales manager for U.S. Products, makers of professional carpet cleaning equipment. He may be reached through his company website

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