Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online
August 2013 Cover Feature

Head To Head On Carpet Care

Low moisture vs. hot water extraction — the biggest debate in carpet cleaning continues.

August 9, 2013

Options, ideas and opinions — when it comes to cleaning processes, experienced professionals in the JanSan industry always have suggestions for the best selection.

Based on important factors such as cost, ease of use and results, facility managers, building service contractors (BSCs) and their employees evaluate and grade products and equipment on a daily basis.

One service that can bring out especially strong opinions is carpet cleaning.

To slightly modify an old saying, there’s more than one way to remove coffee stains from a commercial carpet.

That said, what carpet cleaning methods offer the best results while using the least amount of resources?

As more managers and owners choose environmentally-friendly and sustainable options in other phases of their business, many may wonder which method is a better carpet choice: Low-moisture cleaning options or standard hot water extraction.

In This Corner

Kenneth Snow is president of Hagopian Cleaning Services in Oak Park, Michigan, and his company cleans carpet in offices and industrial facilities using hot water extraction truckmount steam cleaning.

Snow says Hagopian began decades ago in the low-moisture cleaning market, but the operation changed to all hot water extraction in the late 1970s.

When Snow was still cleaning carpet, his company performed a large quantity of low moisture cleaning jobs, and he estimates that he personally cleaned 2 million square feet of carpet using very low moisture (VLM) methods.

“Today we just feel we’re giving a better product and able to do very good production with hot water extraction methods,” Snow explains. “It’s removing more soil and more beneficial to our clients.”

Pointing to technological advances with the heating systems and vacuum performance, Snow states that hot water extraction now uses the generated heat to better break down soils and the improved vacuums to remove the moisture and dry the carpet as much as possible.

Kevin Pearson is president of Pearson Carpet Care, LLC in Houston, Texas, a cleaning and restoration business that also sells equipment.

In contrast to Snow, Pearson used hot water extraction on commercial carpet for half of his 21 years in the cleaning industry.

Starting in 2005, he decided to utilize encapsulation cleaning methods instead.

“I was reading an article … about this crazy encapsulation method of cleaning, or at least I thought all low moisture methods were crazy back then,”Pearson recalls.

The author of the article said encapsulation would help prevent spots from wicking back.

Wicking was a problem Pearson had seen often when cleaning commercial carpet using hot water extraction.

Still, having used a truckmounted unit from day one, the concept of encapsulation was hard to envision.

After a number of phone conversations and a lot of reading, Pearson decided to try cleaning with encapsulation.

Round 1: Taking Less Time

To test his newly-bought rotary scrubber and encapsulation chemicals, Pearson first visited a church next to his office and offered to clean their dirtiest, worst carpet for free.

“They took me to a room with three huge commercial coffee pots and said, ‘Good luck,’” Pearson remembers. “In less than 30 minutes I had the whole room cleaned, with all the coffee spots gone, and was on the way back to the office.”

This seemed “too easy” to Pearson because it took him 30 minutes with his truckmount system just to run hoses up the stairs.

Before, where it took Pearson’s operation 11 or 12 hours to finish 10,000 square feet of commercial carpet, now it takes just over two hours using two machines.

Cleaning can be done at a faster rate per hour — 2,000 to 3,000 square feet per hour vs. 800 to 1,000 square feet per hour with hot water extraction using truckmounted equipment, according to Pearson.

“The best part is, I make more money per hour, and I can still finish that job in the morning and have the rest of the day to do other jobs,” Pearson says. “So for me and my business, the benefits of using this low moisture method are great.”

Round 2: Comparing Costs

Increased production can save a company when it comes to labor costs, but that is just one cost concern when it comes to carpet cleaning.

Other areas of consideration would be:

  • Gasoline usage
  • Vehicle wear and tear
  • The amount of cleaning chemicals needed.

Snow’s company uses an all direct drive system, so the vehicle is running and gas is burning when an operator is cleaning carpet.

Thus, gasoline usage would be a higher cost factor for hot water extraction.

Pearson states that his company’s fuel expenses are less per job using VLM cleaning techniques because he does not have to run a truckmount’s engine while cleaning.

Further, transportation costs are lower because VLM equipment can be moved using a more fuel efficient vehicle than the typical mounted cleaning setup, according to Pearson.

On the chemical side of the equation, Snow says he has seen increased chemical expenses for VLM carpet cleaning, especially more recently.

Chemical usage has to be increased with this type of cleaning because the system does not use as much water.

Round 3: What About Water?

Sustainability and the conservation of resources and chemicals have become an important issue in the professional cleaning industry.

Obviously, more water is needed for hot water extraction when compared to VLM cleaning.

Yet, in most cases, workers with Snow’s company actually transport the water they need to the job site.

If it is a large job, workers may need to refill the fresh water tank once, and Snow estimates that it costs about $1 or $1.50 to fill a tank.

Overall, Snow feels the environmental effects and costs associated with water usage are minimal when it comes to hot water extraction.

“Other than as a marketing perspective, I’ve never heard of anyone truly saying anything about hot water extraction consuming too many natural resources,” Snow notes. “That’s just marketing hype in my opinion.”

Round 4: Drying Advantages

Still, when it comes to carpet cleaning, what goes down must come up.

How does hot water extraction compare to VLM when it comes to drying time?

Pearson points out that VLM cleaning options have quicker dry times compared to hot water extraction.

Due to this, facility doors don’t need to be left open for drying, and this can prevent any security or unwelcome access issues.

Also, as drying times are so short, VLM options allow many commercial jobs to be done during regular business hours if the equipment is quiet enough, Pearson states.

This advantage can eliminate the need for overtime pay to employees.

Snow remembers that, in the early 1980s, a commercial carpet cleaned with hot water extraction could take six to 12 hours to dry.

The amount of dry time needed depended on the carpet pile and soil conditions, and mechanical drying options such as air movers improved the results.

Today, with improved vacuum technology, hot water extraction drying times are commonly one to four hours, Snow says.

This drying time rivals VLM cleaning and it is certainly not keeping carpet unusable for the length of time that it did decades ago.

“Most of that work is after hours or on the weekend when there’s little to no staff so that half hour to two hour drying isn’t a concern,” Snow continues. “And they’d rather have the, what we perceive, the much better cleaning than VLM offers.”

Facilities that operate 24 hours a day are the exception when it comes to after-hours commercial carpet cleaning, according to Snow.

Airports, hospitals and casinos will often section off carpet areas so that they can be cleaned and then allowed to dry.

Even in these operations, Snow finds that carpet cleaned with hot water extraction can be dry enough to soon be serviceable again.

The Decision: Monitoring Results

Though drying takes a bit longer, Snow states that hot water extraction still offers his clients the best results.

“Yes, we feel hot water extraction is more effective being it actually removes the soil,” he notes. “The flushing action of the hot water extraction is removing the soils. It’s not … encapsulating the soil. It’s actually removing the soil.”

When it comes to VLM, Pearson says carpet cleaned using his system will end up staying clean longer.

According to Pearson, carpet spots will not reappear after cleaning, and the need for spot removers is greatly reduced.

“The encapsulant cleaner removes numerous spots that we would normally need additional spotters for,” Pearson concludes.