One of the most common questions we get from clients is whether our carpet-cleaning method – hot-water extraction (steam cleaning) – can damage carpets.
The quick, but unclear, answer is: it shouldn't. It all boils down to how good the technician is (or wants to be).
Steam cleaning is widely considered the best restorative cleaning, which is why most carpet cleaners use this method. In fact, steam cleaning is the primary method (but not the only method) recommended by most carpet manufacturers, and most manufacturers require that their carpets receive an annual steam cleaning to maintain a valid warranty.
But carpet steam cleaners can make mistakes that may lead to problems.
The most common mistake: over-wetting the carpet.
This can happen for several reasons:
The equipment used is faulty or low-quality;
The water pressure (psi) is too high;
The technician has poor technique;
The humidity or temperature in the home is not conducive to drying carpets, and/or
No fans or air movers were used to help speed-dry the carpet.
1. The equipment used is faulty or low-quality
There are two types of steam cleaning machines: portable units, and truck-mounted units.
A portable unit is similar to a rental carpet cleaning machine. It is wheeled into the home and connects to a water source, such as a kitchen sink. Dirty water is discharged into the toilet. Some portable machines are more powerful that others, but not by much. These units have poor vacuum suction and water that just doesn't quite get hot enough.
We do not recommend using a portable unit to steam-clean a carpet. It unit doesn't have enough vacuum power to really out all the soap, water, and dirt out of the carpet.
A truck-mounted unit is a carpet machine mounted inside a van, truck, or trailer. Most units of this type are totally self-sufficient, meaning they have their own fresh water tank mounted in the van; the dirty waste water is piped to a waste tank also inside the van. The vacuum power is significantly higher, and the water temperature can reach up to 230 degrees, depending on the type of machine. These machines range in price from $10k to $30k. Generally, the higher the cost, the better the machine can perform.
However, just because a company has the biggest, baddest carpet machine, it doesn't mean they will do a better job! An experienced technician can do great work with a less- expensive machine; an inexperienced technician using a more expensive machine can ruin a carpet.
2. The water pressure is too high
Water pressure (measured in pounds per square inch, or PSI), can be adjusted on pretty much every machine. There isn't necessarily a perfect PSI setting, because pressure can and should be adjusted based on the type of carpet being cleaned, as well as how dirty the carpet is.
If a portable or a low-end truck-mounted carpet machine is being used, the PSI should probably be turned down a bit, because these machines lack the raw vacuum power of the bigger, badder truck-mounted machines.
It’s also possible that the person using the equipment may not know the correct pressure, based on the conditions and type of equipment in use, and leave the carpet too wet. An experienced tech will know exactly what to set the PSI at.
3. The technician has poor technique
I think you're catching on. It's all about how good the technician is, or how good hew wants to be, right?
A technician’s technique is the nuts and bolts of carpet cleaning. I always like to tell new techs that not all carpets are created equal – meaning that some areas will be dirtier than others and may need slower wand strokes and more dry passes afterwards. A dry pass, or dry stroke, refers to running the carpet wand vacuum over the carpet without simultaneously injecting water into it. This is helpful for removing moisture in a dirty or high-traffic area. But in a non-traffic area, or an area that is not heavily soiled, less water – and fewer dry passes – can be used.
The point is to use as much water as needed to remove dirt, soap, and water, but not so much that it will soak or overwet the carpet.
Carpet can be overwetted by an inexperienced or poor carpet-cleaning tech, a tech who simply doesn't care about his work.
4. The humidity or temperature in the home are not conducive to drying a carpet
To reduce drying times, carpet needs air movement and low humidity. At the very minimum, the thermostat should be set to have the fan on. Ideally, the temperature should be set according to the outside weather conditions. For example, in winter, it's best to run the heat even a couple degrees warmer than the homeowner generally sets it at. If it's summer, the thermostat needs to be set to run the AC a little colder than normal. The combination of airflow and temperature regulation will decrease drying times. If you’re area-cleaning a basement in the summer while it's raining and don't turn on the AC … you're asking for trouble. Hot moisture stagnating in a basement room that already has poor air circulation is bad news! Always turn off any humidification system when cleaning carpet.
5. No fans or air movers were used to help speed dry the carpet
When blowers or fans are used after carpet cleaning, you will significantly reduce the carpet’s dry time. Combine that with regulating the air temp and humidity, and you have the perfect combo for the after-cleaning setting.
The blowers that carpet cleaners use come in a variety of sizes and power ranges. We use small blowers because they are easy to carry and can be moved from room to room with ease.
Carpet steam cleaning is the best solution for cleaning carpet in a residential home and won't damage carpet as long as mistakes are avoided and the technician is properly trained and wants to do a good job.
So, when you go hire a carpet cleaner, ask these questions:
What carpet cleaning method do you use? (You want steam cleaning.)
Do you use portable or truck-mounted carpet machines? (You want truck-mounted.)
Do you do dry passes or dry strokes to help pull out moisture? (The answer should be yes.)
Do you use air movers or blowers or fans to help reduce the drying time? (The answer should be yes.)
How experienced is the technician who will be coming to my home? (Hopefully he has at least a year of experience.)
You might think I’m trying to make a case against steam cleaning, because the problems I’ve listed are the same things dry-cleaners use to scare potential clients into not choosing steam cleaning. But we fully endorse steam carpet cleaning – as long as the above requirements are met.
There are several other important factors and questions that are good to ask about, but as long as the company you hire answers the above questions correctly, you shouldn’t have to worry about the carpet taking a couple days to dry after it’s cleaned. This will reduce the chances that your carpet will be damaged.