Soil composition can create cleaning challenges that are not always expected.

Soil is defined as anything foreign to the carpet – and some soils are very troublesome, especially when the soil is found on a fiber that “likes” that kind of soil. A successful cleaner is “smarter” than the soil.

The three types of soils are:

  • Water soluble (about 10% of soils)
  • Solvent soluble (about 10% of soils)
  • Insoluble (about 80% of soils)

Water soluble soils can include starchy materials, food spills, etc. Solvent soluble would be tars, inks, oils, etc. Insoluble would be sand, clay, gypsum, skin or dander – basically, anything that will not dissolve in liquid.

Let’s do some sleuthing and determine a cleaning plan for some typical carpet challenges. Let’s be smarter than the dirt.

The challenge

Most commercial settings have larger amounts of soil, since shoes are not taken off upon entry. Adding to that problem, not many feel the inclination to wipe their feet – after all, this isn’t their home, and they don’t have to do the cleaning.

Imagine a concrete sidewalk that doesn’t get swept often, and the areas of dry soil that gets wet with rain or snow and is then tracked into the facility. On top of that, you have asphalt surfaces that add a different type of soil, typically an oily soil, solvent soluble. And then you have soluble soils in various forms, some of them simply spills from building occupants.

All of this adds up to all three classes of soils – in various amounts – being brought into the building and deposited on the carpet above.

Cleaning solution

To determine the best cleaning solution, you have to think about how the soil got into the carpet.

Since most soils are insoluble, it’s important to vacuum completely areas such as in the photo above. However, keep in mind that many insoluble soils are ground into the carpet fibers and will not respond to vacuuming.

Many carpet cleaners apply a quality preconditioner, allowing some dwell time, and then rinsing the carpet. Then they are upset, after cleaning, because the appearance of the area is still terrible.

Many of the problems can be solved with sufficient agitation – either with a simple carpet groomer, a brush, or a mechanical machine (brush on rotary machine, cylindrical brush machine, etc).

The key, then, is agitation, and plenty of it, with the best chemical action that matches the soil and fiber surface. But just be careful you don’t use too much agitation that it damages carpet fibers.

To help remove the smaller particles that remain in the carpet, and that keep the carpet looking “gray”, you can also use an oxygen booster, which will also brighten the appearance of the finished, clean carpet.

Be sure to use the best detergency for heavy soils.

Dirty appearance (apparent soil) that remains despite your best, professional cleaning efforts is not your fault; damage is.

Specific soil challenge

Next, we have another challenge. This one is mainly “water soluble”.

This (imagine if you will) spot is in a hallway near a kitchen area (still in a commercial setting), with a door that is typically shut and locked.No one really knows how this spot got onto the carpet, but it probably follows a typical scenario:

Someone is carrying a cup of coffee, tea, or a can of Coke. As that person comes up to the door, he or she gets out a key and tries to juggle the beverage in the crook of an arm while attempting to open the door.

The inevitable occurs. The beverage drops and spills and saturates the carpet, creating the spot in the photo above.

Now you have a water-soluble spot that needs more water-soluble cleaning procedures. If a full 12 ounces or more was spilled, you will need enough cleaning agent to dissolve that amount of soil.

The soils are not ground in but still needs some agitation, but more importantly – more flushing .

And what you see on the surface isn’t the entire story. What’s in the backing and on the subfloor can create troubles, so the flushing is important.

Drying is next. Many, many dry vacuum passes is best, followed with a toweling or bonneting of the area, and then speed drying.

Remember, on the cleaning pie, flushing is part of “agitation”. So the more flushing, the more agitation you are using.

Leaving a weighted poultice (white, cotton towel with a weight) after complete cleaning will also help with the possible wicking action.

Application of an anti-soiling agent also helps. Bonnet cleaning and dry compound cleaning will also be effective in this scenario.

With the cleaning chemistry and tools available to carpet cleaners today, there is no reason not to be successful in removing virtually any type of soil in any soiling situation.

You just have to be smarter than the dirt. Analyze the soils and plan your cleaning protocol accordingly.

Jeff Cross is the senior editor of Cleanfax and the creator of Totally Booked University. He can be reached via e-mail at