By Mike Watt

If carpet cleaners have a good year, many of them take a couple of weeks — even a few weeks — off in January through March. They go somewhere warm and get away from the ice and cold.

Good reason for this. Many of our customers hold off cleaning their carpet during the winter months. It’s understandable. They figure that more soil and ice melt will likely be tracked in the home or facility on the bottoms of shoes… so why clean them while weather conditions are still bad?

However, the reality is that carpet cleaning frequencies should be increased during the cold and icy winter months. According to ISSA, the worldwide cleaning association, one square yard of commercial carpet captures one pound of soil per week — and twice as much during incremental weather. Effectively flushing the carpet clean, which typically means carpet extraction, is the best way to keep the carpet clean and healthy this time of year.

By the way, before we continue with our discussion on winter carpet cleaning, if you are one of the lucky ones that is able to take some time off during the winter months, don’t take too much time off. The first three months of the year are also one of the best times to start marketing your services. After all, spring is right around the corner. Then customers will want their carpet cleaned and you will want to be “Johnny-on-the-spot”: The first carpet cleaning professional they call to tackle the job.

Our focus is carpet

While both hard surface and carpeted floors take a beating during the winter months, our focus here will be carpet. During the warm and dry periods of the year, the soils that build up in carpet tend to act like tiny razors, slowly cutting away at carpet fiber as people walk over the carpet. But come winter, when those soils are now mixed in with moisture and ice melt, things can get a lot worse.

The key ingredient in ice melt is salt, otherwise known as sodium chloride. However, it may also contain calcium chloride and magnesium chloride, which are also salt products.

When these mix with water, it becomes a liquid solution. This solution lowers the freezing point of water so instead of water turning slippery at 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius); it will need to become still colder for the slippery ice to form.

That’s the good thing about ice melt. The bad thing is that as the salt and this solution builds up in carpet, it can leave a residue. Now along with soils, salt, and chemical residue, the three can cause significant damage to carpet fibers. This is why they should be removed.

Getting the grunge of winter out of carpet

If you’ve been called to get the grunge (dirt, grime, soil, and ice melt all mixed together) out of your customer’s carpet, there are some essential steps you need to know. First, it does not matter if the customer has done an adequate job of vacuuming the carpet during the winter months.

Much of the soil and salt that has made its way into the carpet has now dried. Vacuum cleaners are designed to remove dry soiling. Doing so will also help the cleaning solution and carpet extractor work more effectively.

As for cleaning solutions, if the carpet is in an industrial-type carpet or industrial carpet tiles, there are cleaning solutions or presprays available that help dissolve winter soils, neutralize salt, and calcium deposits, along with any chemical residue in the carpet. As always, follow the manufacturer’s recommendations as to dilution ratios. Note: In some cases, the instructions may say to dilute with cold water only.

Follow this up by using an extractor and rinse the area clean using pure tap water. In heavily soiled areas, the entire process may need to be repeated.

With more traditional carpet, we have some other options. There are carpet cleaning solutions explicitly designed to remove salt and other soil from carpet. In some cases, these cleaning solutions can be worked into the carpet using two different cleaning methods — bonnet or carpet extraction. In some cases, bonnet may actually be preferable because it provides more agitation. However, and as we will discuss why a little later, a carpet extractor should still be called in to thoroughly rinse the carpet.

Again, follow the manufacturer’s dilution and mixing directions. In some cases, not only is cold water recommended, if using as a prespray or the solution is poured into an extractor, the water may need to be poured in the bottle or tank first, and then the cleaning solution applied. To mitigate foaming, and as a correct mixing principal, always add chemical to water and not the inverse.

Now, we’ve mentioned a couple of times when cleaning carpet that has collected ice melt and other soils, it is important to rinse thoroughly.

Why is this so important?

Very often, right after cleaning, it may appear that all residue has been removed from the carpet. The carpet looks good and you and your customer are pleased.

Don’t be tricked by this. Ice melt does tend to clean up rather thoroughly. However, some of the residue caused by the ice melt may still be in the carpet. Additionally, once dry, the white powdery effect of ice melt residue may reappear. If so, rapid re-soiling is very possible. Thoroughly rinsing the carpet is the only way to prevent this.


Mike Watt is of director of training at Avmor, a leading North American manufacturer of professional carpet cleaning solutions. He can be reached at mwatt@avmor.com.