Most jobs go as planned and — thankfully — don’t create much of a challenge.

But all it takes is a recurring spot, wicking soil or a stubborn “ugly” traffic lane to make for a bad day.

There are tools and techniques you can use to limit these problems and make for better cleaning.

Recurring spots

Spots that return after cleaning, despite your best efforts, are discouraging, costly and can lead to unhappy customers.

Recurring spots don’t always happen overnight. Sometimes, it can be several days or even weeks after the cleaning.

There are a number of reasons why a freshly-cleaned carpet suffers from recurring spots. These most often include:

  • Incomplete removal of the original spot (which becomes visible after the carpet dries, or can attract additional soil)
  • Cleaning residue (which can attract soil)
  • Wicking (soil not removed during cleaning but that end up on the tips of the carpet due to the drying process).

The solution to the first two reasons why carpet suffers from recurring spots is fairly simple: Slow down your cleaning process and spend more time on the spots. When you are cleaning a spot, use heavier flushing with an acid rinse. The acid rinse is usually non-sticky and actually removes more cleaning residue.

Stop the wicking

Although wicking of soil — resulting in a recurring spot or resoiling after drying — is a fact of life for cleaning technicians, the basic principles of cleaning will help limit the occurrence of this problem.

A thorough prevacuuming with a high-quality commercial vacuum will remove dry soil and result in less wicking. Allow plenty of dwell time for your preconditioner to work and use agitation tools to loosen soil from the carpet pile.

You can’t see the extent of soil beneath the surface, and after cleaning — although you remove as much surface soil as possible — remaining soil/residue in the carpet backing or even in the carpet cushion follows moisture up the yarn shaft and deposits onto the tips of the yarn, creating a recurring spot or additional visible soil.

Remember: The last part of the carpet to dry is on the very tip of the yarn on the surface.

What’s the solution? Anticipate the extent of the soil and the possibility of wicking during drying.

This is especially true in spot removal. A small spot on the surface means there could be much more in the carpet backing or cushion. What you see on the surface is often the “tip of the iceberg.”

Heavier rinsing and subsequent speed-drying will reduce wicking, and the application of a “poultice” — such as a white cotton towel or absorbent compound — directly onto a cleaned spot means any recurring spotting material goes to the poultice instead of the carpet surface.

Many cleaners find success using more spotting solution, saturating the spot and using a sub-surface extractor. This is a small hand tool that can remove more moisture than a typical cleaning wand.

Also, consider the use of encapsulation preconditioners and rinsing agents as the crystallizing effect of the product limits wicking and actually helps keep the carpet clean longer.

Ugly traffic lanes

Another concern many cleaners have is that, despite vigorous cleaning attempts and backbreaking work, some traffic lanes still look “ugly.”

Sometimes there is nothing you can do. Soil in carpet is abrasive and will scratch and damage fibers. An “ugly” traffic lane may appear that way due to fiber damage.

However, sometimes the challenge is the type and amount of soil.

The remaining soil in traffic lanes that can create a dingy, dirty look despite cleaning can often be removed with oxidizing cleaners (typically called “boosters”).

This type of chemistry, usually sodium percarbonate, falls in the bleach category, although considered fairly safe for synthetic fibers (but be sure to always pretest your chemicals).

Oxidizers will, through chemical activity, remove smaller soil particles than some typical detergents.

Think, too, of the type of soil you are removing. Soil from a restaurant is very different than soil from an office complex. Match up your cleaning chemistry to the soil you are attempting to remove.

After cleaning, you might apply an anti-soiling agent, typically a crystallizing product. As the carpet dries, the chemical will crystallize more soil and create a better appearance.


Jeff Cross is the senior editor of Cleanfax magazine and an industry trainer and consultant, and offers carpet cleaning marketing, disaster restoration marketing and contract cleaning marketing seminars and classes through Totally Booked University, and also IICRC technical training for carpet and furniture cleaning, spot and stain removal and carpet color repair. For more information, visit his technical training website and marketing training website.