Imagine this frustrating scenario:

You are about to tackle 2,000 square feet of dirty commercial carpet. The carpet isn’t worn more than normal, but looks terrible, especially in the traffic lanes and pivot points.

You prevacuum thoroughly, apply your favorite preconditioner that has always performed very well for you, allow about 15 minutes of dwell time, and then rinse with very hot water.

After you have completed a section, you are not happy. It still looks terrible. So you reclean the carpet.

It still looks terrible. You figure at least you didn’t make it worse.

Then the carpet dries. You inspect it the next day. It looks worse than before it was cleaned.

You have just spent valuable time and money for nothing, plus you now wonder why you decided to enter this industry in the first place.

What went wrong?

First of all, realize that commercial carpet is very different from residential carpet.

Commercial carpet is typically low-level loop with tight construction, and receives a tremendous amount of traffic (depending on the type of building, of course).

Because of the loop construction, commercial carpet often holds more soil. Soil can work its way under the loops, becoming trapped and thus very difficult to remove.

Add to this the fact that frequent vacuuming removes — mainly — larger soil particles. Without regularly scheduled carpet cleaning, the carpet fibers will begin to accumulate smaller soil particles, which will abrade the fibers and dull the overall appearance. Think of Plexiglass with sand put onto the surface and then a few hundred people walking on it. The resulting scratches and abrasions demonstrates what can happen to carpet fibers.

The resulting damage can’t be corrected with cleaning, which shows the importance of keeping a carpet in relatively clean condition at all times.

And, to add insult to injury, commercial carpet can look soiled because of the “graying” or “yellowing” from oily soils tracked onto the floor.

Regular carpet cleaning is not very effective in removing this type of soil.

Attacking the problem

The first step in tackling this problem is to use more agitation. A rotary or cylindrical brushing system to work in your preconditioner will give you much better results.

You need to get the preconditioner to where the soil is… often, simply spraying it onto the carpet isn’t enough.

You need chemistry to attack the smaller soil particles. Oxygen boosters are great for this, and can be added to your preconditioner or rinse agent. In addition to attacking smaller soil particles, the oxygen acts as a safe bleach, helping to remove the yellowing or graying as mentioned earlier.

However, a word of warning. Powdered oxygen boosters have a high pH, which means you may be leaving the carpet in an alkaline condition. Remember that carpet in an alkaline condition will resoil quickly. You may want to do an acid rinse (second rinsing) — when your first rinse is a high alkaline cleaner.

Higher heat also means more chemical action, but you may be limited depending on the equipment you use.

Preconditioning and rinsing the carpet with an encapsulation solution during cleaning helps hinder wicking and allows subsequent vacuuming to remove more soils. Using this type of chemistry in hot water extraction helps limit the carpet cleaning “uglies” that tend to show up after the carpet is dry.

Another option, if you do not want to use an encapsulant during the cleaning process, is to post-spray an anti-wicking agent onto the carpet. This chemical has the same encapsulation features to trap soils in the polymer agent. It keeps wicking to a minimum.

Other methods

Truly successful carpet cleaners get that way because they have several tools in their cleaning arsenal.

Although hot water extraction is the most popular method of cleaning today, other methods should be considered, either as stand alone or dual-method cleaning programs.

Encapsulation cleaning, previously mentioned, is perfect for commercial carpet, especially since commercial carpet allows less airflow (when using hot water extraction) through the carpet fibers, resulting in soils remaining in the pile.

The agitation feature (heavy brush action) of compound cleaning, along with the cleaning agents in the absorbent particles, can be effective in commercial carpet care.

Bonnet or pad cleaning is also effective, especially with the high agitation and absorbency in removing soils, along with the detergency of the cleaning agent.

Foam and shampoo utilize detergency and high agitation, stripping soils from fibers.

The end result may be worth it.

Each job is different

Remember that you need to look at each job as a custom cleaning project… what works for one job may not be as effective on the next.

Be sure you have all the tools and chemicals necessary to do the job right.

You need quality detergents, rinse agents, encapsulation chemicals, agitation tools and oxygen boosters, at a minimum.

Jeff Cross is the executive 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. You can reach him at