Carpet preconditioning best practices


Getting a head start when beginning your carpet cleaning project makes for a faster, more successful job.

Applying the proper preconditioning agent is a head start that many carpet cleaners utilize.

On the other hand, some carpet cleaners don”t precondition at all.

They rely on the power of their cleaning machine (truckmount, portable) or cleaning tool (spin bonnet, foam or shampoo) to do the bulk of the work.

Without the proper preconditioner, cleaning times are increased.

The short amount of time it takes to apply a quality preconditioner makes up for the time saved during the actual cleaning process.

Types of preconditioners

Today you have virtually an unlimited choice of chemistry to use for your cleaning process.

The type(s) of preconditioning agent(s) you can choose include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Alkaline detergents (a long-standing tradition, with builders, surfactants, solvents and emulsifiers)
  • Neutral or slightly acidic detergents (usually with chemical reaction such as hydrogen peroxide and/or natural solvents such as d-Limonene)
  • Enzyme detergents (most typical are blends that attack oily and protein soils)
  • Encapsulation detergents (most are neutral to slightly acidic)
  • Specialized preconditioners, such as for olefin, wool and others.

Of course, boosters and additives can be mixed into many preconditioners for specific soiling challenges (citrus solvents, alkaline builders, oxygen boosters).

Oxygen added to preconditioners is good for attacking smaller soil particles and brightening lighter colored carpet.

Using TACT

As most professional cleaners realize, the cleaning process depends on TACT — which stands for:

  • Time (chemical dwell and working time)
  • Agitation (working in preconditioners and also during cleaning)
  • Chemical (type and amount of cleaning solutions)
  • Temperature (preconditioner and working solution temperature).

By increasing precondition dwell time, TACT can be better utilized. Most preconditioners work best with a 10-15 minute dwell time, but be careful not to allow the preconditioner to dry out before rinsing.

Labor is the most expensive element of cleaning, and by allowing the proper preconditioner to work, you save time actually cleaning.

It also means the agitation, chemical and temperature aspects of TACT are much more efficient, and the final result is a better cleaning job.

Match preconditioners to soils

Each job is different, and you will need to adjust your preconditioner to the circumstances.

For example: Cleaning a greasy restaurant carpet means you might choose a high-pH, enzyme preconditioner to break down the oils and proteins.

The next job you might do could be a residential nylon carpet. The pH of all your chemistry should be less than 10, which means you need to change the preconditioner.

Another job might be a heavily-soiled olefin Berber carpet, which means you might choose a high-pH, olefin-specific preconditioner. That type of chemistry often includes special solvents to remove the oils that bond with the olefin fibers.

And then when you clean a wool carpet, you have to be even more careful of the pH of your cleaning chemistry.

Resoiling and recurring spots

Although we usually talk about the rinse agent as the cure for resoiling and recurring spotting problems, the preconditioner you choose also has an affect.

There are encapsulation preconditioners that have excellent detergency. These preconditioners jump-start the encapsulation chemistry aspect of your cleaning, and combined with an encapsulation rinse, the carpet stays clean longer.

Many cleaners prefer powdered preconditioners as they claim they are less “sticky” and rinse easier. It”s a claim that has to be substantiated by you in your own cleaning tests.

As in testing most chemicals, you can put a small amount of preconditioner on a hard surface, allow it to dry, and then feel the residue to see if it is in any way “sticky” or “greasy” to the touch.

If it is, chances are the chemical will attract soils and create a problem for you after the cleaning is performed.

Remember that the preconditioner you use should be completely rinsed and neutralized by your rinse agent.

Agitation and preconditioning

After applying the preconditioner (with a pump-up, in-line or battery sprayer) you can agitate or work it into the carpet fiber.

This breaks up the soils and accelerates your cleaning.

Using a truckmount or high-powered portable with a fairly high pump pressure (approximately 500 PSI) also adds to the agitation aspect of cleaning.

The agitation with a spin bonnet or oscillating pad machine is an excellent bonus in cleaning.

Power agitation tools, while adding cost when initially purchased, are very important when cleaning large or heavily soiled jobs.

Check with your manufacturer or distributor to find which would work best with your particular cleaning system.


Jeff Cross is the executive editor of Cleanfax and is an industry trainer and consultant. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].

Jeff Cross

Jeff Cross is the ISSA media director, with publications that include Cleaning & Maintenance Management, ISSA Today, and Cleanfax magazines. He is the previous owner of a successful cleaning and restoration firm. He also works as a trainer and consultant for business owners, managers, and front-line technicians. He can be reached at [email protected].

Follow Jeff Cross

Related Posts

Share This Article

Join Our Newsletter

Expert Videos

Popular Content


CoreLogic: Spearheading Innovation and Technology in the Restoration Industry


Insurance Restoration Strategies Unlocked: How to Identify & Conquer Top Challenges in the Industry

AI sales

Is AI Going to Be the Death of the Salesperson?

Grow your social media

The Digital Marketing Demystified Series—Part 2: Grow Your Business with Social Media

Digital Marketing - Part 1

The Digital Marketing Demystified Series—Part 1: World Class Email Marketing


As a floor cleaning contractor, which of the following best describes your approach to marketing:

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...