Writing against high heat
Richard Baldwin

Everywhere I look these days, I see flashy ads for “fire-breathing monster truckmounts” with super-duper heat exchangers that boast water temperatures of 225 degrees Fahrenheit or more.

This is the main selling point.

I also see a lot of discussion between professional carpet cleaners boasting to each other about who has the hottest wand in the country.

I have to shake my head. Are you trying to clean something or burn it?

Today, I have my own company, and because I needed to start out small, I”m using a portable with no heater.

I chose extra vacuum power instead, and I don”t regret it.

I”m not saying that I wouldn”t want a truckmount one day; I will probably get one within the next few years, but my decision will be based more on vacuum lift and airflow than on heat output.

I am also not stating that higher heat is not helpful; sure, it is helpful, but it is not the most important part of the cleaning process, and carpets can be cleaned without it.

Higher water temperature helps with two things only: Chemical activity and separating and dissolving oils from whatever they are stuck to.

Higher chemical activity is great, as long as you don”t kill the efficiency of your chemicals, such as enzymes.

For example, if you are using 225 degree Fahrenheit water with enzymes, you may as well be cleaning with just water because the enzymes are all inactivated.

It can slightly speed up your required dwell time… but it makes more sense to have super-hot water with your prespray, where the chemicals are, than to have super-hot extraction water.

When you extract, you are trying to remove the emulsified soil and your prespray residue.

Try rinsing soapy dishes in the sink with hot water.

Looks pretty clean, right? Rub your hand around on the plate and you will find soap suds forming.

Now rinse with cold and decide which removed the soap easier.

The hot water increased the chemical activity of the dish detergent and therefore, made it more difficult to remove from the plate because it wants to keep foaming and doing what it was designed to do.

You can”t clean a greasy frying pan effectively using only cold water, but you can add dish detergent and the grease comes right off, and so does the soap.

The cold water reduced the chemical activity after the detergent had done its job of emulsifying the grease from the frying pan, thus making the detergent easier to remove, along with any soil it had absorbed.

Combined with warm to moderately hot water, it cleans with ease. Boiling water, straight from the kettle, would also clean the frying pan if you flushed enough water on it, but is it necessary?

Besides, we don”t want to use a lot of water, do we? Soaking a carpet is not the desired result.

If you are not convinced with the dishes experiment, then use small pieces of carpet.

All of this applies just as much to soiled fibers.

The same laws of physics exist. Oils can be made water soluble by using degreasers.

There is really not a lot of difference if your water is 150 degrees Fahrenheit or 225 Fahrenheit when cleaning a restaurant carpet.

I”ve tried both and found that prespray and agitation were the most effective steps for great results.

I”ve cleaned carpets that were black with grease and traffic to look brand new, with only one or two extractions, using hot water from the tap and a degreaser/emulsifier combination as a prespray.

I would like to add that most prespray chemicals for truckmount systems are designed to work with a higher temperature, but not as high as 225 degrees Fahrenheit.

And keep in mind that it”s the prespray mixture temperature, not the extraction solution temperature, which would apply to this design.

Besides all the chemical know-how, parts in your machine will wear out faster with extreme hot water, you will go through a lot more water trying to keep your machine cooled, you will be buying new connectors every week, leaving burn marks on your customers” lawns and carpet, replacing blown steam lines, nursing your burn welts on various parts of your body from where those hot connectors touched you, wearing gloves and yelling “ooch, ouch, ooch” when you try to wrap up the hot steam line.

Another myth: The carpet will not dry very much faster because you used super hot water to extract.

Drying time is determined by room temperature, absorption, humidity, and ventilation.

Perhaps a good raking on a cut pile can help, too.

After you spray the super-hot water to the carpet, it takes less than a minute to cool to the temperature of the room, and that is not enough time for it to make any difference in drying time.

If you want to clean thoroughly, effectively, efficiently and easily, think more about what prespray you are using — and how to use it properly, and higher vacuum lift to pull soil, residue and solution out of the carpet.

Heat is only an added bonus, but not the main factor to making carpets beautiful.

Loren Egland

At times we seem to be comparing apples to oranges, so I am not always sure we are talking about the same thing.

You talk mostly about heat as it relates to the preconditioning step, while I am talking about heat mostly during the flushing step of the cleaning process.

It”s hard for me to relate to your cleaning system.

We don”t seem to do anything the same, other than pre-treat the carpet with a preconditioning chemical mixed in hot water.

You use cold water to flush the carpet. Most of the time, I use extremely hot water.

You don”t use a cleaning agent in your water, where as I do add a primary cleaner to help attract a compatible traffic lane pre-spray, and to remove more soil.

You use a portable machine. I use a truckmounted machine with greater vacuum, more water flow, and higher heat.

You apparently use a foaming action shampoo pre-spray that forces you to cold water rinse, as evidenced by your lengthy dish-washing illustration where you equate the foaming of the preconditioning chemical applied to the carpet with that of dish soap.

I use a non-foaming traffic lane cleaner that doesn”t require cold water to cut the foam for easier removal.

From your comments, it sounds like you need to rely on more aggressive agitation than I do.

These differences tell part of the story as to why you are a non-believer in high temperature cleaning, other than the obvious, being that you apparently have never truly experienced it.

I, on the other hand, can easily compare results by turning off my truckmount”s burner and clean with cold, clear water.

It has been my experience that there is just no substitute for high-temperature flushing.

It easily removes difficult things like caked-in restaurant grease, hardened candle wax, and softens gum for easy removal.

I have seen hot water remove vomit, feces, and red dye type staining that wouldn”t budge when trying cold water first.

One thing I can relate to is cleaning with a portable, since truckmounts weren”t really developed back in 1970 when I first started cleaning with this relatively new steam process.

The portable I started with had a heater, a positive displacement vacuum blower, a four-jet drag wand, weighed more than I did and cost as much back then as a cheap truckmount does today.

But I cannot relate to your type of cleaning since when I used my portable, I used hot water, added a powdered cleaning chemical, and I did not precondition the carpet.

This one-step method worked very well, especially when compared to shampooing used by most cleaners back then.

I bring this up to illustrate the cleaning power of a primary cleaning agent in hot water extraction.

Even hot water by itself has cleaning power. Try cleaning an oily engine with nothing but hot steam.

Now try it with your shampoo, followed by a cold-water rinse. I”ll bet it won”t work as well, and an engine surface is much easier to clean than a porous carpet.

You state that using 225 degrees Fahrenheit is too hot for preconditioning with enzymes. Even though some enzymes are quite durable at high temperature, applying them at 225 degrees is not a reasonable expectation.

No one I know does this, nor can they realistically accomplish such a feat.

Now, on to your high-heat negatives, none of which affects cleaning performance.

As I mentioned at the end of my opening discussion, there are negatives to everything, but let”s not be unreasonable.

Though you may be right that it takes more water to keep some machines cooler, better designed truckmounts do not have this problem.

It”s not even close to being true that new connectors are needed “every week”. Mine rarely wear out.

“Burn marks” on customers” lawns are easily eliminated by simply not running hot hoses across the grass, nor do hot hoses “burn carpet”.

Hot hoses on some carpet can reset the yarn memory though, so just turn down the heat on those fibers.

Yes, you can get burned if you are not careful, so just take some normal precautions like you do with anything else that is hot.

Can you imagine a business that uses heat to be successful, deciding not to use heat because they might get burned?

Just try to make money in the restaurant business serving only cold raw food because you might get burned by the stove burner or a hot plate!

Replacing hot steam lines a little more often on a truckmount is a small price to pay for the benefits of high temperature cleaning, of which there are more than “only two” as you stated.

However, even one benefit should be enough to use high temperature cleaning, instead of cold water.

With all these so-called negatives, I am not sure why you want a truckmount in your future. Perhaps you could buy one without a heater if you truly believe in cold water rinsing as the best choice.

When it comes to making money, even with the higher costs of purchasing and operating a high-temperature truckmount, every dollar of that expense will pay you back several more dollars in ”profit” than will using a cold water portable that costs less to buy and to operate.

Like many cleaners, you believe that more vacuum is the key to cleaner carpet. That is not necessarily true.

Once you have thoroughly flushed the soils from the carpet using TACT, your extracted return water will also be clean.

You might leave less of the clean rinse water in the carpet if you have a little stronger vacuum, but no further cleaning will take place using stronger vacuum once the carpet is completely clean. Thus, any further cleaning attempts will be pointless.

On the other hand, if you are still noticing soiled return water on your last extraction pass with the wand, then extracting a little more of that still soiled water with strong vacuum will remove slightly more soil.

Of course, the carpet fibers will still be somewhat soiled, so using more TACT and flushing, rather than stronger vacuum, would be needed to get the carpet fully clean.

Actually, most truckmounts have enough vacuum power for a single wand operation at normal distances from the truckmount.

Richard, you said that in the next few years you intend to purchase a truckmount “based more on vacuum lift and airflow than on heat output”.

A little advice from someone who has used high temperature with high solution flow ever since purchasing my first truckmount in 1978: Put more emphasis on higher heat combined with greater solution flow, rather than on a big “vacuum only” truckmount.

I promise you, that when it comes to ”cleaning performance”, you won”t regret it!

Loren Egland, an IICRC Master Textile Cleaner, was the owner-operator of Rochester Steam Way, Rochester, MN, from 1970 to 1984, and has owned and operated Delta Steam Way, Antioch, CA, since 1984. His website is: www.deltasteamway.com

Richard Baldwin, an IICRC Certified Carpet Cleaner and Water Damage Restoration Technician, has owned and operated Expert Carpet Care since April 2004. Before starting his own company, he spent five years with two major carpet cleaning companies utilizing various types of equipment. Visit his website at: www.expertcarpet-care.com