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How to Clean Carpets

With all the children, pets, and blue collar workers living in our apartment units today, knowing how and when to clean carpets is not only going to extend the life of your carpets, but it will also keep your residents happy.

Actually, though, it's smart to clean your carpets regularly, even if they don't appear to be that dirty. The Environmental Protection Agency says to deep-clean carpets every 6 to 12 months, at a minimum to remove potential allergens like pet dander, dust mites, pollen and mold. Carpet manufacturers recommend deep-cleaning every 12 to 18 months to prevent permanent damage to your carpet.

Whether you are required to clean hundreds of carpets a year or are just doing it for the first time, here's what you need to know to get great looking carpets.

Which Cleaning Method?
If you look in the yellow pages you'll see that there are several methods of cleaning offered. The tructh is they all work well, though some are better for some carpet types, than others. However, all the cleaning methods fall into three basic groups:

  • Hot Water Extraction (also called Steam Cleaning) - Very hot water and cleaning solutions is sprayed into the carpet and them immediately vacuumed up, along with the dirt.
  • Cold Water Extraction - The same as above, except the water is cold or lukewarm
  • Dry Extraction - The machine applies an absorbant powder or foam to the carpet, works it into the pile, and then vacuums it up.
Whenever possible you should consult your warranty or ask your carpet provider to see which method is best for you. For all except wool carpets (which are rare) hot water extraction is usually best. It you are in doubt, the safest thing is to hire a professional.

Three options: Buy, Rent or Hire.
It comes down to three choices for carpet cleaning - buying a machine, renting one, or hiring the job out.

Buying a Machine - You can buy a carpet cleaning machine for as little as $100 or as much as several thousand dollars. How often you use it and how dirty your carpets get are just a couple of factors to consider when purchasing. If you have just occiasional light touch up, a smaller inexpensive model will work. But if you are planning to clean 3-4 heavily soiled carpets a day, your best bet is a heavy duty professional model. I have saved thousands of dollars over the years by purchasing carpet cleaning equipment for my larger properties (75 units or more). I have the capability of cleaning when I need it without having to wait for a vendor and also regularly clean existing resident's carpet as part of my retention program.

Renting a Machine - For around $25 a day you can rent a machine from your local hardware or grocery store. Hot water and powder extraction are the most common types of machines. (You can also buy these types of machines, but prices start at around $600).

Rental machines can give you professional quality results and you can clean according to your own schedule. Renting is economical too. It is important to remember if you use a rental carpet cleaner, be sure to pre-clean spots and high traffic areas with a cleaning solution (available where you rent the machine). The disadvantages of rental machines are that some older models are bulky, dirty and heavy. They have cumbersome hoses and are difficult to empty in the bathtub. Newer machines are compact, easy to use and much easier to empty.

If your carpet has stains you can't get out, don't bother renting a machine. Call a professional to work on the stains and have then clean the carpet at the same time.

Hiring a Professional - Because of the physical work and the time involved, many feel the best way to clean your carpets is to hire a professional. Typical costs for carpet cleaning and spot removal run from $.15 to $.25 per square foot. The AAOC Product and Service Council can provide excellent carpet cleaning companies. Obviously you pay more money for the convenience of having a professional do it and you often must fit your schedule to theirs.

Stains and Odors
The first rule for stain prevention is to get to it quickly, before it has a chance to soak in or dry. Scrape up solids with a spoon and vacuum up the remainder. Blot (do not scrub!) the remaining stain with a white cloth or paper towels.

Always apply cleaning solution to a white cloth, not the stain itself and then blot the carpet with the cloth. Continue as long as the spill is coming up. When finished, rinse the carpet with cold water and blot dry, repeating several times. Use a sprayer to prevent soaking the carpet. However even with modern stain resisting carpeting, the fact is that some stains can't be removed even by the professionals.

Lou Hager


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