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Operation: Clean carpet

October 11, 2010
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Carpet and upholstery cleaning is as important as any other phase of professional detailing. How you go about it could cost you time and money.

The inside of a vehicle takes a continuous beating. Every time someone gets in and out of a vehicle, some type of dirt is brought in. Just sitting in your vehicle drops dead skin, hair, crumbs and other contaminants.

Plan of attack
There are several questions that come to mind when approaching the soiled carpeting of a vehicle. Some of the first questions asked should be:
  • What are the expectations of the customer?
  • Is the work for a car dealer or the public?
  • Is it an express detail or full detail?
With an express detail the service may consist of a vacuum and spot cleaning of the carpets. For a full detail, you may be removing seats, spotting the carpets, scrubbing, steaming and extracting.

There are several methods, tools, products and equipment for cleaning and deodorizing carpets and upholstery.

The following tools are necessary:
  • Carpet shampoo;
  • Solvent cleaners;
  • Air freshener;
  • Odor eliminating product;
  • Defoaming agent;
  • Carpet brush;
  • Cyclo cleaner;
  • Vacuum;
  • Steamer; and
  • Extractor.
The use of these tools are suggested for the fastest and best results.

What causes most carpet and upholstery problems? Water leaks, pet urine, grease, food spills, paint etc., are the common causes of carpet stains.

There are several methods to clean this type of soiled carpeting, but here are some of the most common and effective ways to remedy the situation:

Hand cleaning method: Use carpet brush, carpet shampoo, solvent or all purpose cleaner to scrub and clean area. Blot oily stains. Repeat blotting as necessary.

Cyclo method: Spot the carpets and upholstery with cleaners and scrub carpets with cyclo tool. This is a great tool that takes a lot of stress off of you on a busy day. Let the machine do the work. Remember to blot oily soiled areas before using cyclo tool otherwise you may spread the problem, making more work for yourself. Another great feature about this tool is that it loosens up sand and dirt.

Steam method: With steamer and terry cloth towel, direct steam to problem area and blot clean. You will see stain compound coming up on the towel. This may take several applications to remove all stains. Another benefit of this tool is that is usually does not leave the fabric as wet as the extractor or hand cleaning method.

Extractor method: Use this method only after carpets and upholstery have been spotted or brushed clean on heavy soiled areas. Fill your extractor with clean water and recommended amount of shampoo. Add a defoaming agent to the waste compartment side as this will reduce the amount of foam generated in holding tank. This is important because some extractors can be affected when excess foam gets into motor area.

The idea behind the extractor is to use more of the hot water to clean and extract the problem area. Removing the water is equaling important because if the carpets remain damp, it could cause a mildew problem. If the vehicle will be sitting for a while before being picked up, crack the windows for air flow.

Eliminating odors
In the case of an extreme spill (pet urine, for example), locating the source of the odor problem will cut your time in half. Haphazardly running the machines and cleaners over the carpet and upholstery may not solve the odor problem. On the surface, they may look clean but still smell because odor is trapped in padding.

In extreme cases, the seats and carpet may need to be removed. If this extra step is necessary, be sure to remove the padding under the carpet as this holds the foul odor. Replacing the padding is easy. Go to to any carpet store, cut a piece the same size and reattach with spray adhesive.

With all of your hard work, always remember to bill accordingly. You will be spending more time and effort taking pieces apart and putting them back together again.

Mold problems and elimination
Mold comes from spores inside and outside of the vehicle. It is a living microscopic fungus that feeds on decomposing organic matter. Molds flourish in warm, damp and humid environments by multiplying. Usually mold will come into the car by a leak or wet carpets.

It’s always best to dissect the problem and notify your customer as soon as possible to stop or control the problem. When mold is located, it’s best to clean metal surfaces with bleach and water. Then, clean the carpet with the steps above. If the vehicle is highly contaminated with mold, you may want to suggest the installation of new carpeting.

Gum Removal
The best way to remove gum from carpets is to use the ice method. Take a small plastic bag filled with ice and place it on top of gum for about 15 to 20 minutes. When gum is hard, scrape with a putty knife or butter knife. Once the large portion is removed try putting a little ben gay on top of the residue to loosen the remainder of the gum. Then clean carpets as usual.

Even though carpets look clean on new cars that have only been driven a few thousand miles, there may be dust and dirt hidden to the naked eye. Fill your extractor with clean water then spot the carpets with a light coat of all purpose carpet cleaner. Then run the extractor over the carpets. Check the catch container and you’ll be surprised how dirty the water is. The point is, just because carpets look clean, doesn’t mean they are as clean as you or your customers think.

When cleaning doesn’t cut it
There are going to be times when you tried every method and the carpets just don’t clean up 100 percent. Dying the carpets or replacing them is an option that can be suggested to the customer. Several companies manufacture pre-molded automotive carpets and offer choices with aerosol or water base dye systems. When redying, it’s always best to go a shade darker to cover any stains that may still show. This is more relevant with lighter colors.

Bottom line: Clean your interior as frequently as possible. Just a quick vacuum every other week of so can prolong the life of your carpets. Keep in mind the longer stains remain in the carpet, the harder to remove and clean.

What to charge?
All markets are different and pricing may vary depending on where you live. The rule of thumb is whatever you charge retail, cut that number in half and you have your dealer price. Although this is not exact, it’s a good way to gauge your pricing.

Your price will also change depending on how much service you are offering. If you’re doing a quick clean up, full detail or are removing all the carpets and seats, your prices will increase. Typically with a quick wash and vacuum, bump up the sale by suggesting the removal of stains, or remove all seats to attack every part of the carpet properly.

Michael Patrick of Appearance Plus in Satellite Beach, FL operates three detail shops and has trained thousands of people worldwide since 1987. Patrick can be reached at: getcarcrazy@yahoo. com or by phone at: (321) 777-3557.

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