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Carpet and fabric detailing made easy

April 15, 2009
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Editor’s Note: This article is taken from the January 2006 issue of Professional Carwashing & Detailing®. If you would like to submit an article or topic idea for the Management Tip of the Week, please e-mail Editor Kate Carr.

Over the years, the cleaning industry has experienced many changes, mostly because of advancements in chemical formulation, equipment development, carpet construction and the understanding of technique.

However, one thing that’s remained consistent in cleaning both carpet and fabric is the essential fundamental of getting the job done properly.

Keeping costs down

In order to proceed, we need to understand what the acronym T.A.C.T. represents:

  • Temperature;
  • Agitation;
  • Chemical action; and
  • Time

When you increase one or more parts of the above, you will need to decrease the others to accomplish cleaning.

When you decrease one or more parts of the above, you will need to increase the others to accomplish cleaning.

We are always trying to decrease time, because time is money and is directly related to our productivity and profit.

The hot water extraction method is most commonly used among professional detailers and is the preferred method of carpet cleaning.

Heated water increases the molecular expansion of chemicals allowing a detailer to reduce chemical usage.

Heated water dries faster because of evaporation, breaks down soil faster and kills bacteria.

Agitation of the carpet is an important step for these reasons:

  • It can distribute chemicals for better penetration;
  • It can lift matted fibers for better cleaning; and
  • It can be a factor in assisting soil suspension.

Dwell time is another important step in carpet cleaning because it allows the chemical to penetrate and do its job.

Dwell time allows you to use the right chemicals without taking the risk of using something too strong. With too much dwell time your chemical can dry out. With not enough dwell time your chemical will not be effective.

Dilution is the solution

Hot water is considered the carrier of chemicals, and can dilute and suspend soil.

In order to use chemicals effectively, we must understand the pH scale. If you are a professional detailer, you are familiar with carpet cleaners.

Most soil in carpets is from a natural source and is considered acidic.

Dust and airborne contaminates are acids, along with human hair, animal skin, body oils, food and beverages.

Pollution is mostly combusted carbonic acid.

Most carpet cleaners are alkaline-based to balance the acidic soils in the carpet, but with water as our primary carrier, pH balancing takes place.

Petroleum solvents are used to dissolve oils when alkaline cleaners prove ineffective.

These solvents penetrate rapidly, and should be used sparingly with a towel or rag. However, remember to never saturate a carpet with a solvent cleaner.

Freshening up the fabric

Cleaning the upholstery in vehicles can create problems if we don’t know the material. Fiber is either natural or manufactured.

Make sure to vacuum the material before moving on to the cleaning aspect of the job.

Dry solvent cleaning is considered to be the safest method for removing soil in fabric, although not the most effective.

The procedure used is a simple spray and towel system: Spray your ready-to-use solvent cleaning agent on the fabric, covering one section at time, then immediately towel dry with white terrycloth towels.

Fabric shampooing

Another method for cleaning fabric is shampooing by using a concentrated detergent and agitation followed by wet extracting, leaving the fabric relatively wet.

Always follow-up with a rinse extraction for proper drying. Never use a course brush — a bonnet mitt works best.

The way shampoos work is by floating or emulsifying the soils. Never over-wet the fabric; use caution when applying shampoo.

Another method which requires a special machine is the dry-foam method.

Dry-foam uses only the foam from the solution and not the physical moisture to clean.

The advantage is that it uses less moisture so it dries quickly. The disadvantage is that you must buy the machine, which can be expensive.

Since most detailers already have a hot water extractor, it would make sense to use this procedure to clean fabrics.

The advantages are:

  • Hot water can sanitize.
  • Because of the high rinsing, more aggressive agents can be thoroughly removed.
  • The disadvantage is that it is easy to over-wet fabrics. Too much water can penetrate behind the fabric making it impossible to extract, and you run the risk of color change.

Gary Kouba is the owner of Perfect Auto Finish, Roselle, IL. He can be reached at