Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Let’s C * H * A * T about carpet cleaning

April 22, 2009

Editor’s Note: This article is an exclusive Technical Tip written for Professional Detailing e-News. If you would like to submit an article or topic idea for the Management Tip of the Week, please e-mail Editor Kate Carr.

For so many detailers, the extent of time they spend inside a car usually pales in comparison to the time they spend on the outside. However, after the customer takes a quick look around (some even bump the car with their hip to see how “slippery” it now is from the wax job) they get inside.

The most significant impression a customer might get after paying for a full interior/exterior detail job is how well the interior turned out. After all, that’s where they’ll be the entire drive home.

To truly deliver a professional, deep interior carpet and upholstery cleaning, you must use a hot water extractor and understand the four key components of carpet cleaning, that when used together, will get you and your customers the results you and they expect.

Many different acronyms have been used when describing the proper way to professionally deep clean carpets. For the sake of this article, let’s go with:

C * H * A * T

(Chemical – Heat – Agitation - Time)

One thing I see a lot of when it comes to interior vehicle carpet cleaning is that many detailers think that just adding chemical into the solution tank of an extractor suffices. But when you think about it, doing so essentially eliminates the impact of “C,” “A,” & “T.”

Most chemicals work best when applied directly to the area or areas that are the most heavily soiled, and therefore, require the most attention. Adding chemical to a large extractor solution tank does not allow for the more direct cleaning approach to the toughest areas. That’s because you end up applying a uniform amount of chemicals on every surface. The most heavily soiled areas get as much chemical solution as the cleanest.

Take a look at the directions on the bottle of your favorite carpet cleaning chemical. Chances are that it recommends that after the chemical is sprayed on that it be agitated. Agitation can be done with a brush or towel. It is the start of the chemical’s emulsification and suspension process, building toward more complete cleaning and thorough removal of unwanted particles.

And finally, time. How much chemical “dwell” time can be achieved if you remove the chemical within a split second of the time it has been “applied?” The answer is simple, not nearly enough. Dwell time with most chemicals allows for it to “do its thing” and ready the carpet fibers for a deeper, more thorough cleaning.

For those of you that rely on carpet cleaning chemicals with your extractor, it’s important to note that many extractor manufacturing companies do not recommend chemicals be ran through the machine; especially through the pump or heating element (if the unit has one). Many pump and heater manufacturers have actually nullified warranty claims for failed pumps due to the presence of certain types of chemicals (i.e. D-limonene). Therefore, they may void any and all warranty claims if testing determines that some of these chemicals are present in their pump or heater. Also, too much chemical and heat combined can be very harmful to the components, reducing there lifespan and again, running the risk of voiding a manufacturers warranty.

Combined with chemicals, heat is also a key component to CHAT. Heat is of significant value in the cleaning process. In carpet & upholstery cleaning, higher temperatures assist the process by breaking down oily residues which are harder to remove from fibers than dry soils. You should also know that most chemicals are actually formulated to work more efficiently at higher temperatures. Heat can also soften and fluff carpet fiber so they regain some of their original lift and resilience. Hotter water evaporates faster, reducing customer downtime as the carpet will dry much faster and helps to avoid the growth and development of mold.

My suggestion

1) Use a pre-spray or spotter chemical directly on the more heavily soiled area(s)

2) Agitate the chemical in (usually with a brush or rag)

3) Allow for proper dwell time (suspension of soils, emulsification can occur)

4) Clean the carpet, floor mat or cloth upholstery with clear, yet very hot water (extractor) and make sure you recover at least 80% of the moisture/chemicals you have put in (thereby minimizing dry times and alleviating any issues that over saturation can create)

Understanding how even the best chemicals can and should be used, along with taking advantage of professional-grade hot water extractors will, in the long run, save you time & money. It will also help you to consistently achieve and deliver the best possible cleaning results.

Remember, none of your customers will care how “slippery” and shiny the exterior of their car feels if the interior doesn’t look and smell even better.

Stephen J. Romero is Auto Industry Account Executive of U.S. Products’ Professional Car Care Products Division. He can be reached via e-mail by clicking here.