For years now, professional carwashers and detailers have struggled to decide on whether a carpet extractor or vapor steam cleaner is the ideal choice for their business needs. There’s actually a compelling argument for each of these machines. Let’s explore in more detail.
How carpet extractors work
Traditional heated carpet extractors utilize inline or tank-based heating elements. Once the water is heated to the appropriate temperature (not boiled), it is distributed in a fine mist via a sprayer head. While spraying, much of the moisture is also extracted. With their simple pump-and-nozzle systems and vacuuming capabilities, they’re easy to set up and use, making them the go-to for deep cleaning jobs. Their nozzles are also relatively streamlined and can fit in compact spaces, so they’re ideal for extracting dirt and grime — as the term implies — from vehicle interiors.
With just a few passes over the surface of the material, a carpet extractor wets the affected area while siphoning unwanted particulates and excess moisture. It’s recommended to use this cleaning method in a warm environment to speed up drying time. Otherwise, running the heater or drying by hand can move this process along.
How vapor steam cleaners work
Vapor steam cleaners use a built-in boiler to generate dry steam, which is then dispersed from the machine to tackle surface-level dirt and debris. In the world of auto detailing, they are ideally suited for exterior and interior car cleaning jobs. For the latter, you should only use them on hard surfaces. Using a vapor steam cleaner on a vehicle’s exterior body won’t completely clear the surface in question; you’ll get the best results when combined with cleaning by hand.
In that sense, should you need to perform a deep cleaning of upholstery, carpeting or other surfaces within a vehicle, a heated carpet extractor is the better option. For exterior work, you’ll want to invest in a machine with a high steam output volume. Smaller, less-powerful units are better suited for interior jobs. Due to the nature of its design, a vapor steam cleaner is much more water-efficient. It doesn’t need to “soak” the surface of an area in order to ensure optimal results. In fact, by using what is technically a gas rather than a liquid, you’ll get the quickest drying times possible.
For dirtier jobs, such as floor mats in vehicles caked in grime and debris, a carpet extractor is necessary to eliminate pesky buildup. It works quickly and efficiently; plus, if handled properly by an experienced operator, it won’t drench the surface in question. The raw vacuum power, combined with the heat and moisture capabilities, makes it an ideal choice for heavy-duty cleaning tasks. Carpet extractors maintain pressure, last for years with minimal maintenance and usually come with a generous water capacity, so refills are less frequent. In addition, many of these systems feature extra brush options to tackle specific jobs, a sufficiently long vacuum hose and a user-friendly design.
These are best suited for surface-level cleanings. They’re completely safe for use on painted surfaces, leather, glass (including windows), carpeting and other hard surfaces. And, with the right attachments and when used correctly, they’re excellent at clearing ventilation and compact spaces of particulates. This includes such areas as dashboards and console areas, cup holders, heat and air blowers and door hardware on vehicles, making them a popular choice for carwash operators seeking to provide the most thorough cleaning services possible. Furthermore, thanks to the fact that steamers don’t administer liquid to surfaces, all areas you use them on can dry in record time — great for when dealing with a line of customers ready for a car cleanout.
Why not both?
While it might sound like vapor steam cleaners are the be-all-end-all for cleaning jobs, we shouldn’t underestimate what tried-and-true carpet extractors are capable of. If anything, the ideal scenario for an individual offering cleaning services is to use both — and to ensure the proper understanding of wheneach should be picked up.
For example, let’s say that a truck rolls in for a wash, and the interior is full of dried mud, animal hair and months of grime buildup. By applying the carpet extractor to the floors, mats and any of the other heavily soiled surfaces, the power and vacuum strength of the system can pull much of the surface debris away from them.
Next comes the vapor steam cleaner, which can be heated and used for any deep-cleaning work. Now that the surface buildup is out of the way, it can lift the dirt and grime from within the pores of the material, minimizing the presence of bacteria. Plus, if the vehicle has a leather-covered steering wheel, dashboard and seats, a steam cleaner can be used to make them look good as new, if the right brush attachments are installed beforehand.
Quality and capability
Lastly, when shopping for a carpet extractor or steam cleaner, it’s important to recognize which are worth your hard-earned dollars. While many are advertised as “do-it-all” solutions, these claims don’t hold much water — sometimes literally — if they aren’t manufactured to commercial and industrial-grade specifications. This applies to durability, ease of use, repairability and component quality. You don’t want to buy something with a bad reputation, especially if your business counts on it to provide cleaning services.
Knowing what you intend to use a carpet extractor or steam cleaner for is important as well; the power, load capacity, hose length, attachments and any special features should be considered before purchasing. By putting the quality and capabilities of your new investment first, you can get the most for your money and enjoy peace of mind.
All in all, the ages-old argument of carpet extractors versus vapor steam cleaners is essentially redundant. Each are ideally suited to specific applications. Plus, whether you need something to spot-clean a sensitive material or a solution for a filthy, heavy-duty cleaning job, one or the other can make short work of dirt and grime buildup, while protecting the surfaces they are designed for. And, by investing in machines that are easy to look after, built to last for many years and capable of handling your power needs, a steam cleaner and carpet extractor can effectively act as a “dynamic duo” of systems you can always count on.
Daimer Industries® is a private company headquartered in Woburn, Massachusetts. We are a globally recognized leader in innovative, technologically-advanced commercial and industrial cleaning equipment for virtually all major commercial and industrial cleaning applications. We export our products to over 240 countries worldwide and are the cleaning equipment provider of choice for the White House, government agencies and such companies as Dole, Hershey’s, Wrigley, General Electric and many more.
Looking for more information about steam cleaning and carpet extraction? Be sure to check out our recent PC&D Unscripted video interview with industry veteran Bud Abraham below.