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Here are six costly misconceptions about carpet cleaning:

Misconception #1: You should wait as long as possible before cleaning your carpet.

No. Dirt is an abrasive - like sandpaper. Every time you step on dirty carpet, you grind the dirt into your carpet fibers. This scratches and cuts your carpet, both affecting the appearance and causing it to wear out faster. A dirty carpet will not last nearly as long as a clean carpet. And while vacuuming helps - by itself, it's simply not enough. This is because carpet that's been allowed to become visibly dirty is already completely full of dirt, and will NEVER be 100% clean and germ-free. Carpet manufacturers have begun recommending professional cleaning before carpet looks dirty, but at the least you should do something when your heavily travelled walkways start to look dirtier than the rest of the room. The longer you wait to have your carpet cleaned, the more damage you do to your carpet and the faster it wears out.

Misconception #2: The only reason to clean your carpet is to get out the dirt.

No. As you probably know, outdoor air contains pollens, fungus, bacteria, cigarette smoke, car exhaust - and hundreds of other chemicals. And indoor air is worse! Not only do you carry all that outdoor pollution into your home in your hair, on your skin, clothing, and shoes, but dust mites also breed indoors. Not surprisingly, all that pollen, bacteria, fungus, etc., winds up - you guessed it - in your carpet. That doesn't make carpet a bad choice; if the build-up of these irritants had no solution, the EPA would've banned it's use. Carpet filters the air we breathe, and makes our indoor environment healthier.

If you have allergies, asthma, or other respiratory problems, one major source contributing to your problem will be the build-up of dust mites and their by-products, pollen, and fungus in your carpeting. In addition, as you may know, tobacco smoke contains over 4,000 different chemical compounds, 43 of which cause cancer. And even if you don't smoke, those chemicals get on your shoes, you track them into your home, and you leave them in your carpet. If you're sensitive to cigarette smoke, you might find you'll breathe easier after you hire a company to get those harmful chemicals out.

So in addition to getting rid of dirt, another important reason to clean your carpet is to get rid of dust mites, pollens, fungus, bacteria, chemicals and the tars and residues from air pollution, including tobacco smoke. This is known as "cleaning for health," and addresses the issue of indoor air pollution, which has gotten a lot of attention from the medical community.

Misconception #3: One method of carpet cleaning is just as good as another.

No. All cleaning methods are merely tools, with different reasons for being used. It's the worker that actually cleans your carpet, and anything you do to clean a dirty floor removes some dirt. All the variations fit into two primary methods:

Dry cleaning or hot water extraction. Only a company that provides both services will give you an honest evaluation of your needs. Anyone else will have reason to tell you one method (usually theirs) is better, even if that is not true in your case.

You might be better off skipping to the next section, which is misconception #4.

Do you really care about what method is used, or do you just want to be sure your carpet gets CLEAN? I tend to think people care about method only because carpet cleaners have advertised based on method for so long, but since there is SO much confusion on this topic, I have to undergo the tedious task of addressing it.

First, I'll explain dry cleaning. Many people believe that dry cleaning your carpet is like dry cleaning your clothing. This is not true, and the term is a misnomer, adding to the confusion that already exists. While it achieved some mystique in the 1990's, now it's something you can conveniently do yourself to postpone the need to hire a professional.

All carpet cleaning methods use water in one way or another. Dry cleaning has three variations:

Dry foam: this applies shampoo to your carpet, allows it to dry, and then vacuums up the dried shampoo. The idea is to cause the dirt to absorb into the mixture. Can you imagine applying shampoo to your hair, allowing it to dry and then removing the shampoo from your head with a vacuum? This method leaves residue in your carpet so it will never be the most thorough method, but there is still benefit to using a cleaner with non-problematic residue if your carpet isn't very dirty to begin with. This has earned the reputation as a way of producing mud in heavily soiled areas, which means you'll need more steps.

Bonnet: this is the same idea but uses a large cotton bonnet, spinning on your carpet like a towel to absorb some dirt. Now we know some chemicals work best in conjunction with a bonnet, while others work better when allowed to dry followed by vacuuming. It won't remove the "mud" described above, so it's known as a "dirt re-arranger" in the industry.

Dry compound: the method of choice for the do-it-yourselfer since you don't need any special tools, (just a nylon brush) and you can remove the dirt you loosen. You spread something that usually looks like wet sawdust on the visibly dirty parts, and brush it in. The idea is that dirt absorbs into the mixture, dries, and then gets vacuumed out. Host and Crystal Magic can be used, but CAPTURE is an excellent choice. Buy the bucket (step 2) - you don't need their spotters. Carpet manufacturers now recommend cleaning before you can tell it's dirty, but at least do this when your high traffic zones start to look different than the rest of the room, even if that's weekly! This would only be VERY small areas. And use The Spotting Guide. You'll get good results very economically until you need a pro, who should be able to rinse out the residue you've accumulated. If dirt has already gotten so extreme that your carpet looks worn out, maybe it can still be professionally restored.

The other broad category of carpet cleaning is hot water extraction - usually called

Steam cleaning. This is another misnomer, which adds more confusion since steam is not used. Usually, the final cleaning solution applied in this method is full of all sorts of cleaners, leaving a residue even after the final "vacuuming," called extraction. Most professionals depend on superior extraction to fix that problem, often spending huge sums of money on equipment in their effort, while at the same time the residue left behind attracts more dirt, and sometimes even feels stiff. Think about it; if you did your laundry but skipped the rinse cycle, would you wear those clothes?

Aziz Ullah, Ph.D., the only recognized scientist contributing to the carpet cleaning industry, has advocated using a fresh water rinse as necessary to cleaning carpet for health for many years, and the largest carpet manufacturer, Shaw Industries, now also recommends it. A fresh water rinse prior to extraction is the superior way to remove not only residue, dust mites and their by-products, other irritants like pollen and bacteria, but also DIRT - the most harmful substance to your carpet.

Some people are concerned about excess moisture, claiming it can cause buckling, mildew, discoloration, and countless other problems; you should be, too! I hope that if you're going to defy all recommendations and steam-clean your own carpet, it's because you already bought the machine. Be sure to dilute the cleaner in the machine properly, not using it too strong, or you'll never get it out. Spend double the time applying suction, with as much force as possible, compared to time spent applying detergent with the machine, and allow to dry. When this doesn't work it's because your carpet's already too dirty and you need a pro; or try putting a stronger cleaner down first, scrub it, let it sit but not until dry, then steam clean. Treat stubborn spots, clean those again, and let dry. Steam clean again with water ONLY, to remove more residue and some dirt it contains. Dry cleaning is better for the do-it-yourselfer, because the use of steam cleaning needs to be combined with enough suction to effectively remove moisture, dirt, and other unwanted elements; but avoiding over-wetting takes more than just adequate suction.

This is measured by a term called an "extraction rate."

This is why Shaw Industries, the world's largest carpet manufacturer, only recommends one machine, actually endorsing it's use on their carpet. This machine uses a fresh water rinse, and also has "enough" suction according to Shaw. Other equipment in this broad category has only been approved for use by Shaw. Only two of them are portable, meaning the machine is small enough that it can come inside your house, allowing you to close your doors and windows while it's being used. The rest are "truck-mounted," which means the equipment is so big it stays outside, permanently mounted to a vehicle. The hoses come in, so you have to leave a door or window open somewhere. Sometimes this causes problems, depending on the weather.

If you clean your carpet yourself, with either rented equipment or a machine you bought, you're probably doing very well to get an extraction rate of 60%, tops. That means for every 10 gallons of water with cleaning solution in it, you're leaving behind 4 gallons! The cleaning solution serves only one purpose, to dissolve dirt. Whatever dirt was dissolved in that 4 gallons is also left behind. This is why Shaw recommends do-it-yourselfers use CAPTURE, and dry clean. Under ideal conditions, if you're very meticulous, you might get as much as an 80% extraction rate.

At this point I wish I could make all this very simple by telling you hiring a pro fixes all these problems, but this is just the beginning of the confusion!

Let's consider the term "extraction rate," and you'll see how confusing things can be. Many manufacturers of carpet cleaning equipment test their machines and announce some very impressive extraction rates - over 90%, some even claim 97%. (So why doesn't Shaw recommend these?) They fail to tell you this is measured under ideal conditions, while the worker is fresh and the equipment is new - and clean. If everything else were the same and the worker is fatigued, those rates would come crashing down to not much better than you can do yourself. And as the big machine parked outside picks up dirt, some of it clogs the machine. This cuts down their big impressive extraction rate too, so you might not get what you're paying for.

Now let's turn to the concept of a "fresh water rinse." If you can even find a company that offers it, they're not really using fresh water unless they switch to hoses that never carried anything else! (If you do this yourself, try rinsing your own hoses and you'll see what I mean!) More common is to find a company that tries to bypass the need for a fresh water rinse by using an acetic rinse, sometimes called a textile rinse. This is better than no rinse, (what most pros do) but the industry as a whole has concluded that a fresh water rinse is best. And the very few that offer such a service are usually more expensive than anyone else, because of the extra time involved.

And cleaning your carpet with both a fresh water rinse and an excellent extraction rate can STILL cause problems due to over-wetting! So approach a heavily soiled carpet - one that's become noticeably dirty - with caution. Some things really are best left to an experienced professional. So the time to use "dry cleaning" is between major cleanings and can be done effectively yourself, while "steam cleaning" is more thorough and more of an ordeal, best left to a professional.

I try to do away with confusion!

This is why I use the only machine ever specifically recommended by Shaw Industries, on every hot water extraction job I do, IN CONJUNCTION WITH the benefits of dry cleaning. I use a true fresh water rinse, with an extraction rate consistently over 94%. That means I remove more than 94% of the dust mites and their by-products, as well as all the other really yucky stuff accumulating in your carpet EVERY TIME! The equipment is small enough to bring into your home and close all the doors and windows. That also means as I pick up dirt I can easily keep the machine unclogged, because it's right in front of me. My extraction rate STAYS over 94%, which is the best in the world. That's why Shaw Industries endorses it's use on their carpet.

Misconception #4: Having the right equipment is all a company needs to clean your carpet properly.

Not true. Many companies own hot-water cleaners, other methods, or even a combination, which is really what it takes to get good results consistently. But since a large number of employees don't know how to use them, they often can cause more problems than they solve! Some companies address this problem by relying on a fancy certification from an outside agency to prove that their employees know what they're doing. Some even display these like some sort of badge, or 'proof' of excellence. The fact is, NO such organization is recognized as a licensing body! Often, the training they provide is not based on science. It's never any better than the individual instructor doing the training.

Experience with whatever tools an individual is using is even more valid than training, but a large company forced to use inexperienced help can rely on formal training as the next best thing to actual experience. Also, bear in mind that the machine is only one tool being used. The cleaning chemicals are also tools, and some companies use cheap chemicals that erode your carpet. All this points to one thing: choose a carpet cleaner carefully! You have the uncomfortable task of determining if the individual doing the work is properly trained, equipped, and motivated.

Choose a carpet cleaner carefully!

This one point cannot be stressed enough: by the time carpet is visibly dirty, it has become saturated with dirt and will NEVER be 100% clean or germ-free! After so much time in this industry, I'm STILL amazed at the phony promises of so-called "professionals" that rely on you not knowing this. Another sign of unscrupulous misinformation is talk of 'upgrade' stain-resist applications, of course with a higher price. Re-applying soil retardant is beneficial because the original wears off, leaving your carpet exposed to premature aging. What I use does everything and would not exist without my input simply because I refuse to accept the status quo and have the audacity to tell classroom teachers that. One of them brought it to market!

One way to ensure that the professional you hire will properly clean your carpet is to insist that the company's owner do the work. That person should have enough experience, but usually a company like that is one of the most expensive in the area, and a small company has unique problems. For instance, if you always wait until the last minute to decide to clean your carpet at a peak time, like just before a Holiday, you'll probably think these companies never have the time to get to you. And they might not always have a person answering their phone.

There are pros and cons to using a big company, too. A large company might send someone new to your home, so you could still have a bad experience. You really need to carefully follow everything outlined in this guide.

Misconception #5: The company that offers the lowest price is the company you should hire.

Maybe - but not always. The most expensive way to go may not always be the best, but the cheapest is usually worse! Here are two important points to consider:

Point #1: The price you see offered may not be for the services you want performed.

Some companies make incredible claims, but don't deliver. Before you select a company or even a method, decide what you want to accomplish. If you want the carpet cleaner to only remove some of the dirt, you can choose from many that use a staggering variety of methods. Since this is the best use for dry cleaning, you can even do the job yourself.

On the other hand, if you want your carpet thoroughly cleaned - if you want to remove as much as is humanly possible of the harmful dirt, fungus, bacteria, pollens, dust mites and their by-products, and the residue from cleaning chemicals and tobacco - the company with the lowest price might not provide the most effective cleaning.

Point #2: The price you see advertised might not be the price you pay.

Many homeowners have learned that the low price they see advertised was not the amount they were charged. And if you've ever hired a carpet cleaner, you too may have been the victim of false or misleading advertising. You probably learned the hard way that some carpet cleaners offer a cheap price - like maybe $10.00 a room - and then pressure you into paying a lot more when they get inside your home. Some of them may even break the law by using illegal bait and switch tactics.

All businesses and professions have their share of 'bad apples.' Practices like that not only cast a dark shadow on our entire industry, they can also rob you of the value and comfort of your carpeting.

Then you'll find other carpet cleaners - professionals like me who work hard to earn your trust and respect. As a way of improving our profession, I've dedicated my business to educating the public. The only way you can make an intelligent decision is to have all the facts you need, which is why I distribute information like this.

Misconception #6: Any honest company should be able to give you an exact price quote over the phone.

I wish this were true, but it isn't. Consumers often think that if they want to clean four rooms and the price is $10 per room, then the price will be $40. That sounds simple, but this isn't always true. Sometime I'm scary good at giving an accurate price quote over the phone depending on your specifics, read on to learn more.

First, honest, reputable carpet cleaning companies usually price carpet cleaning by the square foot. Second, the rate per square foot often varies with several variables such as type of carpet, level of soiling, and amount of furniture to be moved. As confusing as all that might sound, the good news is that the carpet area to be cleaned isn't nearly as big as most people think. On a national average, 60% of your total square footage is carpet. So if you have a 3,000 square foot home, you probably have 1,800 square feet of carpet to clean, or less.

After reading all that, let me offer these FOUR RECOMMENDATIONS:

  • 1. Make a commitment to yourself to get your carpet cleaned.

Or better yet, devise a plan to maintain your carpeting that you WILL follow and CAN afford. The more time your carpet spends being dirty the sooner it’ll wear out, plus you’ll breathe in dust mites, their by-products, and countless chemicals if you let it go too long. Proper care is necessary not only for longevity, but just to keep your warranty in effect!

  • 2. List your objectives.

Are you looking for a light, surface cleaning? Maybe you’d be happiest doing the work yourself. How does this fit into the plan you’ve devised for maintaining your carpet? Are you concerned about cleaning for health? When you are, you’ll need to hire a professional. Do you want to work with an honest, reputable company? Or are you willing to risk working with the company that offers you the lowest price, unsure of the quality, and not even knowing if that company will be in business tomorrow? Do you prefer the convenience of a big establishment, or is the personal service that goes along with a smaller company more important to you?

  • 3. Ask questions.

The way you learn about a company is to ask specific questions and listen carefully to the answers. It might seem funny, but most people never ask questions that get to the real issues! Again I blame the industry for making things so confusing. I’m not telling you to ignore your other concerns, but what people never ask is:

  1. Will you get my carpet clean?
  2. Is your price a good value?

The first question is easy. What do they have for a guarantee? If that doesn’t answer the first question – KEEP LOOKING! The second question isn’t so easy, because value is subjective, and very personal. While there are concerns other than price, how do you measure response time? Is it how quickly they get to the phone, or do you see more value in if you’re happily looking at your dry carpet by your deadline, content that it’s as clean as humanly possible?

  • 4. Get something in writing.

You need a written price quote that also clarifies what will be done. My contract has a customer sign before work even begins, just to make sure everybody knows these details with no confusion. Then the most important part is after I’m done, have you look everything over to critique it as harshly as you ever will; I don’t ask for payment until then and that’s the ‘sign on the bottom line’ that people expect.

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