What's up with my carpet? (Yoo hoo, GeneralTsao...!)

Reply Sun 20 Nov, 2005 08:45 pm
We bought a house that had been owned by a family with two young children. The family room carpet was a disaster, but with immediate moving-in expenses we couldn't afford/ didn't get around to having in cleaned.

Following the "broken window principle", we didn't exactly make the rug cleaner in the year since we moved in. (I have a very messy 5-year-old who spends most of her time in the family room.) We'd made various noises about having all the carpets in the house cleaned, getting the best price, etc., but I got fed up and called Stanley Steemer to come clean the family room carpet before the kid's birthday party.

They came last Monday. Very nice, very friendly, very professional. The carpet looked GORGEOUS when they were done. I was almost in tears, I tell you. The main guy was a bit apologetic, he just couldn't get out this one tiny orange stain, whatever dude, the whole thing looks great, thanks for your hard work. They left. Orders were to not walk on it without special bootie things for 24 hours, and to leave the furniture up on little blocks they put it on for 3 days, until it dried all the way. Fine.

As it dried, these streaks started to appear. I thought it had something to do with some spots being more wet than others. But the drier it got, the streakier it got.

Finally, after 24 hours, it was bone-dry to the touch and very, very streaky. The streaks look vaguely like if the machine that was used left some sort of residue -- they follow patterns that the machine made, swaths the width of it, etc. There are darker spots where he lingered longer getting tough bits out. But it was CLEAN when they left.

My theory -- there is a bunch of dirt on the carpet pad, underneath the carpet, from the stains that were there before us (they had a dog, too) and the ones we added. The carpet itself was cleaned beautifully, but some parts were more wet than others, and the wetter parts wicked up the dirt that was underneath until it appeared on top.

The family room is an extension built in 1997, I think, a plywoodish subfloor (if that's the term), then a pad, then tan berber carpeting. We went into the basement and looked up at the floor (no ceiling there), and didn't notice anything in particular. Looks fine from there.

They're coming back to try to solve the problem next Tuesday. Any thoughts?

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Reply Sun 20 Nov, 2005 08:54 pm
Oh how upsetting.

We bought kind of multicolored berber carpet that hides just about everything.

Now that Mr. B has the hardwood business I really don't know what the heck I'm still doing with carpet!
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Reply Sun 20 Nov, 2005 08:57 pm
Yeah, tan carpeting is not my first choice for a small child household, especially the family room! We'll probably replace it eventually, or get hardwood and have rugs on it, or something. The carpet itself is in pretty good shape -- when it was briefly clean, it looked glorious -- and I have this whole plan for coralling sozlet (and her art projects and her snacks) in one corner with a washable rug and a waterproof pad -- we'll see.
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Reply Sun 20 Nov, 2005 09:25 pm

I've been there with the we'll see.

When we moved into our house it had this awful orangy-gold "sculptured" monstrosity from the 70s over every square inch of flooring.

Waiting was sooooo not even an option.

Especially when coupled with the antiseptic glossy white painted walls. Not to mention the foil lined closets. (Whats up with that? (Pot growing, I guess.)

I just wanted to take a match to the place.
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Reply Mon 21 Nov, 2005 07:47 am
Yours is not an uncommon problem, and it has several possible causes and probably more than one contributing cause.

First of all, it's almost never a good idea to buy anything based on the "best price." It is always wise to buy on "best value."

Here are your potential causes:
1) soil overload. When there's a year's (many years'?) worth of dirt in a carpet, it's unreasonable to expect even the best cleaner to remove it all within just a few hours. Frequent maintenance is the key. Cleaning at least every six months is necessary, and monthly cleaning (even if just a home machine) is really, really, beneficial

2) latent spots. This is especially common on berber carpet. Someone, once upon a time, spills a Coke, then cleans it up, but only gets the surface (visible) spill. Then the poor soul who cleans the carpet stirs up the old stuff (that the homeowner does not know is there) and sometimes gets blamed for making the carpet worse.

3) careless carpet cleaner. Many carpet cleaners are not very skilled, or are in too much of a hurry, so are not thorough. For instance, an expert carpet cleaning tech should, a) know what he's cleaning--nylon, acrylic, wool, olefin, etc., b) dry vacuum the carpet, c) apply detergent, giving at least 10 minutes dwell time, d) rinse with plain water or pH-balancing agent, e) thoroughly extract, f) repeat all if necessary, g) work on any remaining spots (not all spots may come out, though), h) take steps to encourage the carpet to dry within 12 hours or less.

These steps should be considered a minimum service.

Regarding the streaks. I've seen this happen on very heavily-soiled carpets (usually in commercial buildings) and it's because there's years of dirt and it's just not possible to clean it all out at once without overwetting the carpet. It's like having really dirty jeans after playing mud football. You put them in the wash, but when you pull them out, they look better, but just not great, so you wash them again.

The second washing really does the job, and makes them look perfect.

Why do people expect miracles from the carpet cleaner? Sometimes, things just need to be cleaned more than once.

Another possible cause to the streaking is called jet marks. If the water pressure, or temperature is too high or the jets on the wand are worn, the water may leave marks. I've never heard of this happening on a synthetic berber, though.

Now, wicking of soils is very common indeed, and your term for it is exactly right. Wicking is often related to latent spots but frequently occurs with other spots as well, particularly beverage spills or urine.

Urine spots, btw, will almost always return in time because the salts absorb ambient moisture and are therefore always damp, and therefore always working up toward the surface.

OK, this was very long-winded. Hope this helps you.

General Tsao
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Reply Mon 21 Nov, 2005 08:55 am
It was VERY helpful, thanks!

A couple of points of clarification:

1.) Looking for the best deal was taking too long, I went ahead and scheduled with Stanley Steemer because of their reputation and ease of online scheduling -- they were probably the most expensive of the options.

2.) I didn't necessarily expect miracles, and was very happy with these guys when they were here and am happy that they're coming back to finish the job. Figured the problem was with a too-dirty carpet rather than their error, per se.

Interesting about urine stains, hope there aren't any! (Their dog seemed well trained, but we'll see, I guess.)

Very encouraging that merely doing it again is likely to get the rest out! I was worried I'd have to replace the mat, or something.

Thanks again for your very informative reply.
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Reply Sat 26 Nov, 2005 08:34 pm
Follow-up question:

They came back, cleaned again, and it's better. Better, but a far cry from absolutely clean. I just haven't been able to decide between a) they gave it the ol' college try and I can't expect perfection, and b) I paid them a pretty penny and it's reasonable to expect an actual CLEAN carpet at the end of their labors.

Right now it is less streaky but still quite variegated. In sunlight it looks pretty good, in artificial light the differences stand out. Darker here, lighter here, a spot there. Nothing that screams "look at me!!!!!!!" Just a little iffy, overall.

My tendency at this point is to end the current go-round, say it's clean enough for now, and have it cleaned again in 6 months or so. I'm trying to figure out if I'd want to use Stanley Steemer again or another company, though. (Any recommendations for national chains or a way to find a good local cleaner appreciated, as well as any thoughts on whether they did as well as could be expected and given the other positives [very friendly, good customer service], to just stay with them.)

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Reply Sun 27 Nov, 2005 01:13 am
I don't understand why so many people keep their current carpet cleaner even when they're not happy with them.

I rarely meet a customer who is <i>really</i> happy with their carpet cleaner. If it's not just a terrible job, it's never "Wow, let me tell you--they did a GREAT job!"

My carpet cleaning business has been operating since 1986 exclusively by referral. This means that I must stay at the top of my game every day, on every job because I absolutley rely on repeat and referral business.

The franchises don't have to do this, because they have professional, powerful and consistent marketing.

In finding a new carpet cleaner (because you're not going to give that company money for less-than-satisfying work, right?) your first clue is whether the person on the phone is knowledgable.

Good companies, IMO, train even their office staff on proper carpet cleaning, so they know first-hand how it's done. The person on the phone should be able to explain some things to you, and answer some intelligent questions.

A good company should clean in accordance (or exceeding) IICRC Carpet Cleaning Standard S-100.

Have the phone person explain to you in detail what the cleaning process is, and why they use it. If he/she can't give good answers and doesn't offer to get someone who can, then you've got the wrong company.

Don't hire off a coupon in the weekly fliers.

Don't hire off a $79 whole house special. You've got to know some things about costs and overhead, then apply logic.

For $79, can a company thoroughly clean 1500 sq ft of carpet? Look at items a) through h) in my posting above. How much time would you say it takes to perform all those steps?

What overheads might the company have to overcome before making a profit?

1) Property/building insurance, 2) liability insurance, 3) auto insurance 4) equipment insurance, 5) employee bonding, 6) health insurance benefits package...

Look, six overhead items so far, and it's JUST insurance! Continuing...

7) employee training, education, certification, 8) equipment depreciation, 9) equipment repairs 10) equipment replacement 11) Detergents & supplies for service 12) fuel & oil 13) Rent or mortgage 14) office equipment 15) salaries, 16) Wages, 17) utilities...

Anyway, you get the idea. If I were to clean a house for $79, I would have to get a man and van to the house, and back to the office. That's a minimum of 30 minutes drivetime, which is "dead" time, that is, makes no income. Drivetime during a day is usually around 2-3 hours, btw.

Next, I have to pay for the technician to talk with the customer, measure the job, pet the dog, etc. before cleaning even begins. This is usually 30-60 minutes.

Don't forget, too, that my office person already invested 20+ minutes on this customer when the initial phone call was received.

Now, the tech has to set up the equipment, vacuum, move furniture, prespray, rinse with H2O, pH balance, repeat if necessary. The entire process moves at a rate of about 275 sq. ft. per hour.

Therefore, at 275 sq ft/hr, the job should take about 5.5 hours.

So, time invested is over 6.70 hours. The overhead alone on this job is in the range of $300-400.

If I were to clean the whole house for $79, I would have to complete the job (arrival to departure) in about 45 minutes.

Now, who will provide the best cleaning? Do you think it's really possible to remove a year's worth of dirt in 45 minutes?

What if you didn't mop your kitchen floor for a year? How long would it take to clean it?

Here's your answer. Call your interior designer, friends, neighbors, independent carpet retailers for referrals. Begin interviewing carpet cleaners now, before you have an urgent need for one.

Hire a guy to clean just one room. See how he does.

There's so much to say, but I think this will give you a good start. Please let me know if I may assist further.

General Tsao
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Reply Sun 27 Nov, 2005 10:01 am
Hmm, that's exactly what we did -- hired a guy to clean one room (the room we've been talking about), and I'm still torn between the unrealistic expectations of perfection vs. "get the carpet clean, darn it" thing.

It was about $70 for the one room.

Should I take pictures? Not sure if I've explained clearly enough to help you make the determination as to whether it's clean enough... I'm mindful of what you said in your first post about people expecting miracles, but also mindful about what you've said about someone doing a thorough job.

Thanks as always for your extremely informative advice.
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Reply Sun 27 Nov, 2005 03:03 pm
Think about carpet cleaning in very simple terms. After all, it isn't rocket science (in spite of how much of a cleaning nerd I appear to be).

Washing your clothes is much the same. And for those readers who are wondering which carpet cleaning method is best, be sure to read the rest of this posting.

Let's say you've worn your jeans for 1 year without washing them (yeah, I know--nobody would do that, but people usually don't wash their carpeting for that long for some reason). How would you wash them?

1) You would first shake them out to remove the dry dirt and dust.

1a)Your carpet cleaner should remove the dry dirt by vacuuming

2) You would pre-treat any outstanding spots with a detergent, and give it a few minutes to work

3) You would fill the washing machine with hot, or very warm, water plus a sufficient amount of detergent and let the machine Wash for 10 minutes or so

2a, 3a) Your carpet cleaner should pre-treat any outstanding spots, and apply detergent to the rest of the carpet and wait about 10-15 minutes to allow the detergent to loosen the soil.

4) Your washing machine would then rinse your jeans with plain, clear water

4a) your carpet cleaner should rinse out the detergents and suspended soils using plain, clear water.

5) Your washer would then spin-extract the clothes for about 5 minutes to remove as much water as possible for rapid drying

5a) your carpet cleaner should methodically and thoroughly vacuum-extract to remove as much water as possible for rapid drying.

Now...as dirty as your jeans were, you know that the following is true.

You pull your jeans out of the wash and look at them. Eeyw. They look better, but not great (remember, you have a year's worth of dirt to remove), so what do you do?

You throw them back in the washer and repeat the whole process again, don't you? And when you take them out again, they look great!

Carpet cleaning is basically the same way. When there's a year's worth of dirt built up, it's not reasonable to expect it all to come out in one thorough washing (not to mention a quickie washing like most companies do).

A good carpet cleaner will charge enough to allow him to clean the carpet more than once where needed. This is part of the interview process.

One of the questions I ask each prospective customer is "when was the carpet last cleaned, and by what method?"

If the carpet's been well-maintained, I don't have to charge as much to clean, as I'll only clean it once. If it's been abused or mistreated, I'll have to charge more because I'll have to clean it twice, or even several times.

As you can see from my comments in this thread, I can usually only schedule two jobs per day per van. But we do whatever it takes to get the carpet as clean as possible.

If you find someone like this, you will have very few disappointments with your carpet cleaning, and your carpet will look nicer, longer.

Not to mention, subsequent cleanings won't likely cost as much as the first cleaning because there's less work involved if your carpet is being cleaned frequently and thoroughly.

Hope your eyes aren't glazed over by now...
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Reply Sun 27 Nov, 2005 04:18 pm

Can you tackle a random spot--or even better half a random spot--on your own to see whether extra effort makes a difference?

If the dirt can be removed, it should be removed.

Stanley Steamer must have some satisfied picky clients--why shouldn't you be one of them?
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Reply Wed 7 Dec, 2005 03:20 am
General Tsao,

That was an absolutely fabulous description of Business 101. Every consumer in the world should be required to memorize it.
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Reply Wed 7 Dec, 2005 05:00 am
soz, how is your previously abused carpet doing? did they re-clean?
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Reply Wed 7 Dec, 2005 10:15 am
They re-cleaned once. It went OK. Not perfect, not horrible. I re-arranged the room and doing so left room for me to put a large (~6 X 9) oriental carpet in the middle (it had been in E.G.'s office and but was too big), it covers up most of the iffy spots and things are looking much better. Plus it is variegated red and black (and a bit of taupe) itself, hides stuff much better.

(Thanks for asking!)
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Reply Wed 7 Dec, 2005 10:59 am
Re: What's up with my carpet? (Yoo hoo, GeneralTsao...!)
sozobe wrote:
Finally, after 24 hours, it was bone-dry to the touch and very, very streaky. The streaks look vaguely like if the machine that was used left some sort of residue -- they follow patterns that the machine made, swaths the width of it, etc. There are darker spots where he lingered longer getting tough bits out. But it was CLEAN when they left.

Could this be a photochemical reaction between sunlight and the chemical they used to clean the carpet? Is the stain slighter in places that the sunlight doesn't reach? Are the streaks kind of yellowish? (Disclaimer: The author of this post once worked in photochemistry to earn a Ph.D. He thinks everything in the world is a photoreaction, but the doctors say they have it under control.)
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Reply Wed 7 Dec, 2005 11:12 am


Nope, the streaks look like dirt. Darker and grayer than the rest of the (light tan, such a stupid color for a family room) carpet.
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