Top Tips For Working With Presprays and Preconditioners

As a professional carpet cleaner, you probably have your go-to list of presprays or preconditioners that you carry. That’s good, but if you haven’t given any thought lately to your normal collection of supplies, now’s a good time to brush up on the basics.

The key is that most products work well most of the time. The one thing to remember is that no product is right for every job. So, let’s take a look at three main types.


Surfactants typically act as detergents, wetting agents, emulsifiers, foaming agents and dispersants. Surfactants are actually a class of molecule and, when it comes to cleaners, the relevant surfactant types are anionic, cationic, amphoteric and nonionic. The key to their cleaning effectiveness is their ability to lower the surface tension between two liquids or between a liquid and a solid.

The most common problem (although still not frequent) with surfactants is the possibility of leaving a sticky residue. That, of course, can result in resoiling.

Mike Kerner, a chemist with Legend Brands, has some tips for using surfactant products.

  • Use no more than the recommended label concentration. Surfactants don’t always work better at higher concentrations. Sometimes the performance actually declines.
  • If you get creative and think you have an additive that works great in a product that contains a surfactant, check with the manufacturer first. You might have a great idea, but there might be a compatibility problem.
  • Low foaming surfactants are becoming ever more popular and they actually work pretty well. If you are accustomed to seeing foam during preconditioning, for example, and you don’t see it when testing a new product, fear not. If it cleans, the lack of foam will make the extraction process much easier.


Solvents are designed to dissolve things. Good cleaning products dissolve soil and don’t hurt fabrics, fabric coatings or textile dye.

Solvents have received a lot of regulatory attention. Volatile types can cause bad odor, health issues, air pollution and fire hazards — but luckily these problems are rare. Consequently, the trend is to use solvents that will not evaporate but are water soluble and biodegradable.

Polar solvents typically dissolve in water, and non-polar solvents typically dissolve in oil.

TIP: If you use solvents frequently, you’ve probably discovered that you get good results by blending solvents in a prespray to handle different types of soil. If you have tried this, give it a shot. The trick is to read all labels carefully. Select your solvents to clean petroleum-based soils, cosmetics stains, dried fruit juice and so forth.


A biological detergent is a laundry detergent that contains enzymes harvested from micro-organisms such as bacteria. Biological detergents clean in the same way as non-biological ones — the key difference being that the enzymes have an additional effect. Specifically, they break down protein, starches and fat in dirt and stains — food stains, sweat and mud, for example.

A few more tips from Lerner, the chemist:

  • Enzymes tend to be pretty fussy about their environment. They usually work better when warm, but not too warm. They become ineffective if temperatures are too hot. They also work best in a specific pH range, so don’t get creative with acidic or alkaline additives unless the manufacturer specifies their use.
  • Enzymes like to do their work in a fairly leisurely manner. They don’t have a schedule to keep. You have to be patient and allow enough contact time for them to be effective.
  • Enzymes can be pretty irritating to the lungs, so avoid breathing dusts or aerosols generated during normal application. After all, the enzyme can’t tell the difference between the protein soil in the carpet and the lining of your lungs.

Cleaning Tips: Wool Carpet — Be Careful!

Practical advice to get the job done more efficiently

Cleaning wool carpet or wool rugs can be a lucrative part of your business. But take care when you land a job to clean a wool carpet or rug.

Wool is expensive — damaging it during the cleaning process can turn the job into a giant headache. What’s more, wool rugs — especially handmade rugs — can be not only expensive but irreplaceable. All of which means that you have good reason to charge more. Simply put, it takes special care and knowledge to get the job done right.

Cleaning wool requires different techniques. As a natural fiber, wool is more sensitive to damage in every way — from the machinery and cleaning agents you use to your cleaning technique. Another crucial factor influencing wool’s sensitivity is the fact that wool is dyed with acid dyes. That means that dye migration can be caused by a variety of factors.

Using a high alkalinity cleaner, using too much water, using water that’s too hot — these can all cause dye migration. And then there’s your cleaning technique. If you’re overly aggressive when you clean, you can end up causing felting. And hot water — again, heat’s the culprit — can cause pile distortion.

Before you begin the job, protect yourself by thoroughly inspecting the carpet or rug for pre-existing damage. If you find anything that could be considered damage and not just normal wear and tear, review your results with your customer.

And it doesn’t hurt to have a photographic record of any pre-existing conditions. Be sure to perform a color fastness test. When you choose your cleaners, be especially careful. Use approved cleaners and an approved acid detergent rinse. Oxidizers can be effective on stains but it can damage wool. There are a few hard and fast “Thou Shalt Nots.”

Thou shalt not use disinfectants, silicone fabric protectors or chlorine bleach. When the job is done, be sure to ensure effective drying. If it sounds like a lot of trouble to clean wool, just remember that that’s the reason the job pays top dollar. Commit yourself to learning proper techniques, take care as you gain experience and you’ll have a nice profitable niche for your business

Cleaning Tips: Wood Floor Care The Right Way

Practical advice to get the job done more efficiently

Styles come and go — remember shag carpet? That’s actually good for carpet and hard floor cleaning professionals, especially if you take the time to stay in touch with the latest cleaning techniques.

One trend is the growing popularity of wood, cork and other hard floor materials. You can profit from this trend if you have existing customers who have or are considering installing wood flooring in their home or business. William Griffin, in an article on wood floor care in, recognizes the opportunities and offers some practical advice for cleaning wood floors the right way.

“In the past,” Griffin says, “many of these flooring materials required detailed procedures, products and equipment in order to properly maintain and restore their natural beauty without the risk of damage.”

The good news is that finish manufacturers have kept pace by developing more advanced cleaning products so it’s easier than ever to clean wood floors — even if they’re actually laminates, engineered wood or exotic materials like cork or bamboo.

First steps involve inspecting and testing the floor’s condition. Failing to do that, says Griffin, leads to problems. Other red flags are failing to communicate with the customer “regarding limitation of the process, and a tendency to oversell the process when, in fact, a complete sand and refinish is what’s needed to obtain acceptable results in the eye of the buyer.”

If you get a job treating wood floors, develop a checklist to make sure you cover your bases:

  • Communicate with your client — photograph the problem areas and show finish examples (gloss, satin etc.)
  • Test the existing finish with the cleaning products you plan to use
  • Create a “scope of work” and have the customer sign it — it should specify number of coats and cost
  • Apply thin to medium coats
  • Rinse well
  • Do not use air movers (they can stir up dust and ripple the finish)
  • Give your customer instructions on proper cleaning of the surface
  • Make a note to yourself to keep in touch with your customers — wood floors need to be recoated every few years and this is your chance to generate repeat business.

Cleaning Tips: Going Green — Here To Stay?

Practical advice to get the job done more efficiently

Using green products to clean carpet and hard floors is not only good for the environment — it’s good for business.

The reason is that people have come to expect a certain level of “green” and they turn to companies that announce they are green. Professional carpet cleaners know this, which is one reason that’s number two most-watched quick-clip video of 2012 was “Green Cleaning: Fading Away?”

The basics of green cleaning begin with an understanding of the products that are a fundamental part of any green cleaning program. As the movement has matured, a general agreement has developed around definitions of cleaning products that have a preferred environmental safety and health profile.

In short, green products need to meet certain criteria. According to ISSA, you can classify a product as green if it is one of the following:

If you use green-certified cleaning products, you can ensure you’re getting “marketing credit” in the eyes of your customers by including some simple statements in your marketing materials. “Green” may not be capturing the headlines, but consumers are still concerned about the safety of products used in their homes and businesses. Check out your marketing and update them if necessary to reflect your use of green products. And if you don’t use green products, it’s time to learn!

Cleaning Tips: The Value of Measuring pH

Practical advice to get the job done more efficiently

Professional carpet cleaners know that effective cleaning depends on measuring the pH of the soil or stain. Quick and easy ways to test the pH of a stain include using litmus paper, pH paper or an electronic pH meter. You can also use the same items to test the pH of your cleaning solution. Cleaning solutions and carpet stains fall into one of three pH categories:

acidic (with a pH reading of less than 7), neutral (pH of 7) or alkaline (pH over 7). If you know the pH of the spot, you should use a cleaner with an opposite pH to remove the soil. As a rule of thumb, all-purpose carpet cleaners are usually alkaline (high pH) cleaners, since most stains fall into the acid category.

Adhering to these general guidelines will help you clean carpet effectively. But there’s a lot more to pH than the basics, and if you want to take your business to the next level, it pays to develop a more in-depth understanding of pH. According to James Smith in a recent article at, “We must remember that nylon and wool are the two fibers most likely to need definitive alkaline limits.” Since that pertains to many of your jobs, it’s worth digging deeper into Smith’s article. His sound advice includes the following:

  • “In most cases, wool should not be over a pH of 5.5. This would include before it is cleaned, during its cleaning, and afterwards. If wool’s reading is higher than this, its polarity will revert to its natural anionic state and it will no longer have colorfastness with acid-dyes.”
  • “It is just an educated guess, but nylon should not have a pH higher than 8. It needs a pH higher than 7 for detergency to reach a satisfactory level. Higher than 8 indicates that its stain resistance is likely damaged. Soil’s pH is generally from 6.1 to 6.7.”