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.

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