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The Wet Method

The most common method used to clean carpet is hot water extraction, often mistakenly called steam cleaning. Steam is a vapor not a liquid. This is one of several common misconceptions about this method, another is that it cleans deeper and better because it sucks all the dirt out with a powerful vacuum.

In order to understand how this method works it is important to understand the machinery. There are three main components: the heating element, the high pressure pump, and the powerful vacuum.

Heating element: This component heats the water and detergent. This is necessary because detergent is heat activated (more powerful at high temperatures).

High pressure pump: This is similar to a pressure washer, it moves large quantities of water at high pressure into a spray nozzle which directs the force to blast dirt loose.

Powerful vacuum: Water is heavy, and a long vacuum hose can hold a lot of water. The vacuum must be powerful enough to pull out most of the water pumped in by the high pressure pump or the cleaning would look more like a flood.

The concept behind this method is to blast dirt out of carpet with hot water and detergent under high pressure the same way you would clean a driveway. But unlike a driveway the large volume of water doesn't just roll off so a powerful vacuum is used to remove as much water as possible. When you clean items around your house how often do you use a pressure washer? And of all the items in your home isn't carpet the most absorbent and hardest to dry out?

Inside the home you have an almost perfect environment for germs to grow lacking just one thing; moisture. Even if this method were able to kill all the germs in your carpet, it leaves behind the one thing that was lacking; moisture. Germs are air born, within seconds they land and for the next six hours or however long it takes the carpet to dry, they multiply often to numbers larger than were present before the cleaning.

Carpet has a primary backing that the tufts are stitched into and a secondary backing which makes the carpet sturdy and prevents flexing and buckling. These backings are held together with adhesives. Under the carpet is usually padding made of foam rubber or felt. The two layers of backing and the adhesive between them act as a barrier preventing all but a very small amount of very fine dirt to pass through. Water can make it through, but sucking it all back out is next to impossible. The base of the fibers is the deepest any method is able to clean.

The perception that low moisture methods can't clean as deep is misdirected. It is not the depth of the cleaning that causes carpet to look dirty again sooner, it is the inability to rinse out detergent residue. Hot water extraction is designed around providing the best conditions for detergent to work, carpet doesn't need plenty of hot water but detergent does. Low moisture methods are able to clean just as deep, but the cleaning products they use can leave behind a sticky residue, and low moisture methods have no rinse cycle. The method isn't the problem, the cleaning product is. If you don't put anything sticky into the carpet, you won't need to use large volumes of water to rinse it back out.

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