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Cleaning your carpeting

For years countless carpet cleaning professionals have told us that the most effective method of keeping carpeting clean and enhancing its lasting quality is to vacuum it regularly. Not the once or twice each week that most of us are used to. They recommend vacuuming three or more times per week; daily in those areas that receive significant traffic.

Although frequency is important, of equal weight is the quality of the vacuum. The motor must be powerful enough to create the suction required to remove soil and other contaminants that have been ground into the carpet. The brushes on the beater bar should be free of lint and string that can reduce effectiveness. Also, the suction port and air pathway should be checked periodically, and the bag changed often.

Soil is a carpet's biggest enemy. Accelerated carpet wear occurs when foot traffic grinds embedded soil into the carpet fiber. Thus, the more frequently the soil is extracted, the longer the carpet will last.

Aside from regular vacuuming, one of the best ways to prevent a carpet's early demise is to place walk-off mats at exterior entrances. One preventive measure is the removal of shoes -- especially for little ones whose footwear typically is covered with grunge. This shoeless practice that has been required for children now sometimes is politely (and wisely) asked of visiting adults.

Unfortunately, even with regular vacuuming a carpet will occasionally need to be cleaned. This is a process that some folks choose to undertake themselves, while others leave the job to the professionals. In either case, there are some basic rules that will help keep your carpet looking good longer.

Before attempting any cleaning, it's important to know what the carpet is made of. This will tell you which cleaning solution is most effective and, more important, which will not damage the carpet. You might need to check with your installer or carpet cleaning professional for this information.

Using a stiff brush, scrubbing vigorously and using too much water are a few of the most common mistakes that most people make when spot-cleaning carpet. A stiff brush combined with vigorous scrubbing can permanently destroy carpet fiber. Too much water will travel below the carpet into the pad and wood floor, if one exists. This can lead to mildew growth and an unpleasant odor.

Most modern carpet fibers are manufactured with an integral stain guard that makes stain removal simple. A small amount of water along with a touch of vinegar or club soda will clean most stains. Whether you're using water, a dry cleaning solution or another spotting agent, the applicator should, in all cases, be a clean, white, dry cloth. And in lieu of scrubbing, the carpet should be blotted. The rag should be wrung out frequently.

When it comes to cleaning large areas, most people will either rent equipment or hire a professional. In either case, there are both wet and dry methods of cleaning. Most do-it-yourself equipment consists of the "hot water extraction" method wherein hot water and a carpet cleaning solution are injected into the carpet and immediately extracted with a powerful vacuum. There are a couple of common mistakes that many of us make when using this equipment: too much water and detergent and not enough extraction.

Earlier, we talked about the perils of using too much water. Excess detergent will produce too much suds making it virtually impossible to extract. This detergent stays in the carpet fibers and serves as a magnet for future soiling. Unfortunately, do-it-yourself carpet cleaning devices generally are not powerful enough to extract all of the water and detergent. This renders the carpet vulnerable to future staining, and means longer drying time. This usually isn't the case with a professional outfitted with truck-mounted equipment. The vacuum suction is far more powerful and the equipment produces continuous hot water. This can make all the difference in the world.

While we are not discouraging do-it-yourself carpet cleaning, we suggest comparing the cost of equipment rental and all of the associated cleaning products to the cost of professional carpet cleaning. Some carpet manufacturers guarantee their product only if it is cleaned professionally.

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James Carey and Morris Carey are nationally recognized experts on home building and renovation.

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