Comparing the 5 Major Carpet Cleaning Systems

The 5 most popular carpet cleaning methods.Steam Cleaning(hot water extraction), Encapsulate Cleaning, Bonet Cleaning, Dry Carpet Cleaning.

1. Hot water extraction (Steam Cleaning)

This is the most popular method for carpet cleaning and recommended by Shaw and Mohawk carpet manufacturers. I use this process with an extensive cleaning system. This method is also known as “steam cleaning,” which is funny since no steam is used. It’s probably called steam cleaning since the water coming from the truck mounted machine is usually 180-250 degrees. Leaves carpet cleaner for longest time (if done properly)


Generally, three hoses come from a van where the machine is mounted. The machine is really a hot water wet/dry vacuum. The machines run of their own engine or the engine from the van. They have tons of vacuum power. One hose hooks up to house water (outside). A second hose (high pressure hose) comes in the house which supplies the hot water to clean the carpet. The third hose is a large hose that provides vacuum to suck up the water and dirt. The water and dirt are stored in a tank in the van.

General Hot Water Extraction Process:

First, a mild detergent is used to pre-spray the carpet. Next, hot water is injected into the carpet. Finally, a high-powered vacuum extracts the water, detergent and soil from of the carpet.

Wand – A manual hand tool that looks kinda like a push broom. The handle is a hollow tube where the vacuum hose attaches to the top of the handle. The font of the “push broom” is the vacuum box that is dragged like a push broom across the carpet to suck up the water and soil. The pressure hose attaches at the handle and powers jets on the back of the vacuum box that spray hot water on the carpet. They usually only make 1-2 passes over the carpet.

Good – Can be quick. Doesn’t leave s sticky residue.

Bad – Can be real quick cleaning using little amounts of water and not removing much soil. Can lead to reappearing spots. Can leave excess water if not using dry passes. Hard to get out tough stains. Can blow water on furniture, walls, etc.

Rotary machine (I use the Rotovac 360i) – They have a spinning head with many vacuum ports that sit on the carpet and suck up the water and soil. Right next to each vacuum port is a spray jet. Water comes out of the jets to rinse the carpet. These machines make 200-300 passes per minute on the carpet. They are generally safe for all carpet (the Rotovac is safe for all carpet). The vacuum ports are usually smooth plastic or smooth metal and separate each fiber and suck up the water and dirt the jets just sprayed. People often this they are floor buffers. LOL

Good – Rotary Machine: Provides through rinsing and rarely has spots re-appear. Gets out tough stains. Rotovac can do stairs (nothing beats this)

Bad – Needs electric power, takes longer to clean, can leave the carpet wet if not using dry passes.

Ways to to Perform HWE:

Basic (dumbed down version): Single Step version – The wand or rotary machine is set on the carpet and the trigger is pulled to blast hot water in the carpet. The water is plain water or mixed with soaps (usually soap). As the water is being blasted in the carpet it is being sucked up a second later. Pre-spot and Post Spot treatment may be necessary. Popular by big companies and unethical carpet cleaners.

Good: Very fast. Crew doesn’t need much training.

Bad: Leaves the carpet sticky. Doesn’t remove much soil. Water alone doesn’t clean carpet that well. Leading cause to people thinking, “Once you cleaned the carpet it’s ruined.” (Note: Sticky carpets can be fixed). Sometimes carpet takes a long time to dry. Often spots reappear. Many companies charge extra for Spot Treatments.

IICRC Training Method (Best): Multi Step Version

  • PRE-SPRAY – Detergent cleaning solution is sprayed from a hand held sprayer into the carpet. The solution is kid and pet friendly and loosens soils by breaking down water tension so water penetrates better, looses soil, and floats it to he top to be removed.
  • RINSE the carpet with a special Fiber Rinse that keeps the carpet from being left sticky and crunchy. Some of the rinses also help continue the cleaning process down deep in the fiber (I use these).
  • EXTRA DRY PASSES go back over the carpet with vacuum only remove excess soil and water.
  • POST-SPOTTING for all difficult stains. (Coffee, food, oil/grease, spills, traffic soil)
  • Wand or Rotary Tool – Both tools work with this method

Good: Leaves carpet cleaner for longest time

Bad: Unskilled technicians can leave carpet wet.

2. Non-Residue Zero Carpet Cleaning

These companies inject empowered water to remove soil. This process is an attack on Hot Water Extraction and really against carpet cleaners that rinse carpet soap.

Good: Honestly, not much good. The marketing is good.

Bad: They use an alkaline powered water to clean carpet which leaves a residue. Truth…For heavy soiled carpets they use pre-spray but have no way to neutralize them. Water alone will not remove oils and other types of dirt. Secret…Their process cannot get most soil and stains so they buy a lot of products that I use to pull out tougher spots from my suppliers. Guess what?? They have nothing to pH balance the carpet and so are leaving a negative residue in the carpet.

3. Encapsulation Carpet Cleaning (Chemical Dry Process – ical)

This process is mostly suited for office buildings, but had a big following for years in residential carpet cleaning. It is an IICRC certified system so it adds value and dopes remove soil.

Encapsulation is a chemical with a polymer that labors soil into the soap bubble. The dirt is hidden by the soap bubbles. When the applied solution dries, the carpet is then vacuumed to suck up the dirt particles, giving the rug a clean appearance. Encapsulation uses less water during the cleaning process, and as such, results in short drying times.

Tools for Encapsulation

The common is a machine like a floor buffer with brushes or removal Bonnet pads.

Good – Fast drying times, can be very inexpensive.

Bad – Leaves a residue. Doesn’t remove much soil

4. Dry Powder Cleaning (Host Method)

Been around probably since the 50’s. Some canopies sell it in cans at grocery stores. Powder like saw dust is poured on the carpet and brushed in. It has some solvents in the powder that absorb soil.

Good: Super dry. Good for something that should be cleaned wit h water at all.

Bad: Hard to get all the powder out of the carpet. Doesn’t remove much soil. Could stain the carpet if wet cleaned later or wick back, forever. Scratched my head over this one seeing saw dust looking material coming out of the carpet forever.

5. Do it yourself

You can rent or buy a machine and do warm water extraction.

Some machines need to have hot water added, while others have heating coils to pre-heat the water.

You can also buy a detergent that can be added to the tank.

Dry times average 18-24 hours as the suction for the extraction is not as powerful as a cleaning machine used by a professional.

If 10 gallons of water is used, some machines will only pick back up half or 5 gallons, leaving a great deal of water in the carpeting.

A couple of carpet manufacturers will still cover warranties with this type of cleaning, but you should always check before proceeding with this method.

Good – Great for spot cleaning. Cheaper than hiring someone.

Bad – Easy to over wet carpet. Leaves sticky carpet. Hard to get out stains. Hard work.