Carpet Cleaning

 

From a detailer’s perspective, the interior of a car can essentially be divided into 5 areas consisting of: carpets, seats, dash/doors, door jambs, and windows. Of these, carpets, by far, take the most abuse. AND, carpets are the most difficult to clean. I struggled with carpet cleaning for a long time…and you probably will too – unless you have the proper tools and follow proper methods. The proper tools for carpet cleaning are expensive and unless you are willing to make an upfront investment, your results will probably be mediocre. In this section we will discuss various methods to clean a carpet – along the way I will lay out a suggested procedure along with some techniques that will yield the best results possible.

Initial Preparation

Irrespective of what cleaning method you choose (see below), there are generally four steps that you will need to complete first:

Step 1: Vacuum!! Remove any floor mats and place aside for now. Vacuum the carpet thoroughly making sure to get into all the little crevices that harbor dirt. Some detailers find it advantageous to remove the seats prior to starting a carpet detail…while this was very common years ago, it’s not so common on newer cars due to the placement of electronics and sensors underneath seats. Just take your time and do as thorough a job as you can with your vacuum.

Step 2: Brush the carpet. This step is necessary in order to raise the nap of the carpet and loosen any embedded dirt particles. It is really amazing how dirt works its way into the nap of a carpet.

Step 3: Vacuum again!! After you brush the carpet to loosen any additional embedded dirt, vacuum the carpet again – paying particular attention to difficult to reach areas.

Step 4: Pre-treat the carpet. This is an important step that is often overlooked. Typically one will immediately spray the carpet with their chosen carpet cleaning product and start cleaning but it is first necessary to pre-treat any noticeable stains. I strongly recommend a dedicated spot cleaning product such as Folex (can be purchased is your local home improvement center), 303™ Cleaner & Spot Remover, Woolite® Heavy Traffic Carpet Foam or another reputable dedicated spot remover. Simply follow the manufacturer’s directions. In most cases you will need to let the product dwell on the stains for 5-10 minutes (or as recommended). After this dwell time, agitate the areas that you sprayed with a brush.

Cleaning Methods

You are now in a position to ‘clean’ the carpet. You essentially have three choices: clean it by hand with carpet spray and a brush; clean it using an orbital buffer with a brush attachment and appropriate carpet cleaning spray; or clean it with a carpet extractor and a dedicated carpet cleaning soap. In what follows, we will discuss each method in detail.

Method 1: Hand Cleaning

Before you entertain this method of carpet cleaning, be forewarned: hand cleaning is going to take a lot of work, a lot of time, and may only give you mediocre results. On a positive note, however, it is very cheap and will enable to perform at least some level of carpet cleaning.

  1. Following from Step 4 in Initial Preparation above, spray a section of the carpet with a mixture of hot water and a carpet cleaning product such as 303 Fabric/Vinyl Cleaner (you can mix it to a ratio of 4 oz of cleaner to one gallon of water and get decent results) on a section of carpet and let it dwell for a few minutes.
  2. Using a soft bristle brush, go over the section – here you will have to put in a decent amount of effort.
  3. Once you brush the section, you will need to vacuum it in order to remove any moisture – for this, you will have to use a wet/dry vacuum.
  4. Repeat 1-3 for the remaining sections of the carpet and then let it dry.
  5. Once you are done with the whole carpet, it is highly recommended that you spray it with a product to protect it (such as 303 High Tech Fabric Guard). This will ensure that the carpet stays cleaner longer and will enable you to clean it easier in the future.

Method 2: Using an orbital buffer (with a brush attachment)

  1. Following from Step 4 in Initial Preparation above, spray a section of the carpet with a mixture of hot water and a carpet cleaning product such as 303 Fabric/Vinyl Cleaner (you can mix it to a ratio of 4 oz of cleaner to one gallon of water and get decent results) on a section of carpet and let it dwell for a few minutes.
  2. Using a random orbital buffer with a brush attachment, brush the section of carpet (set the buffer at speed 3 or 4).
  3. Once you brush the section, you will need to vacuum it in order to remove any moisture – for this, you will have to use a wet/dry vacuum.
  4. Repeat 1-3 for the remaining sections of the carpet and then let it dry.
  5. Once you are done with the whole carpet, it is highly recommended that you spray it with a product to protect it (such as 303 High Tech Fabric Guard). This will ensure that the carpet stays cleaner longer and will enable you to clean it easier in the future.

Method 3: Using a Carpet Extractor

A carpet extractor is really the way to go if you want professional results and this is what professional detailers use. Good carpet extractors start at ~$600 and can cost as much as $3000. In the long run, however, they are cost effective, will yield great results, and will save you time over methods 1 and 2 above. Carpet extractors combine a solution tank to heat the solution to ~200F+, a strong vacuum, and a wand sprayer – it’s an ‘all-in-one’ package specifically designed for carpet cleaning! There are a few carpet extractors at the lower end of the above price range (such as the Mytee Lite II and the Aztec Hot Rod) that will enable you to achieve great results.

  1. Following from Step 4 in Initial Preparation above, prepare your carpet extractor according to the manufacturer’s directions – it is important that you follow them closely in order to achieve the proper water temperature.
  2. The recommendation is to extract with the extractor wand two times for every one spray. Whether you follow this recommendation is not really crucial…just make sure that you extract as much water/solution as you can so the carpet can dry in a reasonable amount of time (1-2 hours). Proceed one section at a time until the carpet is complete and leave it to dry.
  3. Once you are done with the whole carpet, it is highly recommended that you spray it with a product to protect it (such as 303 High Tech Fabric Guard). This will ensure that the carpet stays cleaner longer and will enable you to clean it easier in the future.

What about floor mats?

Carpeted floor mats can be cleaned using the same methods and procedures outlined above. Just as waxes and sealants are used as sacrificial barriers on paint to protect it, floor mats are used as sacrificial barriers to protect your carpet. As a result, floor mats take a lot of abuse and wear – and as a result, usually look awful…the slides above show just how well a carpet extractor works! In some cases, especially after a few years of use, you may find it advantageous to just purchase new mats if they just won’t come clean. You might want to consider upgrading your mats to rubber mats – they are much easier to clean and will last longer. WeatherTech makes very nice rubber mats. If you are detailing a car for a customer then replacing the mats may not be an option…if this is the case then simply use the methods above to achieve the best result possible.

Pretreatment Products for Stubborn Stain Removal

There will undoubtedly be stains that you just won’t be able to remove using the above procedures and methods. If that’s the case, you can purchase more specialized chemicals:

Tips/Comments:

  • If detailing is something that you intend to do often then you might want to invest in a dedicated ‘detailing vacuum’ such as the very popular Metro Vac N’Blo. The Metro Vac N’Blo is a vacuum (and blower) with a lot of power. If you are more of a hobbyist then you can get away with a wet/dry shop vacuum (although this type of vacuum tends to be clumsy). Use your house vacuum only as a last resort as it is most likely not designed for wet vacuuming. Irrespective of what vacuum you use, be sure to get an assortment of attachments to allow you to get into difficult-to-reach spots.

    A wet/dry shop vacuum will yield good results and allow you to vacuum any moisture from the carpet.

  • When it comes to protection carpets or fabrics, Scotchguard immediately comes to mind. Scotchguard is a product often used to protect against dirt and debris but is not typically used for ‘other’ stains as it tends to not be as effective.
  • Around the house, carpet stains are typically cleaned with Oxy-Clean™ – an oxygen bleach – hence, it is tempting to use the same product for you car carpets. While Oxy-Clean does work, it is a strong alkaline (pH 10) product that may cause discoloration if not thoroughly rinsed/removed from the carpet…make sure you follow the manufacturer’s directions closely and vacuum the carpet well after use.
  • If you want to use an extractor but can afford one, give the Bissell Little Green ProHeat a try. It doesn’t heat the water to the temperature of a professional extractor and it doesn’t have the same suction either…but it can actually produce pretty good results and costs ~$100.
  • Cleaning mats can be done with the methods above and you will attain decent results. But, you can also clean mats by putting them in the washer! Or, if you have some all-purpose cleaner (APC – e.g., Meguiar’s APC) and a pressure washer, feel free to spray them with the APC and then power wash them…you will be surprised at how clean them come. Keep in mind that floor mats can get as wet as need be to get them clean as you can hang them to dry (unlike your carpet).