Wednesday, October 03, 2007

CherkyB's Guide to Carpet Cleaners

Unlike many other things, I am not an expert on carpet cleaners. Though my fan base seems to think I am an expert on all things. Which is understandable given the general state of my slack-jawed, mouth-breathing audience. I wish I had half the talent of FrankJ so I could attract a higher-quality readership. But I don't. So you'll have to settle for better grammar.

Anyways, though not an expert on carpet cleaners, I have owned one for nearly FreddyC's entire nine year life. Or, more accurately, I have owned three during that time frame. Which brings me to the first point in my Guide to Carpet Cleaners:
  1. All carpet cleaners that you can buy without going to some commercial cleaning gear company are cheap, poorly-designed, Chinese crap. [Ooo - a correction. The Hoover, at least, is cheap, poorly-designed, Mexican crap.]
It's really breathtaking what big, steaming piles of crap these things are. Yes, they clean the carpet more easily than you can with a bucket of soap and water. But they feel cheap. They look cheap. And they are cheap. Except for the price. My rule of thumb here may be to divide the price of the carpet cleaner by 3 and then expect the build and design quality to be about equivalent to that price vacuum. Hell, my first carpet cleaner - a top-of-the-line Bissell ProHeat - had one of the gaskets begin to break apart after less than 20 minutes of use. The machine then continued to slowly consume itself, working more and more poorly with every use, until one day (about 2.5 years later) when it simply made a lot of noise but produced neither suction nor jetting water.

So I said, "Screw Bissell. The next one is a Hoover." I said that as I was staring at a big giant pile of dog barf and was holding a Bissell that produced neither suction nor jetting water, and I had houseguests from out of town.

Due to the nature of the emergency, I was unable to acquire the top-of-the-line Hoover SteamVac and had to settle for a somewhat lower model that was in stock (late Sunday is no time to try to chase down a specific model). Which brings me to my second tip in the Guide to Carpet Cleaners:
  1. Always buy a high enough model to have separate detergent and water reservoirs, not a model that requires you to mix them.
Despite what you might see in the latest TV commercials for some little tablet you drop into the water that dissolves into "perfectly mixed cleaning solution", it is actually trivially simple to mix the detergent and water yourself. On the Hoover, the lid of the reservoir had a measuring cup built right in. And really, what kind of idiot can't fill a cup up to a line, dump it in, and then fill the container the rest of the way with water? On the TV commercial, they've got some guy in the middle of his garage floor wearing rubber gloves (as though soap is somehow too noxious to get on your hands) and using a funnel (as though filling the container with water is so hard if you put soap in first as to require a funnel, but if you put the soap in second in tablet form, suddenly a funnel isn't needed for the water) and having the thing fall out of the machine and spill on the floor (as though some how it will mount in the machine more easily with tablet-soap than with liquid). No, that's all just marketing fluff. The real problem with mix-yourself machines is when you're spot cleaning - like the dog/child/drunken friend barfed on your carpet, but not enough to require an entire gallon of cleaning.

See, carpet cleaners actually only work with hot water. All you're really doing is washing the carpet with a machine (despite the fact that they all at some point reference "steam cleaning," there is no steam), and just like any other kind of washing, it works waaaay better with hot water. You'll also quickly note that the sucking up of the dirty water is an imperfect process, and if you clean with cold water, you can expect your carpets to take hours to really dry afterwards. So what do you do if you've mixed up a batch of nice, hot cleaning solution, but then only use half of it? You have just a few choices:
  • Throw it out. Bad choice. Cleaning solution is expensive.
  • Save it in a bottle and use it cold next time. Bad choice as none of the machines is designed so it's easy pour the water back out of the clean reservoir without a big mess. This is when you should be in the middle of the garage floor with a funnel. Plus, when you go to use it next time cold, it won't work well and the carpet will never dry.
  • Save it in a bottle, but heat it up in the microwave in a half-gallon Pyrex next time. Pain in the ass choice.
The second cleaner was the last one I ever buy that I have to pre-mix the solutions on. The other added benefit of an automatic mixing machine (at least of the Hoover I now have, but not the Bissell I had first) is that you can have the option of "rinse". The Hoover I have now had an auto-rinse function where it only lays down soap with water when pushing forward, and then just water when pulling back. This is because if you go from front to back of the cleaning head it goes suction, then jets, then brushes. So when pushing forward, the liquid hit the carpet, then the brushes hit it. Going back, the brushes hit the same, stale solution, then you get fresh "rinse" water which is immediately sucked up by the vacuum. So laying down soap on the backstroke is a waste of soap as it spends maybe 1/4 second on the carpet before being vacuumed up. I also have a switch to turn the soap off completely, which is sometimes useful if you've really saturated a barf spot and are just trying to get it rinsed out without adding even more soap to the mess.

Despite the lack of a segue, I bring you my third point in the Guide to Carpet Cleaners:
  1. The big powerful brushes on the bottom are largely decorative when it comes to spot cleaning.
Bissell has a roller brush just like an upright vacuum (and, recently, two roller brushes back-to-back on some models), and Hoover has a row of circular spinning brushes. My opinion, having owned both, is that the Hoover brushes are slightly superior, but not by enough to make much difference. Maybe $10 more superior. The bottom line is that these brushes are fine for going over your entire carpet a few times a year to get out some general tracked-in dirt and odors, but for serious spot like spilled food, drinks, barf, and poop, they don't do a damned thing.

They are designed not to exert too much pressure on the carpet, but serious pressure is what you needs to wash out these nasty nasties. So expect to have the accessory hose out with whatever cleaning head it comes with that's supposedly for upholstery and be down on your hands and knees working the living hell out of that spot. Best technique is to spray down the spot very very heavily using the accessory hose, then wait about five minutes for it to saturate, then just suck it all up without any brushing. This way you don't grind the mess into the carpet with the brushes. Do that a few times until it's "surface clean". At this point, start using the upholstery brush to get the stuff that soaked down in. When you're all done, you'll have a soppy mess of a rug. Now is the time to deploy the big upright-vacuum head with all the brushes and suction.

That's really all I've got. Good luck.


blogauthor said...

Thank you! Wow, an entire blog entry for me, a slack jawed mouth breathing reader (doesn't one get more oxygen that way?). The common denominator I got from all of this: expensive, hard work, not very effective.

I think I'll call Zerorez. Very expensive, not hard work, pretty effective (the last two times they were pretty good ... but it was indeed expensive).

By the way, we've thinking of renaming Dogette Hoover. Your post reminded me of this.

CherkyB said...

I went to college with a girl whose nickname was Hoover, cuz. Oh, nevermind. That one was too easy.

The Mrs. is still standing by her comment that she'd rather give up the microwave and dishwasher before the carpet cleaner. I'd say it all depends on how often you have these messes. You can get may maybe 3-4 years of use out of a machine that costs about $300 before it goes all China Syndrome on you. So call it a $100/yr. cost for the machine itself, then maybe $30/yr in soap. That's maybe one visit per year from a professional. And the convenience factor of being able to clean stuff up right when it happens (or when you get up in the morning and step in it) rather than having to schedule an appointment and sit around with barf and/or crap stains on your carpet is definitely worth it to me.

ellie said...

what about just hiring someone to do it?

fat moother said...

I find that baby wipes work quite well in cleaning up little poop spots from the rug (not to mention spaghetti and other animal or vegetable matter).

Nava said...

"...are cheap, poorly-designed, Chinese crap."

Congratulations on your first diversity post. Highly educating.

CherkyB said...

First? How about this gem from April 2006:

"Now, maybe at this point you're thinking how my carpet cleaner is a piece of crap. Well, yes, it is a big hunk of Chinese plastic. But compared to the Bissell I used to own, this Hoover is a Lexus."

blogauthor said...

We don't have baby wipe sized messes around this joint. Sigh. We have messes alot. Hmmm. Maybe I should try one of these, I haven't called zerorez yet.

blogauthor said...

Doink. I found it. And better yet, I commented on it way back when. Someday my memory will improve ... reverse Alzheimer's??

CherkyB said...

By the way, if leave a comment here that contains a link to a carpet cleaning service, it will be deleted. You can advertise on your own blog.