The Debate You’ve Never Heard About: Very Low Moisture Vs. Steam Cleaning

You probably don’t realize it but in the carpet cleaning world, there’s a hot debate: very low moisture (VLM) or hot water extraction (HWE). It’s hotly debated because the old school carpet cleaners – those who have spent years dishishing out thousands and thousands of dollars for those vans with expensive steam cleaning equipment – don’t really want to accept that VLM cleaning can even come close to cleaning as good as their method.

I doubt this little article will convince anyone inside or outside the trade, but I just wanted to make you aware of the changes that are occurring within the industry that could affect you as a consumer.

The Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification or IICRC, the industry’s certifying body, is finally giving a nod in the direction of VLM cleaners as being worthy of their blessing for cleaning carpets. They haven’t accepted it quite yet but the industry is slowly moving in that direction.

So which method is best? It’s an age old question, right?

How long is a piece of string? That’s about the size of it. There’s no right or wrong answer, if someone has an open mind about it.

For greasy, nasty carpets, HWE (or steam cleaning as many outside the industry call it) the carpets will get the job done faster and more efficiently. VLM can also do the job but it will take quite a bit longer and many more passes. It could even frustrate the technician because of the length of time and the resources it is using (ie, pads that he/she will need to clean later).

However, for lightly soiled carpets, VLM is the way to go. No hoses. Drying time is within 1-2 hours. Will HWE work on lightly soiled carpets? Absolutely, but it comes at a cost to having hoses run through the building, longer drying times, not to mention the expense of actually running the equipment. On a side by side comparison, both carpets – when dried – will probably come out looking good.

The carpet restoration industry has seen a vast explosion of great and safe cleaning products. That’s actually one of the secrets in VLM cleaning. After a thorough vacuum of the entire carpet, spray the chemicals on, let it dwell for 5-10 minutes depending on the chemical (which, by the way, is the first three steps in IICRC’s recommendation for getting effectively clean carpets) and take a cotton rotary or oscillating pad to it. The pad absorbs the dirt and much of the chemical moisture from the carpets. After brushing it out with a carpet rake to get the carpet fibers to stand on end and in an hour or so, the carpets are fresh again. Again, the technicians will note that this is also the final step in the HWE method.

Obviously there are uses for both methods of cleaning within the industry. The bottom line is that which is the best method for customers. Some carpets require steam cleaning mainly because VLM hasn’t been explained to management yet. Most people, however, just want clean carpets. And in the end, isn’t that what we as carpet cleaners supposed to give them?

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