Why We Vacuum

There has always been debate among carpet cleaners about pre-vacuuming before carpet cleaning. Let’s get this out of the way: there is overwhelming evidence that pre-vacuuming dramatically improves results and makes cleaning easier for the carpet cleaner. Industry experts state that 74 percent to 79 percent of carpet soils are dry particulate matter, and are best removed by dry vacuuming. That’s why the IICRC carpet-cleaning standards list dry soil removal as the first principle. Now, this sounds nice in the textbooks and the seminars, but let’s get to the real world. The fact is that most carpet cleaners do not pre-vacuum. Estimates run as high as 70 percent, and some say it is even higher. Most carpet cleaners that do not pre-vacuum believe their equipment removes the dry soil during cleaning. This puzzling situation warrants a closer look.

If you take a pile of dirt and dump it in the center of a room and then go after it with a vacuum cleaner, it may take some time but you will remove that dry soil. Now take the same pile of dirt and dump a bucket of water on it. Trying to vacuum up the mud is total lunacy. So applying pre-spray without dry vacuuming is just making the job that much harder. But the real reason most cleaners don’t pre-vacuum is marketing. They have positioned themselves where price is the most important factor in being chosen by the customer. What this means is that they’re not charging enough to take the time to pre-vacuum. Many cleaners will say that they tell their customers to vacuum before they arrive. In fact, when I ran a large department store carpet-cleaning operation that was the way we did it. But we discovered that “vacuuming” was widely interpreted by our customers, and could mean that they pushed a straw broom across the carpet or did nothing at all. Nevertheless, we went in there and did our job. And when we were done, the carpet looked good. But like most cleaners, we were always trying to find ways to achieve better cleaning results. And so one day we decided to take a challenge presented to me by Jeff Bishop.

We had a customer whose home we cleaned on a regular basis. On our next job we vacuumed half the carpet in the house, and then cleaned all of it. I received a call from the customer less than three months later that something was wrong with her carpet. Now, we normally cleaned her carpet every six months, and I knew she was a pretty good housekeeper. When I went back to inspect the problem, I couldn’t believe what I saw. The areas we did not vacuum were noticeably more soiled than the areas where we had pre-vacuumed. Her living room and dining room were adjacent to each other, and we had purposely vacuumed the opposite ends of each room; the poor woman’s house looked like a checkerboard! Naturally, we re-cleaned her carpet – pre-vacuuming all of it this time.