By The LMCCA Environmental Affairs Committee
With contributions from Mark Warner, Scot Case, Rick Gelinas and Lonnie McDonald
Low moisture methods have found a stable place in today’s cleaning arena.
With the increasing popularity of low moisture carpet cleaning methods, let’s look at the
effects of low moisture cleaning on the environment. As concerns over the environment,
global warming, health and safety are skyrocketing; low moisture cleaning methods are
proving to have some earth-friendly and people-friendly advantages.
Generally speaking, while hot water extraction can classify as low moisture as per the
definition by the LMCCA, most low moisture methods use less heat, less water, have less
disposal issues and have less of a “carbon foot-print” than traditional hot water extraction equipment. Although this is obvious, we need to make sure we are not getting caught up in “green washing” or “eco-babble” here. Do low moisture systems have environmental benefits? Sure. But we must remember that the other issues that revolve around the “green” movement are directly related to health and safety. Chemistries used in any system must continue to strive toward less toxicity, less VOCs, etc. to be considered fully “green”. This means chemistries used in any and all carpet cleaning systems, not just low moisture systems. We all know that many traditional solvents have been highly
documented as to having negative impacts on the human body. With this said, even low
moisture systems still need to focus on the “green-ness” of the cleaning solutions
themselves. The most effective way to determine the “green-ness” of any cleaning
chemical is to make sure they are “third-party certified”, meaning that they are certified
by a recognized certification organization like Green Seal or EcoLogo or registered with
EPA DfE. These organizations eliminate the guesswork over what each manufacturer
means in their marketing claims.
Often we hear claims like natural and organic, but remember…nicotine, arsenic and
cocaine are natural and organic yet not at all safe. We hear things like non-toxic, but we
need to know how that’s been tested. If it’s non-toxic to an elephant, a gorilla or a whale, it doesn’t mean it is non-toxic to children. Lastly, we hear about biodegradability.
Did you know that even Uranium 239 is “biodegradable” in 25,000 years? We need to make
sure biodegradability claims are relevant and meeting the 28 day benchmark set by the
real “green” standards.
In recent months, we have seen an increasing number of cities and states requiring the use
of “green” carpet cleaning systems in their facilities, but we also seen many different
definitions as to what they consider “green”. Carpet cleaners are asked a variety of things
by these government agencies. They range from using cold water to specific requirements like limiting electrical power use, limiting or eliminating VOC emissions, limiting or eliminating “residues”, using products with environmentally-friendly packaging, filtering all waste water or even recycling the waste water in some way.
Some even want documentation as to where and how the water is disposed.
It is obvious that many agencies are struggling with defining just what is “green”. For
carpet cleaning, we need to look at the carpet cleaning systems in addition to the carpet
cleaning chemistries. With some hot water extraction cleaning systems, it is easy to
consume a gallon or two of water per minute. This means that in an hour of cleaning, an
average of 90 gallons of water could be consumed. What happens to that water? The
objective of a good hot water cleaning system is to extract as much of that water to the
waste tank. What started out as fresh clean water is now laden with contaminants from
the carpet as well as any detergents that were during the cleaning process. Another factor
to consider is the effect on the environment of an idling 8-cylinder truck-mount. Ten
minutes of idling an 8-cylinder engine can burn approximately 7/10 of a gallon of gas.
And each gallon of gasoline consumed produces about 19 lbs of CO2.
By comparison most low moisture cleaning systems generally use little or no water
during the cleaning process. One gallon of water can conceivably clean approximately
300 – 1000 square feet of carpet or more. In addition to introducing a fraction of the
water to the carpet, low moisture carpet cleaning systems produce little or no wastewater.
The soil is vacuumed from the carpet after the cleaning process as a dry particulate, either as an encapsulated particle or as soil absorbed into or onto dry absorbent/adsorbent media or it may be transferred to an absorbent pad. In any case, these low moisture cleaning methods do not require the burning of gasoline to power the equipment. Low moisture cleaning equipment generally consists of portable electric machines that can operate on a single 15-amp circuit.
Some may wonder – is it really possible to effectively clean a carpet without needing to
use 1-2 gallons of water per minute? We must first recognize that there are just two basic
forms of soil in the world – dry soil and sticky soil. Obviously, there are an infinite
number of soil types but all of the soil types can be categorized under the headings of dry
soil and sticky soil. Oil-based soils adhere to the carpet due to the oils in them; other
natural or organic materials can adhere due to the sugars or other ingredients in them.
Remember that the highest concentration of the soil that’s in a carpet is dry soil.
According to the old study that is still recognized by our industry, 79% of soil in carpet is dry soil. This means we’re only being called upon to remove the smaller fraction (21%)
with our cleaning. Even moderately soiled carpets can be cleaned using low moisture
methods since we only need to break the sticky bond which only amounts to small
fraction of soil (21%), on a short piece of fiber.
During the past few years our industry has seen many positive developments in cleaning
technologies. Recent advancements in low moisture chemistries are making it possible to
produce cleaning formulations that effectively hold soil in some form of suspension so
that it can be “extracted” from the carpet during the post-vacuuming process as a dry
Low moisture cleaning is quite an exciting development for our industry. Its causing
people to change some of their previous held ideas and open their minds to really new
and innovative technology based on science. Carpet cleaners can now clean with less
water, less equipment, less cost, and less chemicals. This is clearly a case of “less is