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The Top 5 Costly Mistakes Made by Cleaners

As you may know, I ran a fabric cleaning business in Chattanooga,Tennessee for about 15 years.  And now I’m back working in the “business” again in Denver. I maintained a lot of repeat customers over the years and was very successful.  I attribute my business accomplishments to a few simple things . . . consistently hard work, persistence and trying very hard to avoid some costly mistakes I see other cleaning companies do all the time. 

Those mistakes typically include:

1. No pre-inspection – Inspect to know what to expect.  And then communicate your findings to consumers.  Thorough pre-inspection and documentation of the carpet, upholstery or rug you’ll be cleaning is essential in all situations to avoid a variety of costly misunderstandings with customers.  When damage or potential problems are discovered during pre-inspection, you should document the condition in writing, notify customers and obtain proper authorization before performing cleaning, repair or restoration services.  If you clarify potential problems up front, then when they happen, you’ve given an explanation, not an excuse.

2. Lack of knowledge of fiber type and characteristics:

  • Each fiber type has certain characteristics that affect performance and appearance over a period of time and traffic.  Some fiber characteristics may be blamed on cleaners, if they don’t know what they’re cleaning.
  • An understanding of fibers also allows us to determine how much effort and what cleaning chemicals will be needed to get a carpet clean, and
  • Finally, it allows us to predict whether or not, or how hard it will be, to remove spots and stains.

Probably the classic example is olefin fiber.  In some carpet styles, olefin pile yarns are not very resilient.  When crushed by traffic, customers want to know why cleaning won’t bring them upright again.  Lack of resiliency is simply a characteristic of the fiber.  And then there are wool carpet and rugs, which we find in many high end homes, office and hospitality installations.  Wool carpet often is woven and it is expensive, so you can’t afford to take chances cleaning it.  Wool has specific performance characteristics, and it requires special knowledge of proper cleaning chemicals and pH.

3. Understanding the chemistry of cleaning.  pH is the relative alkalinity or acidity of a water-based solution.  It’s measured using litmus paper that’s colored with an indicator dye:  alkaline solutions turn the litmus paper dark green or blue;

  • neutral solutions turn the paper green, and
  • acid solutions turn the paper yellow to red, depending on their strength.

The problem that cleaners encounter all the time is that, highly alkaline cleaners can cause immediate or delayed or progressive bleeding or color loss in nylon or wool carpet.  They can also damage wool fiber and eventually, in strong enough concentrations, they dissolve wool fiber completely.  That’s not my idea of good customer service!

Now you ask, “Can’t you just neutralize an alkaline residue in carpet by using an acid rinse?” 

Answer: “Not necessarily.”  You see, some alkaline cleaners are buffered.  That means their pH is stabilized, and an acid rinse won’t neutralize the alkaline residue.  Further, some strong alkaline builders are hygroscopic – that is, they attract humidity from the atmosphere, which causes carpet to resoil rapidly after cleaning.  Another bummer.

When cleaning nylon, polyester or olefin carpet, the recommended pH of the prespray or in-tank solution should be 10 or less.  Got that; 10 or less!  Rather than increasing pH to clean more aggressively, consider increasing agitation or dwell time.  Same result, fewer problems.

With wool, I highly recommend a product that has been tested and approved for use on wool through the WoolSafe® program (www.woolsafe.org/usa).  Generally, that means a neutral or slightly acid preconditioner followed by an acid rinse, to leave the wool fiber in its natural state – pH between 3 and 5. 

Oops, I got side tracked . . .I’ll talk more about wool in another article!  Now back to the next big mistake.

4. Choosing an improper cleaning technique – there are numerous methods of cleaning.  In fact I can name at least 10 distinct methods, plus combinations of those methods, that I have used over the years . . . and each has benefits and limitations.  They range from dry solvent cleaning, to minimum moisture methods, to complete submersion. 

A professional cleaning technician should have the knowledge to choose the best cleaning method for the particular circumstance or item being cleaned.  If you don’t have a good understanding of methods, then you need to get some education.  Get to an IICRC-approved certification class now!  Go to www.iicrc.org for a listing of classes in your area.  And don’t be surprised if you have to travel to go to a quality course.  It will be worth every penny you spend.  Promise!

5.  O.K.  Last, but not least.  You’ve heard the saying, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”  Well, in this case, I’m advocating just the opposite.  It’s the little things that matter, especially to women.  And if you don’t communicate with your customer both during the job and afterwards, and with a follow-up call, you’ll wind up with a very unhappy customer. 

For example, if you just couldn’t remove a two-inch stain in the middle of the living room carpet no matter what product you used, then explain that some stains are permanent.  Give your customer an analogy: compare it to stains on clothing.  I promise, she’ll understand and appreciate the fact that you took time to talk to her.

Bottom line, there are a number of simple things you can do that will make you more professional, effective and safe in your cleaning practices, as well as help you have a more successful business.  And, by the way, if you’re a trained, contentious, professional, you deserve to be paid well for your services.  Believe me your customers understand that concept!

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R. L. Seminars, LLC
WoolSafe North America
437 Alfred Ladd Road East
Franklin, TN 37064

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