This weekend I borrowed an extraction
cleaning machine from work to clean some carpet and upholstery at
home. We have a small household extractor at home that connects to
a faucet. The machine does a decent job, but this time I wanted more
power. I imagined that I could do a better job with an extraction
cleaner capable of delivering 195° F water at 100 psi and then
removing it with 150" of lift. As I loaded the Xtrax(tm) machine
in the back of my van, I thought about how impressed my sons would
be as I turned the machine loose. For some reason, I also thought
that I could pull a Tom Sawyer and get the guys to do the work. Sounds
like an interesting weekend, and it was, but in more ways than I imagined.
Writing editorial pieces is challenging. About two weeks ago I decided
that I would hold off on writing another problem-solving piece and
the necessity of getting more detailers to join the ICA. Considering
the proximity of this issue to the Car Wash Show, I will say the following
and get it out of my blood for another month:
To get the ICA to take detailers more seriously, there needs to be
more detailers in the ICA. Join today and be counted!
Well, that was probably the shortest membership recruitment ever.
However, it is true that to realize the benefits of membership in
the ICA, detailers need to join the organization in greater numbers.
That is the road to membership in committees where decisions are made
about funding and the organization's agenda.
This month's piece is about perceptions and benefits of using extraction
cleaning machines. My intent was to use the observations made by my
9-year-old son about the machine I had borrowed to clean the kitchen
and a bedroom carpet as well as some upholstered chairs. My son's
observations were to serve as a starting point for a discussion of
While I was cleaning the kitchen carpeting Friday night, I thought
that a naive 9-year-old's responses to seeing and using an extraction
cleaning machine would make an article about extraction cleaning more
interesting. I figured it might ease the decision-making process for
adding an extraction cleaning machine to a shop's equipment inventory.
As I moved the floor wand back and fourth, creating a cloud of steam,
the article began to take shape in my mind. When I went to bed Friday
night, I thought that the article was nearly written.
I spent Saturday "detailing" my oldest son's room. Why can't
room cleaning be detailing? I cleaned the existing paint, carpet,
and upholstery, restoring the "like-new" appearance
of the room. In fact, because I rearranged the room, the room now
has a better than "new" or "original" look. Heck,
I even used a detailer's extraction cleaning machine on the carpet
and upholstery! The job kept me busy for hours, and just like the
ads say, using the extraction cleaner reduced the amount of work.
But I'm not sure that a major productivity improvement is desirable
in this instance because there are two other bedrooms and the rest
of the house waiting to be "detailed" as well. I guess there
are times when you don't want to be too productive. But using a powerful
extractor did get the carpet cleaner in less time than would have
been the case, had I used other methods.
As you can imagine, I could have loaded this piece with lots of little-boy
questions like "Why is the machine so big?" I chose not
to because, frankly, I wasn't prepared for some of the questions I
did receive. Both of my sons know what an extraction cleaning machine
is and believed that with a machine this large there had to be a machine-mounted
cleaning bar. The boys have seen Tennant machines at school and I
imagine they thought that anything this big had to work the same way.
Perhaps they expected a professional machine to be capable of cleaning
acres of carpet and to be truck-mounted with 400 feet of recovery
hose. I imagine they were disappointed to learn that the usual hand
wand and floor wands were used with this unit. My 9- and 12-year-olds
had somewhat different expectations of a professional extractor.
If you are about to invest $1,200 to more than $3,000 in a piece of
equipment for your shop, you have a set of expectations about what
this investment is going to do for you. Just as my sons had expectations
about what a "professional" extractor should look like,
everybody else will have expectations - different expectations.
For example, I have written about this particular machine for nearly
a year. I have written manuals, sell sheets, advertisements, and bulletins
telling people about the wonders of the Xtrax. When I unloaded the
machine Friday night, I had expectations as well. I had never before
cleaned indoor carpeting with this machine.
Some things you learn quickly. Before I started moving furniture in
the kitchen, I poured the carpet cleaner into the machine and filled
the reservoir from the kitchen sink with a two-gallon bucket. I then
realized that filling the tank with a hose would avoid spills. More
importantly, for a shop setting, I would consider installing a proportioner
to pre-mix hot water and cleaner (If I chose to use a liquid cleaner
rather than a powder, which can't be pre-mixed). Later, while I was
working upstairs, I filled and refilled the reservoir from the shower
hose. After filling the machine I started heating the water. Then
I started preparing the kitchen for cleaning.
One of the major factors in owning an extraction cleaning machine
is making sure that it fits in your environment. What changes will
you have to make to ensure that you will get the maximum return on
your investment? One of my expectations when I took the machine home
was that it would take time to bring the water up to cleaning temperature.
I was able to arrange my work to accommodate the heating cycle. Can
you do the same? Could you create a procedure at your shop to have
someone mix the first batch of cleaning solution and start the extractor's
heater the very first thing in the morning or before doing the exterior
of the first car?
There are surprises when reality and expectations don't quite match.
Kitchens and cars are not the same. An extractor with a "large"
9-gallon tank can be huge - sufficient to do several auto interiors
with a hand wand before refilling. But that same tank can become "small"
when using a carpet wand and doing a household carpet. Car interiors
are not the same as kitchens. I used the first 9 gallons of hot solution
to pre-treat the edges of the room and about half the carpet. Then
I had to empty the recovery tank, refill the solution tank, and again
heat the cleaning solution.
In a shop environment, a gate valve to empty the recovery tank makes
sense, but in a kitchen this can mean trouble. You pull the handle
and suddenly there is a gush of dirty water shooting out of the back
the machine. I tried to catch it with a 2-gallon bucket. (Where are
the empty 5-gallon buckets when you need one?) After dealing with
the nearly 9 gallons of hot wastewater appropriately and refilling
the machine, I realized that I was confronted with downtime as I waited
for the solution tank to get hot. I had not planned for this. Even
after this happened once, I let it happen again. I ran out of cleaning
solution with 15 square feet to go.
HOW TO HEAT?
If you are thinking about purchasing an extraction machine, you need
to consider such things as what to do with the wastewater and how
you handle the inevitable downtime as the machine heats the cleaning
solution. One of your equipment decision factors should be whether
you want in-line heaters or an immersion heater that heats the entire
tank of cleaning solution. You must then consider how hot your shop
water is because any kind of heater must be able to handle the required
temperature increase from, say, 140° F to 195° F. Immersion
heating machines can handle the temperature increase in 20 to 25 minutes,
while in-line heaters can handle the temperature difference initially
and then fall behind. To be fair, in-line machines often require multiple
cords and circuits to handle the current required to both heat water
and run the vacuums simultaneously. This means that you have to be
able to select the power source(s) needed to operate the extractor.
If you have more than one cleaning bay and plan to use more than one
extractor, you will need to consider workflow and the efficient use
of energy. It does cost money to heat water, and you should determine
whether it makes more sense to heat and store water in
a hot-water tank and boost water temperature to operating range or
to take cold water (Couldn't you use "hot" water with an
in-line heater?) and raise the temperature to the desired range.
IS THE SIZE
Most manufacturers offer more than one size of solution and recovery
tank. As I discovered, even a large solution tank can fall short of
requirements when you are cleaning household carpet. When I was doing
the kitchen carpet, I had to empty the machine twice. As I look back
at the job, I realize that I used too much cleaning solution. There
is always the temptation to believe that if a little bit is good,
then a lot is better. The same follows for extraction cleaning. The
machine I used could deliver lots of hot cleaning solution at 100
psi. When you are doing floor carpeting this means you can get the
carpet really clean by pumping lots of solution through the wand and
then collecting it. It's probably related to the more power mystique,
but mystique can be expensive as you waste both time and materials
doing unnecessary work.
When you consider purchasing a machine, find the size that fits your
needs and determine how much cleaning is really required to get the
job done to satisfy your expectations. In this way, you will control
waste and discover how large a machine you really need for a work
area. You may find that the you want a machine with a capacity sufficient
to clean vehicle interiors until lunch time when the recovery tank
can be emptied and new solution added so that the tank will heat during
lunch break (thus avoiding loss of production while the tank heats).
By experimenting with a demo machine you can also learn how much cleaning
to achieve the desired results. You can also learn the benefits of
using pre-spotters and other cleaning aids that will let you get interior
cleaning done faster and more efficiently.
Extraction cleaning machines can certainly make your shop more productive
and improve cleaning quality but, as I discovered this weekend, you
must make intelligent choices to ensure that you select the machine
that will meet both your needs and expectations. Next month we will
consider more factors that will help you make an intelligent decision
regarding the selection and use of extraction cleaners in your shop.
John Lamade is marketing manager for Barberton,
OH-based Malco Products Inc. and a contributing editor to Auto Laundry
News. Contact John via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.