Extraction Cleaning


By John Lamade

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 extraction cleaning.
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 of
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.


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.


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 is necessary
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