The Japanese have an almost foolproof tradition for keeping their floor coverings clean: They park their shoes at their front doors - even in commercial buildings - and put on indoor-only slippers. Carpet experts advise doing the same, pointing out that shoes carry grit that not only can soil carpet fibers but can wear and break them.
But for busy Long Island families with kids and pets, the reality is that most won't stop to shuck their shoes every time they enter, or even to wipe their feet thoroughly, and so carpets get dirty.
Here are some ways to cope with the major household chore of keeping carpets and area rugs clean and fresh. Every expert stresses the importance of regular vacuuming, for starters.
RENTING A MACHINE
Many supermarkets and home improvement centers rent portable carpet cleaning machines that can be handled by the average adult. Most also can be used for upholstery. They cost about the same from all sources, from about $20 to $25 for a 24-hour period. Cleaning solutions are extra. Some solutions are specifically formulated for certain problems such as odor, urine or spot elimination, heavy traffic areas or general cleaning and can cost from about $20 to $35 for 96 ounces. Concentrated solutions make about 48 gallons when mixed with water. Rental machines use hot water for mixing cleaning solutions.
Professionals warn that people tend to overwet their carpets with rental machines and that the extracting process can be inadequate. Damp carpet backing can become moldy and wood flooring underneath can be damaged. Less-than-complete extracting can leave a residue of sticky cleaning solution in the pile. This residue can actually attract and hold dirt after the cleaning. Thorough vacuuming is important after the carpet dries. Drying time - during which the room is off-limits - can take many hours or even overnight depending on household humidity and should be considered when renting a machine. Berbers and deep-piles are especially prone to slow drying. Carpet-cleaning machine rental companies warn that their products should not be used on carpets made with natural fibers such as wool, silk, cotton or hemp. The warning also covers hand-woven Orientals, braided or hooked rugs or carpets with non-color-fast pile.
WHEN HIRING A PRO
"Area rug cleaning in our plant is priced based on carpet type and size," says Barry Swidler, president of Brooklyn-based Long Island Carpet Cleaners Inc. "A typical rug cleaning job would be a 9-by-12-foot Oriental, which costs $230 for pickup, including moving heavy furniture, cleaning, inspecting for damage, photographing and delivery of the rolled-up area rug. Odor-removal, repairs and fringe-work are extra."
Wall-to-wall carpets are priced by the square foot, with synthetic broadloom at 36 cents, wool at 58 cents and woven or custom carpeting at 86 cents. Heavily soiled carpets may need pre-shampooing for a small additional charge.
Rather than wrestling with rental machines, moving furniture and waiting for drying (or living with an empty room while waiting for the return of an area rug that's been sent out for cleaning), consider hiring a professional carpet cleaning company for in-home service. For wall-to-wall carpeting there are few alternatives. "But be careful about who you use," says George Davis, spokesman for Shaw Industries, a leading carpet and flooring manufacturer.
"There are some out there who can ruin a carpet. We recommend that people use only members of the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification; in fact, we require that cleaning be done only by IICRC members in order to qualify for our warranties."
Household products such as vinegar, baking soda and shaving cream are worth trying for cleaning superficial soil and stains.
"Always clean up spills as soon as possible before liquids can soak into the carpet backing," says Barry Swidler of Long Island Carpet Cleaners Inc. "Blot, never rub, with a white cloth or paper towel, then dab with a mild dishwashing detergent and water mixture. After drying, vacuum thoroughly to remove any residue - that's the critical part, extraction." Experts also advise that cleanups be followed by blotting the area with a vinegar and water mixture; vinegar is said to be the ingredient of choice for removing residue.
Check the following sites for tips on carpet cleaning using household products:
LOCAL CARPET CLEANERS
Following is a sampling of local carpet cleaning companies that are members of the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification:
*Long Island Carpet Cleaners Inc., 516-483-6900
*Absolute Carpet & Upholstery Cleaners, 631-258-4769
*Stanley Steemer, 631-243-4800