Just as in any good relationship, the key to effective carpet cleaning is good chemistry. Although the carpet cleaners that are on the market received a few upgrades since 2011, the carpet-cleaning solutions that are mixed with water in carpet-cleaner tanks have been revised with the aim of delivering better cleaning performance and a better-smelling environment.
The innovations for carpet cleaners themselves include models than can be detached from their wheeled base to provide more-portable cleaning as well as tweaks on how models apply hot water to carpets.
FORMULA FINDS. In the past 3 years, Bissell introduced eight carpet-cleaning-solution formulas, while Rug Doctor introduced 18. Hoover says it revised its four carpet-cleaning solutions.
Why all of the changes? Manufacturers say the new carpet-cleaning formulas are meant to address specific issues, such as odors or pet stains better, as well as to reduce allergens. Eric Hansen, who is the chief chemist at Bissell, says the key is the variety of surfactants, which are detergents that loosen substances from carpet fibers. He says tens of thousands of surfactants exist, and each has different properties that make it effective at removing particular stains. (Other ingredients that are in carpet-cleaning solutions include additives that are designed to enhance the performance of the surfactants, such as pH-adjusting agents and dirt-suspension agents.)
Companies don’t reveal their specific formulas. We evaluated manufacturer and third-party versions of carpet-cleaning solutions that are marketed specifically to eliminate pet stains. In this particular case, we found that manufacturers’ claims of effectiveness hold true: The solutions leave no visual or scent cues that any mess existed.
We didn’t evaluate carpet-cleaning solutions that were formulated to remove tiny dander particles from carpet fibers. However, George Bodner, who is a professor of chemical education at Purdue University, says such claims are feasible.
Unfortunately, it seems that no one surfactant exists that can do it all, Hansen says. Specialized formulas certainly can be used for general cleaning, but Hansen insists that surfactants that are good at loosening dander won’t be as effective at getting rid of pet residue and vice versa.
Bodner agrees. He says he’s noticed better combinations of materials, “so you don’t ask one particular substance to do everything.” If you have a pet problem, it’s not the same treatment as a wine stain on a carpet, he says.
So, although you have to buy additional carpet-cleaning solutions to handle multiple specific problems, the good news is that specialized carpet-cleaning solutions typically cost the same as regular solutions within a manufacturer’s lineup. We found that manufacturers’ carpet-cleaning solutions that are labeled as “anti-allergen” or “pet stain” cost about $20 for a 48- to 60-ounce bottle. The same holds true for the carpet-cleaning solutions that are sold by third-party companies.
Prespray Treatment Boosts Carpet Cleaning
It’s no surprise that carpet-cleaner manufacturers claim that their solutions work best in their own appliances, but our evaluations didn’t bear that out. We tried the machine-branded solution, an opposing brand, such as using a Hoover solution in a Bissell carpet cleaner, and a third-party solution in the same carpet cleaner on a light tan carpet that was littered with pet hair, orange juice and tracked-in dirt for good measure. Each of the solutions removed all visible residue and noticeable odor that was left from the mess; none outperformed the others noticeably.
Another trend in carpet-cleaning solutions is for them to be environmentally friendly. In 2012, for instance, Hoover made its entire line of solutions 100 percent biodegradable. Because dirty water gets poured down the drain or into the ground when you finish cleaning your carpet, “making our solutions biodegradable was the right thing to do,” Hoover President Dan Gregory tells Consumers Digest.
Bissell notes that the detergents that are in its carpet-cleaning solutions also are biodegradable, and it cites its partnership with Environmental Protection Agency’s Design for the Environment (DfE) program. The DfE designation, according to EPA, means that each ingredient that’s in a carpet-cleaning-solution formula poses “the least concern among chemicals in their class.” Bissell’s carpet-cleaning solutions are among 87 consumer products that are on the DfE list.