- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Yhe Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification is a mouthful, but it can be the best friend of anyone looking for intelligent carpet care.

The basic mission of the Vancouver, Wash.-based nonprofit is setting standards and certifying companies that clean and restore interior floor coverings and textiles, so one of the first questions a person should ask when seeking out a professional carpet cleaner or restorer is whether the firm is a member of IICRC.

The institute’s Web site (www.iicrc.org), which lists members by area, posts advice for the home or apartment owner and will answer questions from consumers by phone or e-mail. The group says its job is to protect consumers from deceptive and unreliable companies, and it also can help people whose carpets have problems with water damage and mold or microbial infestation.

The industry is highly competitive, and reliable information comparing the efficiency and value of different companies’ services can be difficult to obtain. Company Web sites seldom offer much beyond how to compute costs and bromides about their operations.

Stanley Steemer, a national firm with local offices (www.stanleysteemer.com), goes further than most in supplying potential customers with online tips for spot cleaning and maintaining carpets that naturally includes a plug for the convenience of “professional” help. If its own spot-removing solution isn’t available, the recommended formula (after testing in an inconspicuous place for colorfastness) is a mix of a quarter teaspoon of liquid dish soap and one cup of cold water.

The California-based Carpet & FabriCare Institute (www.carpet9.org) goes further in suggesting possible solutions to different kinds of stains.

The soap-detergent-and-water formula is similar to what a professional team uses, but results are far different because companies use powerful vacuum machines to take up moisture after it soaks into carpet fibers and to lift up dirt and soil. No steam is produced because very hot water would be harmful to most carpets. Removing moisture after cleaning is necessary to discourage mildew. A professional may pre-treat difficult spots with a solvent and also offer to deodorize a carpet.

The cleaning is done by heat and pressure, says manager Chris Lewis of Stanley Steemer’s Chantilly office. “The water temperature is 185 to 190 degrees, and when we clean upholstery and wool or Oriental rugs, we use a lower pressure setting.”

Consumer Reports magazine four years ago cautioned against do-it-yourself cleaning with rental machines a considerably less expensive route because the inexperienced person is likely to make mistakes when handling them and results may depend on the quality of the machine.

“People who rent are apt to overwet or use too much detergent,” says Craig Derrick, a supervisor at Gaithersburg-based Normandy Carpet Care Co., which has been in business since 1974.

Most companies help a potential customer estimate charges based on the size of the rooms or areas to be cleaned. The local franchise for Heaven’s Best Carpet and Upholstery Cleaning (www.heavensbest.com) considers an area as any set of steps or any room up to 240 square feet. Stanley Steemer considers 300 square feet a normal size area. For Heaven’s Best, each area costs $50, with the price reduced as more areas are added. The minimum visit charge is $150.

Measurement of areas and subsequent costs can be a slippery slope. Pam Drumheller of Potomac recently paid Normandy Carpet Care Co. $125 for cleaning loose carpets in what she estimates was four areas. The job took one hour.

“Plus, they found an extra spot I had not noticed,” she says.

She says she hires the company because it is locally owned and she has used its services about twice a year for four years.

A District homeowner’s online estimate from Heaven’s Best for cleaning the wall-to-wall carpeting in two upstairs and two downstairs rooms plus a hallway reported that it would cost $200 for “four areas” minus a $10 “volume discount.” The job would include cleaning, stain removal and deodorization. The company also promised a “100 percent satisfaction guarantee” that wasn’t spelled out would, for instance, a crew return if the customer wasn’t pleased the first time? and a caveat: “We don’t move large or heavy furniture like beds, entertainment centers or computer desks.”

The Web site also says “Heaven’s Best professionals are also experts in tile, hardwood floors, grout and more.”

The inclusion of grout may come as a surprise. This curious deviation from standard carpet-cleaning services is a natural response to the changing nature of the business, says Richard Danley, manager of the Carpet & FabriCare Institute, a trade association representing industry owner-operators largely in the West.

“Home builders in the past five to 10 years have moved to using more stone on floors instead of carpet, so many carpet cleaners have made a point of multitasking out of necessity,” he notes. “The industry has gone through a lot of ebbs and tides.

“There is no benchmark for the industry,” Mr. Danley says. “No one has any authority for oversight. IICRC serves as quality control, and the first thing a consumer wants to know is whether a company is certified by IICRC which tells them an individual on a cleaning team is trained and certified.”

If a company goes to the trouble of achieving certification, he points out, that is a strong indication of quality above the norm. It also helps explain higher costs because training is an expense to the company.

Mr. Danley also reminds a customer to read the fine print for exceptions to a routine cleaning and check the performance history of a local franchise with the Better Business Bureau.

Before hiring

Consumers can protect themselves by asking carpet-cleaning companies the following questions before signing on for service:

Which cleaning method do you use, and why?

Is this method endorsed by carpet mills and fiber producers?

What specialized training is given to employees?

What guarantees are provided with your services?

Can I have an itemized written estimate provided without charge?

Are you bonded and insured against theft, loss and breakage?

Are your technicians covered by workers’ compensation insurance?

Do you offer services other than carpet cleaning?

To what trade associations do you belong?

Can I expect any difficult stains to receive special treatment?

Will the service workers keep to an agreed-upon appointment hour, and will I be notified of any delays?

If I am not satisfied with the original treatment, can I ask for a return visit?

Source: Carpet & FabriCare Institute’s Web site:www.carpet9.org/consumer.asp

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