The Green Movement has spurred new service industries—and marketing schemes—aimed at capturing eco-aware customers. Some carpet cleaning businesses now claim to have introduced different green cleaning methods and practices, including—

  • Using smaller trucks and/or equipment that use less fuel;
  • Treating used water before disposal, or at least disposing it in a sewer so that it goes to a water treatment plant, rather than simply dumping it into a storm drainage system that takes it directly into local waterways;
  • Using detergents derived from plants—such as orange peel—rather than conventional chemicals; or,
  • Abandoning the usual hot-water-extraction method by instead using a smaller amount of hot water containing a peroxide solution or softened water containing natural disinfectants.

Are the “greener” claims just marketing nonsense or do they have merit? If the companies really do what they claim, are the results actually more environmentally friendly than traditional cleaning methods? And in terms of results, how do these methods compare to conventional cleaning methods?

Unfortunately, none of these questions are easily answered.

Among the green strategies, treating wastewater before disposal—or paying to have it treated at a wastewater plant—is a practice any company can employ to minimize the effect of their used water and solutions on local waterways. You could ask any company you’re considering what it does with the wastewater, but you’ll have to accept their answer without verification—unless you’re willing to follow their trucks back to the office/plant.

Using more fuel-efficient equipment is also a way companies can lessen their impact on the environment. But less-powerful equipment has less cleaning power, which means it will take longer to do the job—and might not do the job as well.

Other approaches and claims—e.g., using natural detergents and detergent-free solutions instead of the water-plus-detergent method—may be just marketing hyperbole. The owners of the top-rated carpet cleaning outfits we spoke with certainly believe this is the case (we’ll refrain from repeating the colorful language a few used on the subject). Their key point is that the hot-water-extraction process doesn’t use a lot of detergents or other chemicals to begin with; after all, virtually all of the cleaning effect comes from hot water shot into carpet pile and then immediately vacuumed back out along with suspended soils. Detergents are non-toxic and hypoallergenic; it’s not as if carpet cleaners are soaking carpets in a toxic dry-cleaning solution. Properly trained, diligent cleaners may not use detergent at all, and, if they do, use it sparingly so residues don’t attract dirt.

Another claim made by companies espousing new greener cleaning methods is that these processes allow carpet to dry faster, thus forestalling mold and mildew issues. But carpets properly cleaned using the hot-water-extraction method take a day or two to dry, which in well-ventilated spaces is not enough time for mold and mildew to develop.