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The main problem with trying to keep your carpet clean is that it’s always underfoot. You and your loved ones are always walking on it, introducing new dirt every day. Still, keeping your carpet clean doesn’t have to be extremely complicated. The key to making your carpet cleaning routine as easy and efficient as possible is to understand how your carpet is made, and how that affects the way you clean.

Carpet Construction

First, what we think of as carpet is actually made up of three separate components. First, there’s the subfloor, then the carpet pad, and finally, the carpet itself. Knowing the type of subfloor is important if any issues arise in the future, but for cleaning purposes, the subfloor doesn’t have much impact.

Underlayment, or carpet padding, is the most important part of your carpet, comfort-wise. The type of carpet pad that you get for your carpet is extremely important. In some cases, getting the wrong type of padding will void a carpet’s warranty. The type of padding you get should depend on the type of traffic that you expect your carpet to undergo. Most carpet padding is considered rebond, where high density foam is bonded in a variety of ways to make different thicknesses and densities. Another popular type is frothed foam, which is made of intensely packed urethane. It’s very good for high traffic area and reduces furniture dents in the carpet.

The last layer is, of course, your carpet. Carpet comes in two primary types, based on the type of fibers. Most are made of synthetic fibers, such as nylon, olefin, or polyester. Some are even a blend of two types of synthetic fibers. Higher end carpets are made of wool, which is the only natural fiber used to make carpet.

Carpet is also broken up into how the fibers are made. Twisted fibers make the carpet more resistant to wear and tear. Bulked continuous filament (BCF) is where the carpet fiber is made into yarn from one strand. The texture is then added to the yarn to make it fluffier and more resistant to wear. Staple construction is where short pieces of yarn are used on the carpet. These shorter pieces are more suited to areas where almost no foot traffic will take place because they shed easily.

The last way that carpets are divided is how the actual pile rests. The pile refers to the entire top of the carpet and the fibers that are attached to the backing. Pile comes in either full loop, cut, or a blend of the two. Cut pile is when the loops of the carpet are cut to give a softer and fuzzier look. It falls into one of these styles:

  • Plush cut pile is where all of the strands are cut to the same exact length, providing a very smooth and even look
  • The textured cut pile has strands that are cut to different heights. These carpets use low-density fibers to create a fuzzy appearance.
  • Saxony cut pile has twisted fibers with a longer length. It does show foot traffic easily and will also show furniture dents quickly.
  • Cable cut pile uses thick long fibers to provide a very cozy feel to the carpet
  • Frieze cut pile, or shag carpeting, uses twisted fibers with extremely long lengths. This carpet is very informal and hides marks and footprints well, but because of the long fibers, wears quickly.

Loop pile does not cut the loops of the carpet, making the result very durable, because there is no exposed end to fray. Some of the more common loop carpets are:

  • Berber loop has a low pile with very compact loops. This makes the carpet very wear resistant and lets it hide dirt very well.
  • Patterned Multi-Level loop pile uses varying heights of loops to create patterns and textures in the carpet while maintaining wear resistance.

A mixture of cut and loop is used for textured carpeting where a specific texture or look is desired in a high-traffic area. The combination lets the carpet hide dirt and stains well also.

Cleaning Carpet Efficiently and Correctly

When it comes to cleaning wall to wall carpet, the primary method of vacuuming is still king. However, depending on the type of carpet, you need to make some small changes.

For example, on wool carpets, no matter what the pile type, you never want to use the beater bar. Natural fibers will fray and fuzz more easily, significantly reducing the life of your carpet.

On synthetic fibers, you also want to hold off on using the beater bar on two specific types of pile. Shag carpeting and some textured cut pile are best vacuumed without the beater brush. For shag carpet, set your vacuum to the tallest height and vacuum normally. For textured, set the height to the length of the longest fibers to minimize fraying.

For the rest, use the beater bar, but make sure you set the vacuum height correctly. Setting it too low will cause increased wear and tear on your carpet. Too low of a height, and your beater bar won’t be able to move the pile efficiently, making it harder to clean as well. And of course, if you set the height too high, the brush won’t touch the pile, so you’ll leave a lot of dirt behind.

For any spills on your carpet, remember the rule: “Blot, don’t rub.” Use a clean absorbent rag or towel to blot up the liquid spill, pressing in lightly at first, then with increasing pressure as you remove more of the liquid. The reason you blot is that rubbing will force the liquid into the absorbent pad and carpet backing. You want the liquid to go into the towel, not into your carpet.

Every year, you should steam clean your carpet. The use of the brush is the same for the various carpet types. No mechanical brush on wool and shag carpets, and okay on the other types of carpet. Again, make sure the height is set correctly, and go slowly. Carpet can absorb a lot of water, thanks to the backing and pad, so you want to use the cleaner to suck up as much water as possible. Don’t walk on your steam cleaned carpet until it’s completely dry either.

As a final tip, when you vacuum, spend the majority of the time vacuuming areas where you know people walk. And, to keep your carpets even cleaner, start removing your shoes before you walk on your carpet. With the correct use of your vacuum, your carpet will be cleaned more quickly and stay looking new for a long time.

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