Carpet cleaning has come along way, CFR have discussed the history and how far we have come.

How would you like to clean your rugs by dragging them outside and beating them with a stick? Mixing a shampoo out of water and beef gall, perhaps? Or, even better, attempting to remove stains by soaking with water and lemon juice and then scrubbing the spot with a hot loaf of bread?

It may sound surprising, but the lemon and bread method was the recommended practice back in 1827, at least according to The House Servant’s Directory by Robert Roberts, Butler to The Hon. Christopher Gore, Governor of Massachusetts, 1809 (reference).

Back then, wall to wall carpeting was both expensive and hard to clean. High traffic areas were often covered with heavy woolen spreads called druggets, canvas cloth, or other carpet runners, in order to protect the carpet itself. Carpets were often covered completely for major events to be hosted in the home.

While carpet production expanded in the mid-1800’s with the introduction of Erastus Bigelow’s power loom, wall to wall carpet did not become as common as it is today until sometime in the 1950’s when mass production, and new materials developed during WWII, turned what was a luxury item into something that was generally affordable.

Still, carpeting including smaller carpets or rugs was common in homes and businesses across Europe and North America – and all of them had to be cleaned somehow. Sweeping carpets was a fairly common practice, and by the 1860’s several inventors were working on sweeping devices to improve the process. Melville Bissell is generally credited with the invention of what would become the modern sweeper, which he first patented in 1876.

Until the invention of on site cleaning tools, the business of professionally cleaning carpets generally involved removing them and transporting them to a centralized cleaning facility. While probably more effective than the on site cleaning options available at the time, this was rather inconvenient for carpet owners. That inconvenience proved to be a major opportunity for enterprising souls in the cleaning business.

In 1898, John S. Thurman of St. Louis, Missouri, submitted the patent for a “pneumatic carpet renovator” which used compressed air to blow dust into a receptacle. Three years later in 1901, Hubert Cecil Booth invented the first motorized vacuum cleaner (using suction) in England. Both machines used a gas powered engine and operated from a horse-drawn carriage. Reminiscent of today’s truck mounted systems, both contraptions were driven to customers’ homes and the operators would then run tubes from the cart to the inside of the house in order to clean it. This appears to be the start of on-location professional carpet cleaning.

At that time, some plants would shampoo and “steam clean” carpets in much the same way hot water extraction is done today. In 1876 for example, Howard’s Steam Carpet Cleaning Works in Indianapolis heated water from a canal, added detergent, and sprayed down carpets, removing the solution with a vacuum pump once they had been cleaned.

As the on-site cleaning businesses began to proliferate, their operators developed new equipment to compete with the carpet cleaning plants. Early entries included rotary machines and bonnets, which scrubbed or scoured carpets using a circular motion. Some added water and shampoo, some did not. There are some early examples of systems that used a rotary scrubber with shampoo in conjunction with a wet/dry vacuum to remove the solution after washing.

It is difficult to determine exactly when, or who, invented modern hot water extraction. In the 1920’s, Hamilton Beach started selling a carpet washer machine that washed and dried carpets in one pass. But that machine wasn’t quite there – it used water and a cleaning solution (shampoo) to clean but didn’t employ pressurized hot water. It appears that it wasn’t until the early 1960’s that true hot water extraction machines came into being.

The first units all operated on the same general principles: Apply pressurized cleaning solution, stored in a tank, into the carpet and then use a pump to siphon the solution back out along with all the soil. Some units had two tanks (clean/soiled) and some had only one. Some of these designs also employed the dual-purpose wand that is now common today. A few early examples include the Judson company’s DeepClean DC3 from 1959, Deep Steam Extractors’ (now DSC Chemicals) Deep Steam Machine, and a patent filed by Fred Hays on a “Steam-Vacuum Generator for Rug and Upholstery Cleaning” in 1966 (there is little information on any commercialization of that machine).

The essential method of hot water extraction hasn’t changed all that much in the decades since its introduction. Extraction, it turned out, was a very effective way to clean carpet (with minimal damage to the fibers) and so the focus turned toward refining and perfecting the method rather than developing new ones. Since the ‘60’s, machines have become more reliable, less bulky, more maneuverable, and overall better at the job of extraction. The development of truck-mounted systems in the ‘70’s allowed for more power, higher pressure and water temperatures, and larger tanks. Advances in chemical treatments resulted in less residue (early treatments often included coconut oils which tended to stick around and attract soil after cleaning), greater cleaning power, and reduced health and environmental impact.

Hot water extraction remains the most commonly recommended deep carpet cleaning method. Combined with regular vacuuming, extraction keeps carpets looking new and extends their useful life. And the process of innovation in extraction technology continues. Extraction has always been a water, time, and energy intensive process. The Continuous Flow Recycling system addresses those issues, building on today’s highly-effective extraction technology and making it many times more efficient. By filtering and recycling the water and chemicals used in extraction, along with other innovations, CFR represents another major step forward in an industry with a long history of invention.