Can carpets be cleaned without chemicals?
Is there really such a thing as chemical free carpet cleaning? Can you clean with just water? I am going to delve into this topic and explain why “chemical free” is not possible when it comes to cleaning. In fact “chemical free” is an impossible state to achieve in life. Everything in this world has come to be, from a chemical reaction. Even water is a chemical, created from 2 parts hydrogen and one part oxygen (H2O)!
Natural Cleaning Products
Some customers only want “chemical free” cleaning using water alone or substances such as, vinegar, lemon juice or bicarb soda and other “natural” or “organic” cleaning products. These cleaning products are not chemical free. In fact if I told you I had a cleaning product containing acetic acid, citric acid and sodium hydrogen carbonate, you may be a little concerned about the safety of such a cleaning product. However there is no need to be alarmed, these are just the chemical names for vinegar, lemon juice and bicarb soda. These natural cleaning products are perfectly safe to use in your home. However, just like all other chemical substances, they require caution. These substances can cause irritation, especially when coming into contact with eyes. Incorrect usage and dilution can also cause damage to your carpet.
“Green Washing” cleaning chemicals
The point I am trying to make, is that life is one big chemical reaction, it is impossible to be “chemical free”. Terms like “chemical free” are just a marketing ploy as there really is no such thing. However like everything in life, there are toxic and non toxic chemicals. I recommend you always check the ingredients list to make sure they are free of nasties, so you do not fall into the trap marketers set by “green washing” their products. Misleading labeling can make you think you are buying a “green” product when it is nothing of the sort. There are no regulations when it comes to using “Green” terms, so don’t be fooled by products labeled “eco friendly” or “natural”. Look for more specific terms such as “phosphate free” or “solvent free”.
There is a wide variety of “green choice” cleaning products available. If you have a look at the ingredients on the label of any “green” cleaning product, you will see a huge a list of chemicals. There is a scary chemical name for just about everything! Products from companies, such as Earth and Eco Works are examples of brands who use ingredients with low toxicity levels and are good choices, but they are not chemical free.
Personally, TriNature is one of my favourite ranges of home cleaning and laundry products. I love that their range is environmentally friendly, not tested on animals, has no phosphates, nitrates or petrochemicals and is therefore, safe for sensitive skin. However, have a look at the ingredients list in this photo below! Relax, no need to worry, the chemical compounds listed, are plant based and there are no nasty caustic or toxic chemicals.
Organic Carpet Cleaning
“Organic” is widely misused term and many toxic substances are in fact “organic”. In chemical terms “organic” just means coming from carbon. Petroleum comes from crude oil which is carbon based so it is “organic” but still toxic! There are however, low/non toxic chemicals which are available. For your home and general cleaning, you should always aim for low or non toxic cleaning products. Products, which are safe for humans, pets and the environment. The same applies for carpet cleaning. Do not get all worked up looking for “chemical free carpet cleaning” or “organic carpet cleaning”. Look for low risk cleaning products that really work without leaving behind harmful residues or VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds).
Often it the residue left behind has a negative impact on your health. The key to reducing chemicals in the home, is to rinse away detergents and ensure no residue is left behind. This is why you need to ensure you use a professional carpet cleaner with knowledge, experience and the the right equipment for the job. A professional carpet cleaner will use an acid rinsing agent (similar to vinegar) which neutralises alkaline detergents and allows the residue to be rinsed away.
Our Carpet Cleaning Chemicals
We are often asked about the chemicals we use for cleaning carpet and upholstery. Our customers want to know if they are safe for humans and pets. The answer is yes! We use a locally manufactured pre spray made from a mix of plant based chemicals such as orange oil as well as vinegar (acetic acid), and salts (sodium silicate). All the ingredients in our detergent are non toxic, biodegradable and safe for humans, plants, animals and the waterways. Best of all this formula leaves your carpet clean, and fresh. It has a unique formulation which is twice as effective in picking up and holding soil, so it can be extracted away. This means we can clean more carpet in less time with amazing results.
As well as our non toxic pre spray, we use essential oils for their natural anti bacterial properties and lovely natural scents. Using detergents or deodourisers with harmful fumes and artificial fragrances, is something to avoid.
Our carpet cleaning technicians, have to work with these chemicals all day, every day. We would never ask them to use toxic products! If they can use these products safely every day, then you can rest assured your once or twice a year carpet clean will also be safe for you and your family.
Water Only Cleaning? The Science of Cleaning Explained
So what about using water alone? Isn’t that truly “chemical free carpet cleaning”? To answer this question, I need to explain the cleaning process and the science involved. But first, think about washing your laundry in water alone. Is water enough to remove grease and oils? Would you be happy with the results? The same goes for your carpet. Carpets are like filters, they trap dry soils which can be vacuumed away. However they also trap grease and oils which cannot be removed by vacuuming or even just with water. Carpet cleaning requires more than just moisture, heat and agitation.
Adding just moisture, will not remove the grease, oils, dirt and bacteria in your carpet. Water alone is not enough to break the bond between dirt and fibre. By trying to avoid chemicals, and using water only, cleaning methods, you could just be creating an even greater health hazard for your family. As you will be leaving behind traces of grease, oil, mould and bacteria. Some type of carpet cleaning agent is needed to break the bond between fibre and soil.
What are Detergents?
Detergents are chemical substances, used to break up and remove grease and oils. The most important substances in detergents are the surfactants (Surface Active Agents). Water alone cannot clean surfaces due to the surface tension created by water molecules. These water molecules clump together and form droplets on top of the surface – think rain drops on a window. Surfactants are needed to reduce the surface tension so that the water molecules can penetrate into fibres and beyond the surface of the fabric.
Surfactant molecules have a water loving head (hydrophillic) and a grease loving, water adverse tail (hydrophobic). The water loving head of the molecule breaks the surface tension to wet the fibres and the grease loving tail grabs onto dirt and oil particles in its haste to get away from the water. The soils are suspended in the molecule and then able to be rinsed away from the fibres. Try washing your dishes without some form of detergent, especially greasy pots and pans or think about washing you hair with just water. It never gives a great result because there is no surfactant to break up the grease and oil. Shampoo contains the surfactants necessary for removing oils and leaving your hair clean.
Surfactants have revolutionised the cleaning industry. So what’s the problem? These days, many detergents are environmentally friendly, however, not all are equal. Some surfactants have been known to attack the natural oils in fish mucus membranes. This stops their gills from working properly. While others are thought to be endocrine disruptors which adversely affect the hormone balance in humans and animals. Another group of surfactants are know as persistent organic pollutants (POPs) take a very long time to break down. The surfactants in our pre spray solution are plant based and biodegrade quickly in sewerage plants and therefore do no harm to you or the environment.
Toxic Chemicals to Avoid
Other ingredients to avoid in detergents are things like phosphates which can promote algae growth in waterways and kills fish by reducing the oxygen in the water. Artificial fragrances and solvents are also harmful as they can cause allergies and rashes. They also emit VOCs which have been linked to respiratory issues. Some carpet cleaning products contain toxic ingredients such as formaldehyde, lye, pesticides and petroleum based chemicals. Avoid these toxic chemicals! Ezymes are sometimes added to cleaning products to reduce the amount of surfactant. Enzymes are catalysts, which means they are naturally occurring molecules that help speed up chemical reactions. However some allergy sufferers are sensitive to enzymes. Therefore they should not use enzyme cleaners on their carpet, as the enzymes will remain in the carpet after cleaning and can become airborne when the carpet is vacuumed.
How Does the Cleaning Process Work?
Now is probably a good time to explain, how cleaning works. Carpet cleaning consists of 4 main processes;
- Chemical reaction – use of detergent/surfactant
- Mechanical action – Agitation/Washing
- Thermal – heat speeds up the chemical reaction
- Extraction – rinse & extract the solution and soil
A change to any of the processes in this list will mean the other processes will need to also adapt to compensate. For example if you decrease the amount of detergent, you will need to increase the heat and agitation to achieve the same results as when you use more detergent but less heat. Surfactants have improved the efficiency of detergents and enabled energy savings. This is because, less heat and agitation are needed in the cleaning process.
Our pre spray is extremely effective in suspending soil. Therefore we need less time for the chemical reaction as well as less agitation and heat to achieve great results. This technology enables us to give amazing results in much less time than other carpet cleaners, but it is not cheap. Using higher quality and more expensive products, clearly has benefits of reduced effort and time as well as better results. However, budget priced cleaners have to cut corners somewhere to make a profit. So this is often where they try to save on over heads. They often use cheap cleaning detergents with no health or environmental considerations taken into account. We believe, this is one of the most important aspects of cleaning. It should never be a cost saving measure!
Low Tox rather than Chemical Free Carpet Cleaning
So now you should have a better understanding of the science behind the cleaning process. You can use this knowledge to make better choices when selecting cleaning products and hiring cleaning professionals. Look for the less toxic or “low tox” option. Something which is people/animal/earth friendly, rather than trying to find chemical free carpet cleaning (there is no such thing!). It might cost a little more to hire a professional carpet cleaner, who uses chemicals responsibly. However I don’t think you can afford not to. Especially when you consider the long term impacts on health and environment.
If you would like to find out more about low tox living, I highly recommend a book called “Low Tox Life” by Alexx Stuart. Alexx’s website is a wealth of practical information about how to embrace a Low Tox lifestyle. It is not about being perfect, but rather making good choices for your health and the health of the planet. Total chemical free living is impossible, but we can make good low tox choices everyday.