Look out! Many carpet and upholstery cleaners are out to get your money, and they’re willing to do and say almost anything! They will dangle a tantalizing carrot, but in the end, their offers are mostly smoke and mirrors. Here’s an explanation of some of the tactics to watch out for:
1. Simple Coupon Baiting
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This program features a “special” price for the cleaning of carpet (or upholstery). If you take the time to calculate the cost per square foot for the “special” price, generally you will find the price to be at the very least the going rate for a store front business. However, many cleaners offering coupons are one-man and home-based, so their fair market prices should be about 40% lower than a storefront business with related expenses, but they would never want you to know that.
For example, an offer to do the carpeting in the living room, hallway and traffic areas in 3 bedrooms for $139 (plus GST), might have fine print indicating that the maximum size is 500 square feet in total. Five hundred square feet for $139 is a price per square foot of $.28, which is slightly below the industry average in this geographic area charged by a full-service cleaning plant company. If you are getting less than 500 square feet cleaned, for example, you would be paying the same or more per square foot than the industry average for a full-service plant.
In addition, if you want to add on more carpeted areas (which the coupon cleaner is counting on), the price for the added-on areas will very likely be high, relative to the “special” price. So, the cleaner wins, and you lose – especially if the cleaning job is of poor quality. The coupon cleaner hopes to generate high volume of jobs booked, which means he can’t stay at one job for very long. Carpet cleaning marketing programs advocate that the cleaner must generate a minimum of $150 per hour or they have failed to accomplish their sales goals, regardless of the quality of work.
Another example pertains to upholstery cleaning. In this program, a coupon might offer to “clean” your sofa and chair for $90. First of all, the fine print might say that “specialty” fabrics and loose-back cushions are extra. This leaves the pricing wide open, because most of today’s modern furniture is made of “specialty” fabrics like micro-fibre, cotton or rayon, and lots of furniture is styled to include loose-back cushions. Secondly, even if the fabric isn’t “specialty”, in order to make any money on the cleaning, the coupon cleaner would have to “clean” both pieces in less than ¾ of an hour. In our experience, it would be virtually impossible to achieve a thorough cleaning in that short a time.
2. “Package Deal” Baiting
This program usually applies to the cleaning of a whole house. For example, a coupon might offer to clean your “whole” house for $190 (plus GST). The first part of this program relates to the actual price per square foot. The fine print might indicate that the maximum that can be cleaned for this price is 700 square feet. That works out to $.28/square feet, which is about the average price per square foot in the industry in Central Alberta for a storefront business (and about 40% higher than a home-based business should be).
The second part of the program relates to defining a whole house as 700 square feet. Given that the average living room is about 200 square feet, the average family room is usually larger than that, at about 300 or 350 square feet, not much square footage is left for halls, staircases and bedrooms. So, the “whole” house special is generally applicable to only a portion of the house, and very likely the cost of adding more carpeted areas onto the “special” would be significantly higher in comparison to the original price.
3. Upsell Baiting or “A La Carte” Services Baiting
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This program is usually paired with coupon baiting. Upselling is when a company tries to sell you extra products/services prior to or after the representative is in your home. These products/services are usually expensive and unnecessary. In the case of carpet cleaning, upselling may take the form of deodorizing, preconditioning and/or fibre protectant.
Virtually all carpets will not benefit from simultaneous and/or broadcast deodorizing along with the cleaning. Deodorizers are designed as temporary measures that control or suppress an odour for up to a few days, with your intention being to return and remediate the actual cause of the odour.
Proper deodorizing / odour removal of a carpet requires expensive work and cost and cannot be done in one application.
Another popular upsell is to advocate preconditioning. In this case, the cleaner will say that before he cleans a room or an area, he must precondition it by applying to the carpet a mixture of chemicals under high pressure, then going over the area with an extraction-type wand.
The first flaw in this program deals with the need for the preconditioning at all. Most residential carpets will not need a preconditioning treatment. This is because pre-conditioners were designed to be used in highly soiled situations or conditions, such as might be found in a restaurant or a high-traffic business area. The chemical mix in pre-conditioners is designed to dwell on the fabric for a few minutes to break down the high concentration of greases or oils, so that they can be more effectively removed by the extraction wand.
The second flaw relates to the removal of these pre-conditioners after they’ve been applied. Assuming they were even needed in the first place, their use can only be justified if they can be completely removed after they have done their job on the carpet. Many cleaners do not have the equipment or the desire to do the work required to remove this chemical mix from the carpet. If the pre-conditioners are not removed, they will leave a sticky residue on the carpet that leaves it looking dull after it’s dried, and provides something for future soiling to stick to, making the carpets look dirty again within as little as a few months.
Another very popular carpet and furniture cleaning program has to do with fibre protectants. Most synthetic carpets will not benefit significantly from fibre protectant, and most synthetic upholstery fabrics will not benefit significantly from fibre protectant. This is because synthetic fibres (with a few exceptions) do not absorb fibre-protectants, so the protectant will gradually flake off of a synthetic textile as it is being used and vacuumed. The only exception to this in carpet textiles are the new-generation nylons, that have been engineered with fibre protectant site receptors. The exception in upholstery textiles is micro-fibre, which is engineered to be absorbent and will hold on to fibre protectants much like cotton does.
So, the cleaner using coupon baiting counts on getting your attention with his so-called “special”, then relies on upselling you once he’s in your home. It’s easy to see how an initial “special” of $99 can turn into a bill of $350, or more. Most carpet cleaners get paid on commission, so the more they can bait you, the more they make (at least in the short term).
4. "Low Moisture" Cleaning Program Baiting
The self-styled “low-moisture” cleaners purport to clean carpets or upholstery using either the application of chemicals (called “dry cleaning”), the broadcasting of a powder or encapsulating pre-spray (called “encapsulation cleaning”) or the use of carbonation (a variation of encapsulation). Their selling feature is their dry time, which they usually advertise as being as little as two hours. By focusing your attention on the drying time, they hope to divert your attention from the actual cleaning processes they use.
In fact, very little actual cleaning is taking place with any of the low-moisture techniques. Dry cleaning involves the buffing into the carpet or upholstery fabric of a combination of waxes and optical brighteners, with the removal of soiling being mostly incidental. Powder broadcasting is followed up with vacuuming and the claim that the soiling is encapsulated by the powder. In fact, many types of soiling, such as perspiration and skin oils, don’t completely attach themselves to a powder, pre-spray or to carbonation. Common sense tells us that if your socks and undergarments weighing approximately three ounces couldn’t be properly cleaned by these methods, then how could even one square yard of carpet, weighing 30 to 60 ounces, be cleaned?
5. Tiered Cleaning Packages Baiting
This somewhat more recent baiting program involves offering a tier of cleaning packages, ranging from the “economy” or “basic” package to the “supreme” or “ultimate” package. With each step up the tier, the price increases exponentially. There may or may not be a price advertised with each of these, but the obvious implication is that, as a conscientious homeowner, you would naturally want to choose the “ultimate” package. In this way, you are discouraged from examining the price closely.
Setting aside the efficacy of the processes included in each of the packages for a moment, careful scrutiny will usually reveal that there are services not included in the packages, such as furniture moving or so-called “stain and spot removal”. Generally, the inclusion of these services will double or even triple the cost of the cleaning.
In addition, some of the “cleaning” features advertised are either of low value (see “Low Moisture” Cleaning Program), or defy logic. For example, in an effort to capitalize on people’s current regard for indoor air quality, a cleaner using this form of baiting might offer to improve your indoor air quality by applying a product to treat for dust mites. A short deliberation will make it obvious that the best way to improve air quality caused by dust mites is to remove them and their faeces from your textiles, not applying a chemical to the top of the carpet, which in itself will probably adversely affect the quality of your indoor air as it gasses off into your house.
As well as not always attaching a price to each of the tiers, the program doesn’t outline how much time the cleaner will be in your home. As in the previous programs, the more time they spend in your home, the more money they have to make off of you, otherwise they are compelled, because of the marketing program to which they subscribe, to move on to the next prospect. Using the Benchmark Standard*, proper cleaning about 400 square feet of carpet on a level surface should take approximately one hour.
*The Benchmark Cleaning Standard was developed at Mancuso Carpet & Upholstery Cleaning in order to establish a benchmark for measuring the cleanliness of a textile. For carpets, cleanliness is benchmarked as applying water at sufficient temperature (minimum 140 degrees Fahrenheit), under sufficient pressure (200 to 300 psi), and at a sufficient volume, and simultaneously extracting 90 to 95% of the water (plus the soiling in the carpet). The volume of hot water used must exceed the weight of the yarn in order for the yarn to be benchmarked as clean.
In addition to this flushing of the yarn, the cleaning technician must agitate the carpet face to assist in the removal of soiling. This is a critical component of proper cleaning, and one which is often side-stepped by carpet cleaners, who claim they are “letting the chemicals do the work.” The Benchmark Cleaning Standard only utilizes a pre-spray if there is compounded soiling, and incorporates a thorough rinsing out of pre-spray or any chemical applied.