The 4 Elements of Cleaning – Anything
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The 4 Elements of Cleaning – Anything

The 4 Elements of Cleaning

Known as: The Four Fundamentals of Soil Suspension

There are 4 elements involved in cleaning, whether you’re cleaning your clothes, the dishes, the car or carpets.  These elements are necessary to lift the soil from the surface which you are trying to clean – suspending it – allowing it to be rinsed away or removed.

Understanding how this applies to carpet cleaning is an important piece of knowledge.  It is a part of each technician’s certification.  The description of these elements in the following excerpt is taken from the IICRC certified Carpet Cleaners Handbook, from ESTEAM.

4 Fundamentals of Soil Suspension:

They are: temperature, agitation, cleaning agents, and time.

If one of the fundamentals is decreased then one of the others must increase.


A recognized law of physics, Arrhenius’ Law, states: For every 18 degrees over 118 degrees (Fahrenheit) that the temperature of a cleaning solution is increased, the effectiveness of that solution will increase by a factor of 2.

Hot water is an extremely valuable tool in carpet cleaning and should not be viewed as harmful to the fiber or the carpet.

Agitation or Mechanical Action

May be accomplished with brush and elbow action, psi from the spray wand, or with the scrubbing action of a rotary or cylindrical machine.  The functions of agitation include the following:

1)    Aid in distribution of preconditioning agents

2)    Assist in soil suspension

3)    Lift matted and crushed face fibers.

Cleaning Agents

Cleaning agents or solutions are present in the pre-spray solutions and spot removers used during carpet cleaning.  They are chosen based on what type of soil is present in the carpet, and what the carpet is made of.


Time is required for the cleaning agents to perform their function of releasing the soils from the fibers.  This contact time is referred to as dwell time, and is generally felt that 5 – 10 minutes dwell time is ideal.

If one of the fundamentals is decreased, one of the others must increase.  This is important to keep in mind when considering our next article, and the differences in cleaning methods.

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