Bonnet Cleaning

by Mark Violand, Violand Flooring Inspections, Inc. / 2016

Bonnet or absorbent pad cleaning is a method of cleaning carpet that was most commonly used to maintain commercial carpet. Back when I was in the day-to-day cleaning of carpet it was the primary process we used to maintain thousands and thousands of feet of commercial carpet. It was also the main method of cleaning carpet for years by some franchise carpet cleaning companies such as Chem-Dry. Due to certain restrictions carpet manufacturers have made over recent years, Chem-Dry now uses an exclusive rotary jet, hot water extraction carpet cleaning process.   ABOUT THIS ARTICLE This article is in no way a bash on bonnet cleaning. It has its place in cleaning and maintaining carpet when performed properly. Did you see those key words, when performed properly?  Those words are a disclaimer. Also note that the stories in this article are true, the names have been changed to protect the innocent. 😉   ACCORDING TO;            The Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC) R100 – Professional Cleaning of Textile Floor Coverings – Sixth Edition: 2015, Glossary of Industry Terms:

absorbent pad extractionA low moisture method of cleaning in which, following dry soil removal, liquid pre-conditioners are sprayed onto the carpet pile and onto an absorbent pad or “bonnet” generally made of cotton, rayon, microfiber, or combination thereof. Using a drive block attached to rotary, oscillation, or orbital equipment, the solution is agitated into the carpet pile, with the pad absorbing soil as cleaning progresses. Absorbent pads are turned or exchanged before they become soil saturated.”

This method of cleaning has declined over the years because nearly all carpet manufacturers will deny a warranty claim if they discover bonnet cleaning was performed on their carpet. I understand why manufacturers had to use the broad brush approach with that policy, however I still find this method a highly effective process to maintain commercial carpet, when it is performed properly.   One very large manufacturer of commercial carpet writes:           “To all concerned: _________ Mills does emphatically prohibit the use of any/ all rotary devices/ machines for the purpose of carpet cleaning, physical agitation, and/or speed drying. ALL Rotary devices, including but not limited to bonnet machines and Cimex triple head machines, will void the manufacturer’s warranty. They are considered improper and non-approved, and shall NOT be utilized on any _________ product.”   Another large carpet manufacturer writes:           “Bonnet” Systems: The name for these systems is derived from the rotating bonnet of terry cloth or other absorbent material used to agitate the pile and pick up soil. A detergent solution is sprayed onto the pile, and is then worked with the bonnet attached to a rotary floor polisher. It is at best a temporary appearance enhancement because it only absorbs at the surface and does no real extraction of deep soil. THE _______ and _______ DOES NOT ADVOCATE THIS SYSTEM. It is not a substitute for hot water extraction. It has very limited capability for soil removal and often leaves most of the detergent in the pile. The spinning bonnet may distort the pile of cut pile carpets and leave distinct swirl marks. EXPERIENCE HAS BEEN THAT MORE CUSTOMER SOILING COMPLAINTS RESULT FROM THIS SYSTEM THAN ALL OTHER CAUSES COMBINED. The bonnet system may damage the edges of some carpet tiles.”           I could go on and on about other carpet manufacturers who do not want bonnet cleaning performed on their carpet, but I think you get the idea. Why do so many manufacturers exclude this process from being performed on their carpet and will void the warranty if they determine it has been used? Pure and simple, it makes their carpet look bad and it is all due to either no training or improper training of the person performing the work.         For too many years, too many carpet cleaning companies and maintenance staffs used this method to clean heavily soiled carpet, which it is not designed to do. Too many carpet cleaning companies and maintenance staffs used detergents that left horrible residues that attracted more soil which led to premature resoiling. Too many carpet cleaning companies and maintenance staffs used the equipment improperly leaving swirl marks in the carpet and severely distorting the face yarns causing premature replacement; sometimes at the manufacturer’s expense. Which is another reason why this method is banned. SOME HISTORY           I would like to share with you some of the history and reasoning why it is not allowed anymore and the damaging effects caused by improper bonnet cleaning.           With my very own eyes I have seen swirl marks and crescent-shaped friction burns in carpet because the operator was not using sufficient detergent to lubricate the bonnet. I have seen swirl marks left in carpet so badly that the carpet had to be steam extracted to restore the carpet’s texture.  I have seen wool carpet that had been bonnet cleaned and became chemically burned due to improper chemistry.

Other reasons include but are not limited to:

  • The operator not changing the bonnet often enough where the soiled pad becomes like a sandpaper disk scratching the synthetic carpet fibers. The directions given by some chemical manufacturers are to mix their product in a mop bucket with wringer and saturate the bonnet in it. The bonnet is dipped into the solution, wrung out lightly and then spun over the carpet. This process is called “dip-and-spin.” When the bonnet becomes dirty the procedure is repeated over and over. You can only imagine how dirty the water in the bucket becomes, or maybe you do know.
  • Or how about one nationally known service company’s procedure regarding bonnet cleaning is to use just one bonnet and then shower feed the detergent through the bonnet onto the carpet.  I see this practice used all the time in assisted living centers and hospitals.
  • Or I have read the label on many bottles of bonnet cleaning detergents where it states you can use it as an extraction cleaner, a pre-spray, or for bonnet cleaning. Will you please make up your mind!  These are the detergents to run from. A detergent that is designed to be used as a pre-spray is meant to be extracted out of the carpet, not left in it. If it is, that will certainly attract soil.

I point my finger at chemical sales people for the demise of bonnet cleaning because truth be known, when …key words here again… performed properly, the method works. The problem like most things comes down to proper training. One would think that some of the training would come from the chemist who is making a product that will work well and not leave a residue that attracts soil. One would think that some of the training would come from the sales manager to the sales associates who are on the streets properly training their clients. But truth be known, some of the sales associates just want to sell the juice, not teach you how to use it. That takes too much time and they may not know how to operate the equipment, which is sad. One would think that some of the training would come from the director of housekeeping or environmental services or at least a supervisor for large institutions. Unfortunately when the day of training arrives they tell the guy “pretend you’re buffing a tile floor, that’s all you need to know.” No one told him how to mix the product, apply the product, to flip the bonnet when it gets dirty and when switch to a new one when both sides are dirty (if they even have one). Some work their entire shift using one bonnet and a tank of shampoo, because no one told him anything different.             Do you now see why carpet manufacturers had to use the broad brush approach to ban bonnet cleaning? Sad… THE QUESTION REMAINS What if you have a new client and want to use bonnet cleaning to maintain the carpet? Questions for you to answer are:

  • Is the carpet still under warranty?
  • How old is the carpet?
  • How has the carpet been cleaned and maintained up to this point?
  • How soiled is the carpet?

The last question more or less defines how you will proceed. Truth be known, a heavily soiled carpet is a sure sign the carpet is no longer under warranty. Why? Because the carpet is not being cleaned and maintained as often as it should be. That is a manufacturers “out” so-to-speak for not having to abide by their warranty. Can you blame them? That new vehicle you purchased last year, when was the last time you had it serviced? Are you servicing it according to the manufacturer’s guidelines? Get the point? How could you put a claim into the manufacturer of your car for poor performance if you are not doing your due diligence to maintain it?             If a claim is ever made with a manufacturer for premature wear, texture change or clean-ability, what do you think caused it? Insufficient maintenance. Manufacturers want to see receipts from your cleaning company to see if it is being cleaned professionally. Or they will want to know exactly what kind of schedule and program the carpet is being maintained with, which includes:   1.  Soil Containment – isolation of soil entering the building using mats at entrances. 2.  Vacuuming – scheduled frequency for removal of dry soil using a CRI approved “Green Label” vacuum. 3.  Spot and Spill Removal System – using professional spot removal techniques. 4.  Interim Cleaning – scheduled frequency appearance cleaning for all traffic areas. 5.  Restorative Cleaning – scheduled frequency deep cleaning to remove residues and trapped soils. Courtesy CRI Carpet Maintenance Guidelines For Commercial Applications               Whenever I visit a facility for a consultation or a claim, those are the questions I need answers to. If the facility I am visiting has heavily soiled carpet, which one or more of the five above carpet maintenance elements are not being followed?  Do you think by now the carpet is still under warranty?           So back to the original question, what if I you have a new client and you want to use bonnet cleaning to maintain the carpet? In this Inspector’s opinion, if the carpet is in pristine condition, I would hold off on using bonnet cleaning, use a low moisture system that utilizes equipment with counter rotating brushes. However, if the carpet is heavily soiled, your goal is to get the carpet clean and keep it clean…right? Chances are the warranty on that carpet is long gone.

Mark Violand has been in the carpet cleaning and restoration industry for over 38 years. He is an Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC) Certified Carpet Inspector and approved Instructor. He teaches the Carpet Cleaning Technician, Commercial Carpet Cleaning and Maintenance, and Carpet Repair and Reinstallation Technician courses.


His reputation precedes him as Northeast Ohio’s “go-to” floorcovering inspector, working for carpet, resilient, wood, and laminate manufacturers, and floorcovering retailers, consumers, attorneys, and insurance companies.


For information or help regarding flooring inspections, stain removal, carpet repair, or classes, please call me at 330-807-2255 or email me