Jun 17, 2012

Cleaning a Steam Cleaner

We love our doxies, Tigger and Indy.  As any owner of an indoor dog can attest to, dogs are messy.  They occasionally eat things they shouldn't and those things come back up.  They roll in things out in the back yard they shouldn't and then roll in the hallway.  They are smart enough to ask to go out but occasionally we don't hear them and the dogs have to make do (ha!).  Carpets in dog-lovers' homes take a beating.

Worth it.

Despite our best efforts to clean up the lovely messes our dogs make with paper towels, a bottle of Resolve, a rag, and some good old-fashioned elbow grease, occasionally we get some stains.  This was less of an issue in our previous house for two reasons: the main living area was completely covered in pergo, so clean-up was super easy; and the carpet in the bedroom where the dogs slept was dark blue, so stains weren't very apparent.  However, this house has brand new beige carpeting throughout, and things end up looking like this.

A spot of suspicious origins.

No big deal, though, we have a carpet steamer.  Well, it actually *is* kind of a big deal.  Our carpet steamer is a hand-me-down from my parents (three cheers for free!).  After cleaning dog stains in their house for a few years and then cleaning dog stains in our previous house for a few years, the steam cleaner gave off an offensive odor.  This wouldn't be a problem for me if I only had to put up with the smell while the steamer was in use.  Unfortunately, our carpet steamer actually makes our carpets smell WORSE after we use it.

So lately I've been trying to discover how to get rid of the odor before I used that bad boy on the brand new carpets in this house.  Despite my best efforts, I only came up with one tip.  Every time you use the carpet steamer, make sure that you thoroughly rinse the bladder with hot, soapy water and allow it to dry completely before storing it.  Hmm, I already did this after every use.  And my steam cleaner didn't give off a moldy odor, it gave off a doggy odor.  Try as I might, I could find very few recommendations for cleaning and deodorizing a carpet steamer.

At this point, I had nothing to lose, so I decided to try to clean it myself.  I needed to use something that wouldn't be too foamy.  And I didn't want to use anything with harsh chemicals that would be bad for the dogs or potentially leave traces in the carpet.  So I turned to my wonder solution: distilled white vinegar and piping hot water.  I knew I ran the risk of damaging the rubber tubing, but seriously, I had to get rid of the stink or else I'd never use the steamer again anyway.

To the rescue.

I made a 1:1 mixture of white vinegar and super-hot tap water.  I figured if a quart of that couldn't get the job done, then nothing could.

I poured most of the mixture into the bladder where you normally put clean hot water, and the rest went into the dispenser where the cleaning solution normally goes.

Blurry pictures are my specialty.

Then I just popped those puppies back in and set up my work area.  I wanted to run the solution completely through but I didn't want any on the carpets.  I decided to just run the steamer back and forth on the linoleum in the kitchen and use a set of beat up stainy towels to keep the moisture from running all over the floor.

Towel Alley.  That's how I roll.

Then it was just a matter of running the steam cleaner until all of the vinegar solution in the cleaner dispenser was dry.  It took about 20 minutes of run time to dry 'er out.

Solution levels decreasing!

Once I was out of solution, I shut the steamer off and unplugged it, removed the water resevoir and the cleaner dispenser and rinsed both of them with hot water.  Then came the fun gross part.  I needed to try to clean some of the inner workings, so I grabbed a screwdriver and set to work removing the side guards near the bristles and the front guard that sucks the dirty steam solution up off the floor.  There were only two screws on each side...

 ...and one screw in the front, so it was super easy to remove these parts.

 Houston, I think we found our problem.  Origin of the icky doggy smell:

Guilty as charged.

Not sure if you can tell from the picture, but the sheer amount of dog hair is ridiculous.  And disgusting.  See the two dark stripes running through the long front guard?  And the two dark stripes running down the edges?  Dog hair.  And it was matted in there with cleaning solution and God only knows what else.  Blurg.  It took about 15 minutes of scrubbing with super-hot tap water and soap before I got all of it out.  Yuck.  Then in was on to the bristles.

More hair, ugh.

There was more hair in the bristles.  Some was clumps of doggy hair, some was fuzz from the carpet, and regrettably, some of it was long light brown Colleen hair.  Ew.  About 10 minutes with a paper towel and some scissors and things looked much better.  So I reassembled everything and decided to give my newly cleaned carpet steamer a try.

Wonder solution.

Steve and I found Kids N Pets at a pet store about a year ago.  It works so much better than any carpet stain remover we've ever tried.  It smells slightly of hydrogen peroxide but it's odorless when it dries.  I followed the directions for mixing it for steam cleaners- a 1:1 solution with hot tap water.  And instead of putting it in the cleaning solution dispenser, I filled the bladder with it and put hot tap water alone in the cleaning solution dispenser.  My thought here was that I'd be able to control the dilution of the cleaner a little better- putting this stuff straight on your carpet is only recommended for spot cleaning, and I wanted to clean my whole dining room, plus a few spots in the hallway.

Remember that spot from before?  Here it is again:

What spot?

And this is what I had to dispose of when I was done steam cleaning:


I'm always disgusted by the gray water I have to pour out after I steam clean.  How did it get that dirty?!?!  Our carpets didn't look that bad, sheesh!!

So did the vinegar plus dog-hair-removal do the trick to eliminate the smelliness?  The verdict:  Didn't smell bad while I was steam cleaning.  I could smell the hydrogen peroxide-ish odor of the cleaning solution, but there was NO doggy smell while in use.  And even better, the carpets don't smell doggy AT ALL.  Not even where the spot was.  There's pretty much no odor to the carpets at all now that they have dried.  Woohoo!  Best results I have ever gotten with my steam cleaner.  I guess I am going to have to make it a point to take it apart every few uses and clean out all of the guards and rollers to make sure there's no lingering dog hair or cleaning solution.  Small price to pay for nice clean non-smelly carpets!

*Update*  Apparently using dish washing liquid is a better choice than vinegar- it should accomplish the same goal with less risk to the rubber tubing and seals.  I'll try that next time!

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