Very Low Moisture (VLM) Carpet Cleaning

Very Low Moisture Floor Machine
Oscillating Pad Machine
CRB Machine
Cimex Machine

Very Low Moisture Carpet Cleaning

This article concerns four common Very Low Moisture carpet cleaning (VLM) systems. Bonnet, Oscillating Pad (OP), Counter Rotation Brush (CRB), and Cimex. It touches on the advantages and disadvantages of each system. Hopefully, it will help you decide the best system for your particular application.

This article begins with a true VLM story.

John Geurkink is vastly experienced in Very Low Moisture Carpet Cleaning (VLM) and is a long-time friend. He founded Trinity Renewal Systems, located near Lexington, KY.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, internet forums regarding carpet cleaning were getting underway. Many of the discussions highly promoted Hot Water Extraction (HWE), AKA “Steam Cleaning.”  

Many of us who employed low moisture carpet cleaning methods were reluctant to join in most of the discussions. When we did, we were regarded as “Hacks.” Most forum participants maintained we could never come close to getting a carpet as clean as they could since they used hot water extraction. 

There was much bullying and fun made of low moisture cleaners.

“Big John,” as I call him, was much braver than most, including myself. John is a giant man wearing size 16 shoes; I also call him “Big Foot.” Unlike many VLM cleaners, John never hesitated to wade into any discussion to express his opinions.

Many scoffed at, ridiculed, and lampooned him along with his very low moisture, oscillating pad (OP) cleaning machine.  Big John is a very good-natured fellow, so he would normally let it roll off his back. However, he refused to back down in any discussion when he thought he was right.

The Beginning of Attitude Changes

One day John called to let me know he was going to a “get-together” of some Hot Water Extraction cleaners in Indiana. He asked if I would like to tag along. I was delighted at the opportunity and went with him.

At the “get-together,” several HWE cleaners had big truckmounts. In advance, they laid out a rather large, nasty, filthy carpet to clean. It was to be cleaned, demonstrating what they could achieve.

Each cleaner was assigned a section of carpet to clean. Most did an excellent job of making that “rat-nasty” carpet look new again. John was the last cleaner to do a demonstration.

He unloaded his little blue OP machine from the back of his truck and carried it in one hand. The onlookers smiled and giggled amongst themselves at the sight. However, Big John made his assigned demo area look as good as the guys with the big truckmounts.

John laid down a clean, bright, white cotton cleaning pad to finish up and placed his little blue machine on top. He then proceeded to reclean an area previously cleaned by one of the truckmount guys. He only cleaned a few feet before stopping and turning over the cotton pad for everyone to see. 

It was no longer white. It was now very dark and nearly black with unremoved soil! 

Suddenly, the smiling and giggling from the HWE cleaners ceased. All eyes were on Big John as he presented them with a question.

He said, “Now, where did that dirt come from?” “Did it come from the top of the carpet or the bottom of the carpet?” 

There was complete silence. You could have heard a pin drop. No one dared answer!

The HWE cleaners were now faced with a dilemma. They had always claimed that John’s OP method could only clean the top of a carpet and not reach down the fibers to the bottom.

If they said, “It came from the top,” they would be admitting that John’s machine had removed the dirt from the top fibers of the carpet that their machines missed. 

If they said, “It came from the bottom,” they would be admitting that John’s machine had removed the dirt from the bottom of the carpet, which their truckmounts missed.

The Respect

Big John gained a lot of respect from the other cleaners that day. So did very low moisture carpet cleaning from those that were present. After that day, some of those guys began to employ low-moisture carpet cleaning in their own companies!

No, they didn’t stop using their truckmounts. But after what they witnessed, they realized Very Low Moisture Carpet Cleaning could significantly impact and have a role in cleaning dirty carpets.

End of story

VLM or Very Low Moisture Carpet Cleaning. 

Three Advantages:

  1. An advantage of using any of the following methods is the rapid dry time of the carpet after cleaning (carpets are usually dry to the touch within 30 minutes to two hours.) The quick dry times have significant importance to both consumers and cleaning companies.
  2. Another significant advantage is the much lower cost of the equipment used. Truck-mounted HWE Equipment can run as high as $100,000 or even more. Low moisture equipment can run anywhere from $500 for a used floor machine to $8,500 for a “state of the art” Oscillating Pad (OP) machine.
  3. Much less training time is needed to learn to use the equipment properly.

Three Disadvantages:

  1. The most significant disadvantage in all carpet cleaning systems can be the “Rapid Resoiling” of the carpet after cleaning.

    After having their carpets professionally cleaned, consumers’ primary complaint is that they get dirty again quickly!

    ************** The culprit is usually due to the “left-behind” sticky residue from the sprayed-on cleaning solution. Most soaps and detergents are inherently sticky by nature. The carpet will rapidly re-soil if the sprayed-on sticky solution is not completely removed. That is regardless of the method used.

    ************** This disadvantage is easily overcome by simply using well-formulated encapsulation products like those from  VacAway. Our products will completely eliminate the “left-behind” sticky residue.

    Due to their chemical makeup containing crystallizing acrylic polymers, the VacAway encapsulation solutions will never leave behind a sticky residue of their own. Any “left-behind” residue will crystallize and be removed during routine vacuuming. The cleaned carpet will naturally stay clean longer.

  2. Pre-vacuuming is imperative for most low-moisture systems. This requires a separate vacuum cleaning machine before starting the VLM cleaning process. In many cases, HWE cleaners can get by only using their cleaning wand to pre-vacuum.
  3. Since “Steam Cleaning” has existed for many years, most consumers are more familiar with it. Extra time may be needed to explain how the VLM process works.


Four of the Most Common VLM Systems Employed today:


Bonnet Cleaning

Very Low Moisture Floor Machine
Carpet Bonnet

Bonnet cleaning is one of the oldest forms of VLM.  It is commonly used in the commercial sector to clean common areas, but can also be used effectively in the residential sector.

A pump-up or electric sprayer is used to spray down the cleaning solution. An absorbent pad, usually loopy in form, is used under a 175 or 300 RPM buffing machine to remove the solution along with the accumulated soil.

These pads are rinsed or changed frequently as they become soiled. NOTE: Rapid resoiling can occur unless the solution used is an encapsulating one.

Oscillating Pad (OP) Cleaning

Oscillating Pad Machine
Op Pads

OP cleaning is similar to bonnet cleaning in that a pump-up or electric sprayer is used to spray down the cleaning solution.

A thin cotton absorbent pad is used under the machine to remove the solution and the accumulated soil. The pads are rinsed or changed frequently as they become soiled. Rapid resoiling can occur unless the solution used is an encapsulating one.

Instead of just spinning like with bonnet cleaning, the machine oscillates (moves back and forth) as it spins slower than with a bonnet machine.
These machines come in different sizes and configurations to meet the cleaning demands of the operator.

Personally, I believe this method like the one Big John used, is the best overall of the many very low-moisture carpet cleaning methods.  It will work well in both the commercial and residential sectors. I like the high degree of agitation the system produces to loosen the soil.  The highly absorbent cotton pads are also a plus. They can give a consumer a great visual of the removed soil.

Counter Rotating Brush (CRB)


An encapsulating prespray is sprayed on the carpet with a pump-up, electric sprayer, or an optional onboard spray system.

This electric machine uses counter rotation brushes that dig deep into the carpet pile.  It is very effective at digging out dirt, pet hair, and other debris that can be difficult to remove with the above methods. It is truly amazing how much debris this system can dig from a soiled carpet.

CRB cleaning is very different than the above methods in that no cleaning pads are used to remove the soil.  An onboard tray is used to catch the soil and debris as it is dug out of the carpet pile.

These machines vary in size for 10 to 20 inches.

Post vacuuming after drying is recommended for this system.

Cimex Machine

Cimex Machine

The Cimex is a planetary machine with an onboard spray system. It has three heads spinning at 400 rpm. The heads each have a fiber scrubbing pad attached.

The planetary action is one where the three drivers spin in one direction. At the same time, the drive deck revolves in the opposite direction. This means you are brushing the carpet pile left and right simultaneously.

It produces highly effective agitation of an encapsulation prespray into the carpet pile. It is capable of very high production rates in the commercial sector.  It is rarely used in a residential setting.

Post-vacuuming after drying removes the encapsulated dirt and grime.

Happy Low Moisture Carpet Cleaning with your system of choice!

Steve Smith Founder of VacAway
Steve Smith, founder of VacAway

Encapsulation is VLM carpet cleaning at its best!

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