Carpet Cleaning Prior to the 20th Century


Rug beating

Since there have been rugs, there has been the desire to clean them properly. For hundreds of years, hanging the rug up and beating on it with a rug beater bar was the most efficient way to clean them.

Rug beating


Carpet Beating 2



Historic Carpet Cleaning Methods

One great source of information on the beginnings of carpet cleaning is a file that you can download from the internet that was compiled by John Burrows of the J.R. Burrows & Company, a historical merchants company. Their report, entitled HISTORIC CARPET CLEANING METHODS IN THE NINETEENTH AND TWENTIETH CENTURIES goes into great detail about carpet cleaning in homes starting in 1827. You can download this compilation here:

In fact several of the paintings that they show in this report clearly show carpet installed wall to wall from that period Young%20Trioforward. According to Burrow’s,  one of the most common strategies of keeping carpets clean in the early nineteenth century was to use druggets, heavy woolen goods spread under tables to protect carpet from spills.  They are sometimes called crumb cloths.   In addition to dining rooms they were used in other areas of heavy wear. E.V. Rippingille painted The Young Trio in 1829 showing a drugget protecting carpet in a parlor where children are at play. Photographic documentation shows wall-to-wall carpet covered during the summer months, and also for special receptions.

This image of the Seward House Drawing Room shows a checked design cloth covering the complete room, slip covers on the chairs, and the heavy draperies removed for the summer.   This room retains the original 19th century carpet thatSewardDrawingRoom is being protected by the summer covering in this view.

Photographs in the collection of the Minnesota Historical Society show a pair of parlors in the 1890s with wall-to-wall carpet completely covered with white canvas, stretched and tacked down, for a wedding reception.  This extreme effort to protect carpets from sunlight and dirt indicate the high value placed on carpets at that time.

In 1827, instructions to “restore carpets to their first bloom were to beat your carpets with your carpet rods until perfectly clean from dust, then if there be any ink spots take it out with a lemon, and if oil spots, take out as in the foregoing receipt, observing to rinse with clean water; then take a hot loaf of white bread, split down the centre, having the top and bottom crust one on each half, with this rub your carpet extremely well over, then hang it out on or across a line with the right side out; should the night be fine, leave it out all night, and if the weather be clear, leave it out for two or three such nights, then sweep it with a clean corn broom, and it will look as when first new.”

Carpet owners concerns about the presence of pets on the carpet isn’t an invented worry of our generation either. In 1834 in Recollections of a Housekeeper By Mrs.SwedishRunnersC Clarissa Packard in a chapter entitled “A Struggle for Power.” Mrs. Packard describes her feelings about the presence of her husband’s office dog in the home.  The types of carpet and rugs in her house is mentioned.  Velvet cut pile Wilton carpet was one of the most expensive weaves in the 1830s and were highly prized.

In 1863 directions for sweeping carpets were: “Persons who are accustomed to use tea leaves for sweeping their carpets, and find that they leave stains, will do well to employ fresh cut grass instead. It is better than tea leaves for preventing dust, and gives the carpets a very bright fresh look.”

In 1869, the care of rooms called for: “Unless a parlor is in constant use, it is best to sweep it only once a week, and at other times use a whisk-broom and dust-pan.  When a parlor with handsome furniture is to be swept, cover the sofas, centre table, piano, books, and mantelpiece with old cottons kept for the purpose.  Remove the rugs and shake them, and clean the jambs, hearth, and fire-furniture.  Then sweep the room, moving every article. ”

In 1879, Burrows found the first reference to cleaning and stain and spot removal that went beyond sweeping or beating: To wash carpets “Shake, beat, and sweep well.  Tack firmly on the floor.  Mix three quarts soft, cold water with one quart beef’s gall.  Wash with a flannel, rub off with a clean flannel, immediately after putting it on each strip of carpet,” – Mrs. R.

Beef’s gall would have been a derivative of their bile. I am not sure what the cleaning results would be of using bile. Today it is used in some societies for medicinal purposes.

Carpets should be washed in spots, with a brush or flannel, one tablespoonful ox-gall in one or two quarts water.” – Mrs. A.
There were even spot removal instructions: “To Remove Ink from Carpets –  Take up the ink with a spoon.  Pour cold water on the stained spot, take up the water with a spoon, and repeat this process frequently.  Then rub on a little oxalic acid and wash off immediately with cold water.  Then wet with hartshorn.” – Mrs. R. from the book Housekeeping in Old Virginia, edited by Marion Cabell Tyree.  Louisville, Ky.: John P. Morton and Company, 1879.

Oxalic acid is still used today in some rust removing solutions.

In 1884, there was the first mention of using dry cleaning to clean the carpet. Cleansing Carpets (Naphta Process). – “This is regarded as the surest and most IshamParlorsatisfactory, where there is the slightest suspicion of moth eggs or worms.  It is especially adapted to pile carpets.  Caution should be exercised as to the purity and clearness of the naphtha used, and the thorough extraction of the grease, else the dirt adheres more easily than before.  Where carpets are to remain on storage some time, the odor can be left in the carpet if desired.  A more through cleansing can be assured by having the carpet beaten first.  A surface application of naphtha will drive the impurities through the article, to be absorbed by that which is under it.”S ounds like rapid resoiling was even seen as an issue in 1884. These instructions came from a carpet retailer in Boston: Carpet Notes, John Pray, Sons & Co., Boston 1884

From The Household, A Cyclopaedia of Practical Hints for Modern Homes, edited by May Perrin Goff.  Detroit, Mich.: The Detroit Free Press Publishing Company, 1886: “After a Carpet has been well beaten and the floor perfectly dry, it can be nailed down tightly, and then the soiled portions can be cleaned with two quarts of cold water with a bullock’s gall dissolved in it.  Put on with a soft brush and wipe dry with a clean cloth.  Potter’s clay mixed as a past (thick) with water and spread on with a knife, wet, will clean them nicely.  Cover over with several thicknesses of heavy brown paper, leaving it for a day or two; then brush off.  If not entirely removed, apply again.  It never fails when properly used.  If spots of grease are upon them, saturate the spot with spirits of turpentine and let it remain several hours; then rub it between the hands.  It will crumble away without injuring the color or texture.  When a color has been destroyed by acid (unless some shade of red), ammonia will neutralize the acid, and chloroform will restore the original color.  A solution of oxalic acid crystals, one part by measure to eight of soft water, will entirely remove dry ink stains.  The goods must be afterwards thoroughly washed, as the acid destroys the cloth.  If a carpet is thick, like those of Brussels or Axminster, and is much soiled, take a clean mop and dip it into warmish water, to which one teaspoonful of ammonia has been added to each quart.  Wring out the mop as dry as possible, and rub it over the carpet in breadths.  When the water becomes soiled, take a fresh supply.” “Benzine will eradicate moths in the carpets the same as in furniture.  Avoid using it near the fire, or in a room where a light is burning.  Alum is also certain death to all insects.  Dissolve it in proportion of one tablespoonful to a quart of water….”

It wasn’t until 1920 that Burrows found a discussion of using vacuum sweepers or vacuum cleaners.

Then finally, in 1934, we see the use of what could now recognize as a professional carpet cleaning method:

1934 Shampooing a Rug

A rug can be shampooed in the house, although conditions are better when done outdoors.  There are needed an ample supply of soap jelly, a large bowl, an egg beater, a soft scrub brush, 2 pails of clean water, and a number of clean cloths.The rug should be thoroughly cleaned on both sides, preferably with a vacuum cleaner; if the work is to be done in the house, the floor beneath should also be cleaned.  The rug can be shampooed lying on the floor, but there is greater convenience in having a small table over which it can be drawn section by section.

 A quantity of soap jelly is placed in the bowl and beaten to a stiff lather resembling whipped cream.  This is applied with the brush to a section of the rug not over 2 feet square and rubbed in with a circular motion; more lather is added as required.  When the section is clean, the lather is wiped off with a damp cloth, the space again gone over with another clean cloth wrung out in clean water in the second pail and wiped with a dry cloth.  An adjoining section of the rug is then shampooed, with care to work over the edge of the first to prevent the leaving of an unwashed streak. When cleaned, the rug should be hung outdoors in the shade to dry.  Should this not be possible, it should be supported on chair backs, and all windows opened to admit plenty of air.  When dry, the nap should be brushed in one direction with a stiff broom. “         [Note: no cleaning method is given for wall to wall carpet, which had fallen from style in the 1920s-30s.] First Aid for The Ailing House, Roger B. Whitman, New York: Whittlesey House, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1934.



A Very Short History of Carpet Manufacturing

Professional carpet cleaning has taken on many different looks over the last 115 years. That look has often been molded by the different cleaning methods and equipment, along with the chemistry that has been adapted to clean that carpet successfully. You may or may not recognize some of this equipment and these procedures, but they were all a part of the development of the industry.


If you go to the internet and google “the history of carpet cleaning” what you will find is lots of information about the development of vacuum cleaning equipment since the late 1800’s. Many companies have collected and acquired an impressive array of early vacuums and dusters, including the Museum of Clean hosted by Don Aslett in Pocatello, Idaho. If you ever get a chance to go there, or to see its traveling exhibit that has appeared at the ISSA convention, don’t miss that opportunity.

Don Aslett Museum of Clean building

don-asletts-museum-of-clean-pneumatic vacuums

Our purpose here though is to highlight the development of cleaning equipment and methods used by professional cleaners that go beyond conventional dry soil removal with vacuums. Unfortunately, with many of the earliest innovations, all we have left are the names of people, and the stories of “old-timers” who remember seeing or using that equipment. Not even pictures remain. In my quest to write this blog, there were several early innovators of portable and truckmounted extractors whose contributions can only be mentioned, because an industry wide request could not produce a picture of the machines they made. That difficulty only made me more determined to produce this blog, to make sure that some of the machines that I had pictures of got their story told, and recorded, and digitized, prepared to be preserved and remembered well into the future.

If you are going to talk about carpet cleaning, you almost have to start with a little bit about the history of carpet itself. The Carpet and Rug Institute serves as our resource here. Most of this information comes directly from their website:

CRI Headquarters 2

According to the CRI, the carpet industry in the United States began in 1791 when William Sprague started the first woven carpet mill in Philadelphia. Others opened during the early 1800s in New England. Included in that area was Beattie Manufacturing Company in Little Falls, New Jersey, a company that operated until 1979.

Beattie Carpet Mill 2 Beattie Carpet MillWeaving Mills 1898

In 1839, Erastus Bigelow permanently reshaped the industry with the invention of the power loom for weaving carpets. Bigelow’s loom doubled carpet production the first year after its creation and tripled it by 1850.Bigelow Bigelow factory

The power loom with Jacquard mechanism was developed in 1849, and Brussels carpet was first manufactured by the Clinton Company of Massachusetts.

jaquard loom 1840s

Alexander Smith started his carpet manufacturing plant in 1845 in West Farms, New York. An American, Halcyon Skinner, had perfected the power loom for making Royal Axminster in 1876. He and Alexander Smith combined, forming a very successful carpet company. In 1929 Alexander Smith & Sons was the largest manufacturer of carpets and rugs in the world.

Alexander Smith & Sons Carpet Millalexander mill area-rugs-woman-worker-large

Simulating the “Oriental” rug Industrialist/retailer Marshall Field had a traditional Axminster weaving loom modified to create what no one else had ever created — a machine-made rug woven through the back, just like a handmade Oriental, featuring intricate designs and virtually unlimited color variety. Karastan’s rug mill was established in 1926, and introduced the first Karastan rugs to the public in 1928.

The tufted carpet industry: Born in the U.S.A. and the Pride of Georgia

The industry began in a simple way, around the turn of the century. A young, Dalton woman, Catherine Evans Catherine Evans WhitenerWhitener, recreated a bedspread in a hand-crafted pattern she had seen, for a wedding gift. Copying a quilt pattern, she sewed thick cotton yarns with a running stitch into unbleached muslin, clipped the ends of the yarn so they would fluff out, and finally, washed the spread in hot water to hold the yarns in by shrinking the fabric. Chenille bedspreads became amazingly popular all over the country and provided a new name for Dalton: The Bedspread Capital of the World.

Mechanization—the 1930s Buyer competition, which tended to lower the prices, the change in the minimum wage laws, and development of machine-produced spreads soon made the hand-crafted spreads too expensive. Gradually the industry began to pull the workers from surrounding hillsides and small towns into mills in Dalton, beginning the rapid growth of the mechanized tufting industry.

In the 1930s, as a result of the demand for more bedspreads, the first mechanized tufting machine, attributed to Glen Looper Foundry of Dalton, was developed.

tufting machine

As the number of tufted products produced annually went into the millions, the job of supplying the industry became equally important. Yarn, sheeting, duck mills, and agents were established in the area, with their entire output going to the industry; and larger mills elsewhere vied for the growing business. Machine shops were established to manufacture the thousands of single and multi-needle machines needed, as well as to design improvements aimed at making even more beautiful and better spreads, bathroom sets, robes, beach wear, and rugs. Dye plants for yarn were built. Machinery was developed for making chenille rugs and was widened, creating larger rugs and broadloom carpet. At the same time, machinery was changing; developments of new fibers accelerated the growth of broadloom carpet.

Synthetic fibers are introduced  Until about 1954, cotton was virtually the only fiber used in tufted products. Wool and manmade fibers — polyester, nylon, rayon, and acrylics — were gradually introduced by textile men in Dalton. Nylon was first introduced in 1947 and grew steadily to dominate the market. Polyester was first used in 1965 and was followed soon by polypropylene (olefin). Most manufacturers will agree that the single most important development in the industry was the introduction of bulk continuous filament nylon yarns. These yarns provided a luxurious quality, durable carpet, similar to wool, which was more economical to produce. Therefore, a durable, luxury product was offered to the consumer for less money.

nylon extrusion 2nylon

In 1950, only 10 percent of all carpet and rug products were tufted, and ninety percent were woven. However, about 1950, it was as if someone had opened a magic trunk. Out of that trunk came man-made fibers, new spinning techniques, new dye equipment, printing processes, tufting equipment, and backing for different end uses. Today, tufted products are more than 90 percent of the total, followed by less than 2 percent that are woven, and 6.7 percent for all other methods, such as knitted, braided, hooked, or needlepunched. Through the years, the Dalton area has continued to be the center of the tufted carpet industry, and today, the area produces more than 70 percent of the total output of the world-wide industry of over $9 billion. Dalton is now known as the “Carpet Capital of the World.”

As you will see, the introduction of synthetic fibers and proliferation of wall to wall, sometimes called broadloom carpets was the main impetus for the development of the on-location professional carpet cleaning industry, and also allowed the development of the cleaning method that would transform the industry – hot water extraction. Though we will see wall to wall carpets that dated back to the late 1890’s, it would not be until 70 years later when it displaced the area rug or oriental rugs as a floor covering of choice.

carpet 1 carpet 2 carpet 3 carpet 5 carpet 6 carpet 7

The History of Professional On-Location Carpet Cleaning Equipment

Have you ever done something simply as a labor of love? Spent weeks or months working on a project at home and had everyone in your family wonder what you were up to. That is what this blog is going to be about for me. My family has been involved in the professional cleaning and restoration industry since 1971. I cleaned my first carpet when I was 14 years old in 1974. I loaded a Steam Way 400 portable into the back of my mother’s cherry red 1972 Ford Station Wagon and set out to clean about 300 square feet of carpet at a local gas station. Ask me about that job sometime.


Professional carpet cleaning is an industry full of fiercely independent entrepreneurs who scratch and claw their way to build a successful and profitable company. Some are content to remain a mom and pop owner operated company with one truck on the road. Others choose to build large companies operating multiple trucks bringing in millions and millions of dollars of revenue per year. Including restoration contractors, it is an industry of 60,000 – 65,000 companies, and unless you are in it, many of its mysteries, pains, and its joys will remain hidden to you. It is an industry that although has been around since the very early 1900’s,  really got its foothold and started to build in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Its fortunes and many of its challenges have been directly linked to the carpet manufacturing business, and the growth or recession of installed wall-to-wall, sometimes referred to as broadloom carpet. In the last 10-12 years, it has greatly expanded beyond just carpet cleaning, with many contractors offering cleaning services related to stone, tile, wood, and concrete floors. Our purpose in this blog will be to focus mainly on the development throughout the years of the cleaning equipment that these professionals used to perform their carpet cleaning services, and if you are relatively new to the industry, you may be surprised to find out just how long some of this equipment has been around.

This blog is dedicated in celebration of the life of my father, Ralph Bloss. In 1971, he was convinced by an innovative man named Clark Seabloom to come to work for a new company that at the time was called Sani-Steam. He left his job in Chicago with Wyler Foods and moved back to Denver, Colorado. For the next 32 years he developed a love and admiration for the professional carpet cleaner that remains unparalleled. With the help of his family, he built Steam Way into a leading manufacturer of truckmounted and portable carpet cleaning equipment and chemicals. But his lasting contributions to the industry went well beyond being a supplier to the industry. Evan Kessler, who at the time of my father’s passing was the publisher of long time industry publication ICS Cleaning Specialist Magazine put it this way. Ralph Bloss became a patriarch of the carpet cleaning and restoration industry. Few have done as much for the advancement of education in this field. During his 32 years in the industry, Ralph was recognized with the highest honors, respectively, from14 regional and national trade associations. Ralph truly loved his customers, his vendors and even his competitors. Ralph gave encouragement to everyone he came in contact with. Ralph engendered the words customer service. Whether you were a Steam Way customer never purchased a Steam Way product, whether you are an IICRC Master cleaner or have never taken an IICRC course, whether you are a veteran of 30 years or just beginning a carpet cleaning business, you have been affected by Ralph Bloss. His tireless efforts to promote the IICRC, our trade and to provide education have made this a better industry for all.”



This blog will also recognize many innovators and inventors who developed the cleaning equipment that has allowed the industry to expand and grow. At the end, along with my father, we will recognize many other of the pioneers that blazed the trail for this fledging industry.