As part of our ongoing Stormwater University project, I've been calling and visiting mobile businesses, including carpet cleaners, pressure washers, janitorial businesses, and pet groomers, and asking them questions about how their processes impact stormwater. Quite a few of these folks just hang up on me when I call, but I'm stubborn, and I keep calling. What's the point of all this? If wash water from mobile businesses is dumped onto the street, it likely enters the stormwater system, where it is quickly conveyed to the nearest stream, river, or bay, without any treatment.
After dozens of calls, three carpet cleaners in Bellingham, Washington invited me to watch how they clean carpets. Off I went, and here are the highlights of my visits. Enjoy!
Steam Sweepers, Inc. washes rugs using old fashioned methods. The owner, Art, told me that he likes this method because "the old is new." At Art's facility the rugs are vacuumed and agitated over plastic sheeting with a commercial agitator to remove as much debris as possible. This is good because dust and dirt are removed without using water. This kind of thing brings unspeakable joy to stormwater geeks like me. After the rug is tested for color fastness, it is placed on this berm, hand-washed with mild soap until the water is clear. All the soap and wash water is pumped through a series of filters to the City of Bellingham wastewater treatment facility. Finally, the rug is hung up to dry. The person doing this job told me he no longer needs to lift weights, because he's exhausted at the end of every day. This operation has no impact to stormwater.
Most mobile carpet cleaners use a hot-water extraction system. The hotter the water and stronger the machines, the less the operators need to rely on chemicals for cleaning power. Their truck-mounted systems include sophisticated propane-powered water heaters, powerful pumps, long hoses, and waste water holding tanks to dispose of the waste water at RV dump sites or a waste water treatment facility. A few carpet cleaners dispose of the waste water into the customer's sewer connection, if they are connected to the sewer system (and not a septic system), and if they have permission. The folks I visited all vacuum carpets first, which removes much of the debris from entering the waste water stream. I was able to view a variety of filters, some were in-line filters, others were in the holding tanks. We like these filters, and so do the City of Bellingham's waste water treatment facility staff...because their treatment system is not designed to treat carpet fibers.
So...what's the point of this ramble? Next time you have your carpets cleaned, or hire a mobile business for other jobs, take a moment to make sure they are disposing of YOUR waste water correctly. This will help raise the bar, and the pride of the people who are taking extra steps to keep our water clean. Questions or comments? Thanks for reading.