Tips N Chat Throwback #5: "In The Beginning..."

This week our featured Tips N Chat Throwback post explores the beginnings of steam carpet cleaning... all the way back to a man who clearly lived up to his surname: Bill Wisdom. This article is our first featured post that was not written by Ed York, as it was instead authored by Cathey Manning in the July/August 1978 issue of Tips N Chat, the “magazine published for the benefit and enjoyment of on-location carpet cleaners”. Remember to check back every Thursday for a new throwback post!

"In The Beginning..."

Arlen Knight of Kleenrite and Vac-O-Steam looks back over steam carpet cleaning's past

by Cathey Manning

1962 was a great year, remember? Sock hops, "surfing" music, "hot" Chevies... and the year Bill Wisdom created a machine for dyeing upholstery! What? Was this the birth of the steam cleaning concept?

Wilbur Sutton was the owner of Crown City Carpet Cleaners, Pasadena, California, when he was approached by Bill Wisdom with a machine for dyeing upholstery. The machine used live steam produced by natural gas or butane. The process combined the dye and cleaning solutions and was applied with a hand-held tool. A vacuum attachment removed the excess moisture.

Sutton wasn't interested in upholstery dyeing, but thought the machine could be used for upholstery cleaning. He called the process "Deep Steam". Two months later he brought the machine to Arlen who was president of Star Rug Cleaning in Santa Barbara, California. Here is where carpet cleaning came into the picture! If this concept worked for upholstery, why wouldn't it work equally well for carpets?

So it was back to the drawing board for Bill Wisdom! He designed a portable cleaner where very hot water was produced instead of steam. Fred Hayes built Wisdom's creation and Arlen became a proud owner. "It was horrible", remembers Arlen, "a hundred headaches! But we took the machine and by constantly changing, experimenting and updating it, we were ready to market the machine by 1965."

What excitement! An idea to revolutionize carpet cleaning! A renaissance for the whole cleaning industry!... and no one was interested! Because the machine turned out not to be marketable, Arlen started the Deep Steam franchise, which included the incredible steam carpet cleaning machine. It was the success of these franchises which created a demand and got others interested in steam cleaning. The rest is history.

Arlen went on to develop the first upholstery cleaning tool which wasn't merely a hand held carpet cleaning instrument. This is in its fourth year on the market under the name of Kleenrite. He has also helped develop a drapery cleaning tool as well as the innovative Vac-O-Steam which does a combination of steam carpet cleaning, dry or steam upholstery cleaning and dry cleaning of drapes.

Arlen and his wife, Florence, still reside in Santa Barbara. They have two sons: Mark, 24, and Steve, 26. Steve, who is active with fire restoration and the franchises of Deep Steam, has made it a third generation business. Arlen took over management of the local carpet cleaning in 1958 from his father who started Knight Rugs Works in 1929 and purchased Star Rug Cleaners in 1932. Arlen's younger brother, Tim, is also active in the business, as he manages Star Rug Cleaning, Inc. "We Now have 42 franchises in the United States and England, and are planning to open another in Saudi Arabia". Steam carpet cleaning, with the help of Arlen Knight, has certainly come a long way!

Michael M.
Marketing Coordinator
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