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Pads & VLM – The What, When and Where

What’s With All of These Pads?

Absorbent and Non-Absorbent Pads
Used Mixed Pads

Other than what machine to buy, the most commonly asked questions from those starting in low moisture carpet cleaning revolve around pads. Indeed, there are lots of pads options – fiber, cotton, microfiber, yarn and terrycloth to name a few. There is a slight learning curve and you need to understand the purpose and benefits of these pads. This article should serve as a primer and reference for those that are new to very low moisture (VLM) cleaning and help give you a better understanding of what pads are available, what to have on hand and when to use them.


Pad Type

Pads can be broken down into two categories: non-absorbent and absorbent.


Fiber PadsNon absorbent pads pull very little soil or moisture from the carpet. These pads are fiber based and experienced cleaners will already be familiar with them. Fiber pads are often used in hot water extraction (HWE) cleaning when pre-scrubbing carpet prior to extraction or rinse. These pads are most commonly used in hard surface floor cleaning such as vinyl composition tile (VCT) floors for buffing and stripping. Fiber pads come in a range of colors representing various degrees of aggressiveness.

Fiber pads are used in low moisture cleaning to either pre-scrub or encapsulate (encap) carpet. While the action is the same (agitation), the purpose is not. Pre-scrubbing with low moisture cleaning is similar to HWE in that there will be a follow-up extraction using a wand or rotary extraction tool. In the case of VLM, you’ll follow the pre-scrub action with an absorbent pad.

Encapsulation cleaning relies almost exclusively on machine and pad agitation coupled with polymer based chemicals (remember, there is very little in the way of extraction).  In short, the cleaning solution will loosen debris from the carpet fiber while polymers surround and capture both the solution and newly suspended soil. The polymer, along with its captured contents, will dry to a brittle crystal and is removed during the course of routine vacuuming.

The most commonly used fiber pads for VLM (and HWE) are champagne/beige, tan, green and sometimes red. As a rule of thumb, lighter colored pads are the least aggressive and progress accordingly. Of these pads, the most often used are champagne/beige and tan (see our Planetary Pads) and are suitable for most any situation. The more aggressive green (see Martian Pads) are ideal for challenging conditions with a high soil load.

Cimex PadsFiber pad life can vary depending on color of pad and manufacturer. Range can be approximately 1,500 sq ft to 5,000 sq ft or more.  These pads can’t be ‘washed’ in the conventional sense, at least not with a top loading washer. However, you can ‘power wash’ the pad with a hose and spray gun.    





Cotton Carpet Cleaning PadsAbsorbent pads do exactly as implied – absorb. They come in many varieties and can service specific purposes. Some absorbent pads can be considered machine specific as well. The most commonly used absorbent pads include cotton, terrycloth, cotton/yarn and microfiber. These pads serve two specific purposes: to remove soil and moisture. Some pads will remove more soil than moisture and vice versa.





Let’s take a look at the various absorbent pads and how they perform:


Cotton (see SuperZorbs and Glad Pads)

  • These pads are ideal for soil removal (referred to as pad extraction or ‘padcapping’) and will pull more dirt and debris than other absorbent pads (with the exception of terrycloth). Depending on carpet conditions, they’re often used as a follow-up to fiber pads or in conjunction with microfiber. They’re also used on their own as a one step padding process. In this author’s opinion, they’re the essential ‘stand alone’ pad. If the carpet is in fair to challenging conditions and you can only use (or only want to use) one pad, then cotton is it.

There are some drawbacks though. First, the pads get ugly fast. Cotton pads are typically white or off white and the soil shows almost immediately. It’s advised to keep pads damp after use and

      SuperZorb Cotton Pad

prior to washing. Also, these pads tend to operate best under oscillating pad (OP) machines (though there has been some limited discussion of ‘high speed/large orbit’ machines tearing pads).  Cotton pads are also used with rotary machines, but some users have complained of the pads bundling up under the machine.

  • PROS: Great with OP machines, high soil absorbency 
  • CONS: May not be ideal for some rotary machines, absorb less moisture, less than desirable appearance
  • CARE: Machine wash, tumble or air dry, wash all pads prior to first use
  • LIFE: Average 200 – 250 uses (this may vary)
  • TIP: Don’t let pads dry after use, keep damp until washed. Make sure pad is damp prior to use (do not run pad dry), use pads larger than your driver


Terrycloth (see Snap Pads)

Snap Pad - Made of Terrycloth
Snap Pad – Made of Terrycloth
  • Terrycloth does an outstanding job of removing soil. In fact, in this author’s experience, as well as active cleaners in the field, no pad seems to remove more dirt than terrycloth. If you want to remove the most amount of soil possible and pad extract, then terrycloth is the pad to reach for. However, there are significant drawbacks to consider. First, they remove almost no moisture. The dirt lifting power is there, but not so much for anything else. Depending on how much cleaning solution is used; you may need to follow the terrycloth with a microfiber pad to help dry the carpet. Forced drying with an air mover is also an option. Second, this pad works extremely well with rotary machines, but may not perform as well under OP machines (Velcro drivers seem to be the exception). Finally, brush drivers must be fully broken in when using terrycloth. If not, the pad will tear almost instantly. Terrycloth will not work with ‘harpoon’ style drivers.


  • PROS: Great with rotary machines, maximum soil absorbency

    Snap Pad After Cleaning
                  Snap Pad After Cleaning
  • CONS: Cannot be used with harpoon drivers or brush drivers that are not fully broken in, minimal moisture removal, used pads have less than desirable appearance
  • CARE: Machine wash, tumble dry
  • LIFE: 100 – 150 uses (this may vary)
  • TIP: Make sure your brush driver is completely broken in, never run pad dry



17" Tuway Pad
                       17″ Tuway Pad

Cotton/Yarn (see Tuway)

  • Extremely popular pads for rotary and some OP machines. These pads range from thin to medium thickness. They’re generally durable and long lasting. These pads tend to pull a near equal amount of moisture and soil. Pad types include thin style with cotton/yarn rows, and others will include agitation strips that offer mild and extreme aggressiveness (green and brown respectively). The primary drawback to these pads is that they remove less soil than terrycloth and cotton. Some will compare the soil removal to microfiber pads, but this lacks consensus. Thin pads will work under both rotary and OP machines, while pads with agitation strips seem to work best with rotary only.



Cotton/Yarn Pads w/Agitation Strips
Cotton w/Agitation Stri
  • PROS: Long lasting, inexpensive, remove equal amounts soil and moisture
  • CONS: Thicker pads should be used with rotary only, less soil removal than cotton or terrycloth pads
  • CARE: Machine wash, low heat dry
  • LIFE: Average 200 – 300 uses (this may vary, agitation strips will not last as long as pad)
  • TIP: Great for volume and commercial only cleaners


Loopy Bonnets

Looped Carpet Cleaning Bonnet
Looped Carpet Bonnet


  • This is the pad that is the most commonly used with rotary machines and remains so to this day. This pad is popular with commercial only cleaners and janitors in particular. They have what is arguably the longest life of any pad. Absorbency can vary and will depend on the type of cotton used. Also, many of today’s loopy pads are made of rayon. Rayon, while not as long lasting, has the ability of ‘sticking’ to the carpet and can pull more soil. Pads are generally looped, though there are more open, or string, looped pads available.


  • PROS: Long lasting, inexpensive, rotary only, safe on virtually all fiber types

    Rayon & Cotton Carpet Bonnets
         Rayon & Cotton Carpet Bonnets
  • CONS: Absorbency will depend on pad used
  • CARE: Machine wash, low/med heat dry
  • LIFE: 300+ uses
  • TIP: Sample cotton and rayon, open and closed loop
       Rotary Carpet Bonnet







Microfiber (see GalaxyMops)

Microfiber Pad w/Rotary
Thin Microfiber Pad w/Rotary


  • Very popular and are similar to cotton in that they’re often considered a ‘one step’ pad. While there is a comparison, and microfiber removes a respectable amount of soil, it does not match that of cotton. However, microfiber will pull more moisture than either cotton or terrycloth. Using cotton or terry in conjunction with microfiber can yield great results. Microfiber pads are available in thin or ‘thick’ (in reality this is still a thin pad, but slightly thicker and has more body). Pads are sold with scrub strips and without with the former being the more popular due to the added agitation. These pads can be used with both rotary and OP machines.
Carpet Cleaning w/Microfiber
           Carpet Cleaning w/Microfiber


  • PROS: Versatile, can be used with rotary and OP machines, strong soil and excellent moisture removal, long lasting, mid priced
  • CONS: Lacks the soil absorption of cotton or terrycloth, ‘thin’ pads may not work with all OP machines
  • CARE: Machine wash, low heat try
  • LIFE: 200 – 250 uses on average
  • TIP: Wring out pad prior to washing, pad should be discarded or used as walk off mat once the pad loses body, use pads larger than driver size (e.g. 19″ pad with a 17″ driver) 
Microfiber Bonnet w/Scrub Strips
Standard Microfiber Bonnet w/Scrub Strips









To keep things simple, I typically recommend keeping the following on board:

Mixed Pads for OP Carpet Cleaning
Mixed Pads for OP Cleaning


OP – Planetary Pads for encaping and pre-scrub, cotton or terrycloth for pad extraction along with microfiber for added moisture pick-up. While some might not like the idea of carrying three pads, having the options on board will allow you to take on a variety of challenges.

Popular Carpet Pads w/Rotary
Popular Carpet Pads w/Rotary


Rotary There are a few options with rotary. Planetary Pads and microfiber are a must for the reasons mentioned above. The absorbent pad will depend on what you’re cleaning and what your preference is. Overall, you should consider a cut rayon loop or thin cotton/yarn pad for residential and commercial along with Snap Pads or cotton with agitation strips for more soiled conditions.

Encap Carpet Cleaning
Encap Carpet Cleaning


CIMEX The Cimex, while an amazing encap machine, lacks the ability to truly pad extract. The core pad you’ll use almost exclusively are fiber (Planetary) pads. Microfiber and cotton blend pads are also available.





Have a question or comment? Feel free to call me direct at 702-218-3601 or email! Thanks for reading!