What’s With All of These Pads?

Absorbent and Non-Absorbent Pads
Used Mixed Pads

UPDATE: it’s been several years since this article was written. In that time there have been changes not only in our line-up, but with pads and bonnets in general. We’ve updated the article to reflect these changes.) 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/Bonnets can be broken down into two categories: non-absorbent and absorbent.


Fiber PadsNon absorbent pads pull very little soil or moisture from the carpet (though sometimes more than we expect or realize). 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, wood cleaning and more. 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 and crystallizing based chemicals. The fiber pads will help breakdown soil and will pull some amount of soil as well. The remaining soil is essentially microscopic at this point. What’s not removed with the pad is encapsulated or crystallized and further removed with 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 (see our Planetary Moon Pads) and are suitable for most any situation. The more aggressive blue (see Neptune 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 or even a garden hose.    





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:


Single Layer Cotton (see SuperZorbs, IronMan and Glad Pads)

  • These pads are popular for soil removal (referred to as pad extraction or ‘padcapping’) and will – along with some microfiber and rayon – pull a lot of soil from the carpet. Depending on 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, some cotton pads (such as SuperZorbs, IronMan and Glad Pads) along with specific microfiber (such as Polar pads) are 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 or all microfiber (meaning no agitation strip) 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, single layer cotton pads tend to produce the best results with oscillating pad (OP) machines. Some users have complained of cotton pads bundling up under the machine over time.

  • 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 75 – 150 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. Do not wash with bleach or with microfiber pads.



17" Tuway Pad
                       17″ Tuway Pad

Cotton/Yarn (see Tuway)

  • Well known pads for rotary and some OP machines. These pads range from thin to medium thickness. They’re generally durable and long lasting. Regardless of Tuway variety, 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/cotton, microfiber or rayon. 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/terrycloth, microgiber or rayon 
  • CARE: Machine wash, low heat dry
  • LIFE: Average 100 – 150 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 associated with rotary machines and remains so to this day. This pad is popular with commercial only cleaners and janitors in particular, but are often used in residential as well. 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 sometimes looped, though there are more open, or string, looped pads available.


  • PROS: Long lasting, inexpensive, rotary only, generallysafe on virtually all fiber types when used correctly (with the exception possibly of some rugs)
    Rayon & Cotton Carpet Bonnets
         Rayon & Cotton Carpet Bonnets
  • CONS: Absorbency will depend on pad used
  • CARE: Machine wash, low/med heat dry
  • LIFE: 150+ 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


  • (NOTE: there have been a few updates since this was originally written. Some microfiber pads have been introduced with greater agitation, better absorbency, along with thinner and thicker layered varieties.) Microfiber has become increasingly popular and are similar to cotton in that they’re often considered a ‘one step’ pad. In the past it would have been argued that cotton will generally outperform microfiber for soil removal. However, with newer pads entering the market, particulalrly those that are ‘all microfiber’, you’ll find bonnets that remove a tremendous amount of soil. They’ll also pull a lot of moisture from the carpet. Using cotton/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, though the all microfiber can be impressive depending on type. These bonnets can be used with both rotary and OP machines. Microfiber is also a great option for commercial work.  .
Carpet Cleaning w/Microfiber
           Carpet Cleaning w/Microfiber


  • PROS: Versatile, economical and can be used with rotary and OP machines, strong soil (depending on type) and excellent moisture removal, long lasting
  • CONS: Some microfiber can lack the soil absorption of cotton/terrycloth
  • CARE: Machine wash, low heat try
  • LIFE: 100 – 150 uses on average
  • TIP: Do not wash with cotton pads, 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). Do not wash with bleach 
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 and microfiber pads for encaping commercial and/or pad extracting commercial. Cotton/terrycloth and microfiber for residential pad extraction (microfiber with an agitation strip is a great first step for resi). 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. You may also sometimes need a Planetary Pad on highly soiled residential (make sure pad and carpet are both damp). 

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


Rotary There are many options for rotary machines since they can use virtually any pad or bonnet. Similarly to the OP recommendations, Planetary Pads and microfiber are a must – particularly for commercial. Absorbent pads for residential will depend on what you’re cleaning and what your preference is. Overall, microfiber will work amazingly well as will IronMan pads, tight looped rayon bonnets and rayon string bonnets.

Encap Carpet Cleaning
Encap Carpet Cleaning


CIMEX The Cimex, while an amazing encap machine, lacks the ability to truly pad extract efficiently. It’s suggested to use either brushes or fiber pads such as Moon and Neptune Planetary Pads.





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