Is VLM Right For Your Business?

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VLM. Unless you started cleaning carpets a week ago, you’ve probably at least heard the term. There’s a lot of info and opinions out there, but the question remains, is it a fit for your business? The decision is ultimately yours to make, but we’ve gone ahead and broken down some key points to consider. Below you’ll find our cost breakdown, the market’s estimated potential and some pros and cons to VLM cleaning. 

First, let’s break down what VLM cleaning is exactly. It stands for Very Low Moisture, and refers broadly to carpet cleaning processes designed to dry much quicker than traditional extraction cleaning by using little to no water. VLM methods are well established as an effective commercial cleaning process, and thanks to advancements in equipment and chemistry, more cleaners have become comfortable with VLM as an option for residential cleaning as well. 

There are several different processes that fall under the VLM umbrella. The most common and widely used process is known as encapsulation or “encap”. Encapsulation chemicals do exactly what their name implies. When applied to the carpet fibers and agitated using a pad or brush, these chemicals encapsulate dirt and soil, making them easily removable from the carpet fibers. For the purposes of this article we won’t dive too deep into the how-to and nuance between different processes, but if you decide you want to learn more about how to perform VLM cleaning, check out our friends at the Encapstore for a great resource on low moisture cleaning.

Estimated Cost to Enter VLM Market:

First, let’s consider the cost to get started. Generally speaking, you will need a good commercial vacuum, a floor machine (either rotary or oscillating), encapsulation chemicals, pads, and a sprayer. Many carpet cleaners will already have some of the common items like a vacuum and sprayer, making the barrier to entry even lower for most! Costs given below are based off of popular options on the market, and are meant solely to be a reference point.

Commercial Grade Vacuum: $500 | An important tool in most carpet cleaning arsenals, a good quality vacuum is ESSENTIAL to low moisture cleaning. Pre vacuuming removes dry particulate and loose soil. Post vacuuming begins the process of removing encapsulated soil from the carpet.

OP Machine: $2,650 | There are several machine options for VLM cleaning. For this article we’re going with an oscillating pad or “OP” machine (specifically our ECO14-PRO!). OP machines offer versatility, performance and exceptional ease of use. An OP machine is more costly than a traditional rotary (175), but the machine’s superior efficiency means quick ROI.

Chemicals: $90 | The secret sauce, if you will. These encapsulation chemicals are key to the low-moisture process. While there are many types out there, they all serve the same general purpose; to help separate soil from the carpet fibers, and encapsulate it to make removal easier.

Pads: $200 | Pads are another essential element to VLM. There are non-absorbent pads for scrubbing/agitating, and there are absorbent pads for soaking up soil and solution. You should have a number of various pads on hand. This will allow you to encap or pad extract depending on condition and category of cleaning.

Sprayer: $150 | A good sprayer helps put down solution into the carpet quickly and easily. There are pump sprayer options for under $10 but you can get a more efficient battery operated sprayer for around $150. Better yet, OP machines like the ECO14-PRO offer the option to add an on-board sprayer for added convenience and cost savings!

Total: $3,590 | This total reflects the estimated average costs of a complete and new set-up to get into the VLM market. In reality you may likely spend even less if you were to consider options for pre-owned equipment or if you have some of these tools already!

Market Potential:

According to IBISWorld the U.S. carpet cleaning industry is projected to grow in 2021 to a 4.5 BILLION dollar industry. Let’s break that down a bit. That works out to (average) 90 million dollars spent on carpet cleaning PER STATE in the US. Let’s say you take home just .5% of the carpet cleaning revenue just in your state, that’s 450K in one year! Now that’s an average so some states will have less, but some will have even more!

Now how does this relate to VLM you ask? Well the reality is most carpet cleaning operations are not bringing in 450K per year. So how do you get closer to that figure? Sure you can raise your prices, but the most sustainable way to grow is by taking more jobs! And while it’s always possible to grow your operation as it is, the easiest way to land more jobs is to expand the services you can offer! VLM puts you in the running to get more jobs that you couldn’t land with just HWE (Hot Water Extraction). It also provides a faster and more efficient way to do some of the jobs you are already performing with HWE, allowing you to take on even more jobs. This means you’re getting a bigger slice of that 4.5 billion dollar pie!

VLM Pros and Cons 


  • Low cost to start up
  • Rapid dry times
  • Easy set up – doesn’t require pulling hoses
  • Easier to store/transport than a portable extractor
  • Can clean open areas faster than extracting
  • Quieter than a portable or truckmount
  • No problem with closed-door facilities and high-rise buildings


  • Not suitable for jobs that require flushing and extraction
  • Floor machine takes up van space
  • May be hard to communicate value to certain customers
  • Limited in occupied residential settings

So to wrap up, there are many benefits provided by low moisture cleaning, making it an attractive and inexpensive option for cleaners to expand their income. However, we see this isn’t the perfect option for everyone. For certain businesses, and those unable to invest in more equipment, it may not be the best route for growth. But to many out there, VLM represents a way to gain huge returns on what amounts to a small investment in the long run. For more information about our low moisture equipment, give us a call at 858-679-1191 or send an email to and we’ll be happy to help!