PORTLAND – Before we went inside to clean the carpets of a two-bedroom Portland home, Kevin Burns let me carry the vacuum handle he uses.

It looks like any other big vacuum handle — a long metal tube connected to a rectangular vacuum head. But since Burns cleans carpets for a living — as owner and sole employee of Carpet Services — this one is special. It is made of titanium, weighs next to nothing and costs $1,100.

“Best $1,100 I ever spent,” said Burns, 50, praising the tool’s light weight and durability.

But I didn’t realize how important a lightweight vacuum attachment was until we got in the house and got ready to clean, by hooking up the handle to both the hot water line and the suction hose.

Burns told me to start with the vacuum head pressed against the wall. Then squeeze the hot water trigger a couple of times to get water in the crevice between the carpet and wall. Then hold the water trigger down and pull the vacuum attachment back about 4 or 5 feet, cleaning with hot water and cleansing agent, and vacuuming it up, all at the same time.

I did great up to this point. Then Burns told me to push the vacuum head forward, and then back again.

But I couldn’t. The suction was so great I couldn’t move it forward.

“Sometimes I have to go in a different direction, if the pile is too thick. It’s not easy to move with all that suction,” said Burns, over the roar of the vacuum. “This isn’t an electric-powered vacuum, this is hooked up to the engine in my van.”

Burns has been cleaning carpets — and upholstery and tile — for about 25 years. He says that pulling the vacuum attachment back and forth all day long can tire him out.

Doing it for 15 minutes could tire me out.

Before we started cleaning the carpet, Burns had handed me the vacuum hose with a crevice tool on it instead of the head. He told me to vacuum up the dust and debris along the walls. But he cautioned me as well.

“Don’t get any curtains caught in there, and don’t hold it on the carpet too long or you’ll pull it right up,” said Burns.

I thought I was doing all right, until I did manage to pull up a corner of carpet just slightly. Luckily, it could be laid back down without a problem.

Later, when I got up off my knees, I accidentally pointed the crevice tool at my stomach and it instantly attached to my shirt. It took me a minute or so of wrestling with the tool to free myself.

The house we were doing was a small job by Burns’ standards — living room, dining room, stairway and hall. The beige carpet was a medium nylon pile in good condition, with only one or two stained areas. For those, Burns would use various solvents and agents he carries around in an old milk crate.

He said the job would probably take him 90 minutes — if I weren’t there. (Not that I slowed him down, of course, but he took time to explain lots of aspects of his job and equipment to me.) But he doesn’t charge by the hour, he charges by the square foot — 20 to 35 cents depending on various factors, including how much furniture he has to move around to clear carpeted areas.

Moving and replacing furniture can be a big part of the job. Once he’s done with a carpet, and it’s still wet, he has to put foam or plastic pieces under the furniture legs so the carpet underneath doesn’t get stained.

Burns’ van looks like a basement utility room, with water tanks, controls and a filter to catch dirt from the house carried with the water back through the hose.

Burns was a police officer earlier in his working life, and then worked a variety of jobs before settling on the life of a self-employed carpet cleaner. He said that working for others taught him he’d work best by himself.

“I would spend a lot of time doing something and the boss would wonder why I took so long,” said Burns. “But when I spend extra on something now, the customer is glad.”

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

[email protected]