Ideally, the best way to deal with carpet odors is to stop them before they start.

“The key to prevention is putting the carpet on a maintenance program,” Trevino says.

Since most carpet odors derive from improper cleaning and maintenance, it’s critical that every facility have an engineered process that is specific to the environment. The plan, Poskin says, should include such information as the size of the space, the soil load being added to the building, cleaning frequencies for the carpet and exact maintenance procedures. He suggests reading Dr. Michael Berry’s book, Protecting the Built Environment: Cleaning for Health, for help in creating a successful engineered program.

As for specific prevention procedures, Rathey says the first step is adding and maintaining two stages of commercial entrance matting. Bi-level mats are the first line of defense, scraping soils from shoes to keep debris out of the building. Nylon-type carpet matting should also be used to wipe and dry shoes.

Equipment is also important to an odor-prevention program. Janitors should conduct routine cleaning with a high-quality vacuum and properly dated filters. They must also do periodic deep extraction cleaning, preferably using a Carpet & Rug Institute-approved system, which Rathey says leave carpets dry, preventing mold growth.

Cleaning staff must also learn how to avoid over-wetting carpets, which is typically caused by not taking enough passes with the extractor to remove all the water that was laid down.

“There are also low-moisture cleaning methods departments can use to help manage how much moisture is being put into the carpet,” Trevino says. “If we can’t dry the carpets fast enough, they start to get a mildew smell.”

Training is the key to making sure all staff know the cleaning expectations, and are able to complete all cleaning tasks properly and safely.

“Improper training can lead to a disaster,” Poskin says. “And unfortunately, improper or the lack of training is prevalent in the cleaning industry.”

Training for odor prevention and treatment should include several elements, Rathey says. Crews must understand proper vacuuming practices, including appropriate frequency relative to traffic. They should also be taught how to use a slow rate of vacuuming to allow the machine enough time to clean well, and the appropriate number of carpet passes needed to remove soil. Training should also cover necessary filter change intervals, and interim and extraction methods.

Custodial executives looking for help can turn to their local distributors or the IICRC for training advice. The former will often provide on-site training on specific chemicals and equipment, while the latter offers cleaning certification classes to give technicians expert-level skills.

Experts agree that proper training is vitally important. Removing odors and odor decontamination can be tricky. But strong training can go a long way toward helping departments achieve successful deodorization.

Rathey says facility executives have no one but themselves to blame if odors occur. People don’t fail, he says, but systems do. That means cleaning crews aren’t at fault for problems — their leadership is.

“Leaders and managers are responsible for proper staff training, using the right process and equipment within a proven system of care,” Rathey says. “Otherwise, their system will stink along with their carpet.” 

BECKY MOLLENKAMP is a freelance writer based in St. Louis, Missouri.