The relationship between carpet and moisture is a tenuous one at best. Most carpets do not react well to trapped moisture, so cleaning them becomes a complicated balancing act between adding moisture to the fibers of the carpet to clean them without damaging the fibers or padding underneath.

There are multiple ways to clean carpet from steam to dry-chemical cleaning; all carpet-cleaning methods have their advantages and drawbacks, but it is important to remember that none of them is a completely dry process.

“The word ‘dry’ is really a misnomer because no process is completely dry; there are solvents and other chemicals that have some moisture in all of these processes,” says Phil Auserehl, president of Castle Cleaning & Rug Company in Berthoud, Colo.

So, regardless of the method used, BSCs will need to pay attention to moisture levels, and do what they can to accelerate the drying process.

Problems with moisture
If building service contractors aren’t alert to drying, one of the biggest problems that excessive moisture can cause is damage to the structural integrity of the carpet itself.

“Moisture extraction is important because moisture that is left in the carpet can make the carpet delaminate, which means the backing comes apart,” says Barbra Wilson, manager of technical information for the Carpet and Rug Institute.

“If you saturate carpet, it will start penetrating all of the way into the carpet, and that is the ‘no-no’ — you don’t want the inner workings of the carpet’s construction to get wet. You can utilize water in the cleaning process, but you need to use the correct amount and have enough suction so you don’t penetrate the primary backing of the carpet,” adds Auserehl.

Another important factor to consider is contamination.

“If the carpet stays wet, it can mold and mildew, damaging the carpet fibers and backing, as well as creating a health hazard,” says Greg Chancey, president of Denver-based All-Dry Cleaning.

Walking on a wet carpet can also contribute to wear, shortening the carpet’s life expectancy.

“If the carpet is still moist and it has traffic before it is dry, then the carpet is more apt to get dirty at a faster rate,” says Chancey.

Tools of the trade
Opinions vary about the acceptable amount of time to leave a carpet wet — about 12 to 24 hours is a standard range. A good rule of thumb is to dry it as soon as possible. In most cases, additional equipment is needed to accelerate the drying process, as well as to determine whether the carpet is fully dry. Extractors, dehumidifiers and fans are the tools of choice when it comes to giving Mother Nature a helping hand. Extractors can be used to boost the drying process, and these are often the initial step toward a dry carpet.

“We tend to use our extractors multiple times in order to get as much moisture out of the fibers before we employ fans or dehumidifiers. The more you get out in the first place, the less you need to use secondary equipment,” says Dave Thompson, vice president of T&M Cleaning in Laramie, Wyo.

The next step is dehumidifiers and fans.

“We use turbo fans that move vastly more air than your normal household fans,” says Auserehl. “The motors in these fans also heat the air somewhat to accelerate the process.”

The use of additional equipment is not limited to helping along the drying process; determining whether a carpet is completely dry may require technical assistance.

“Moisture-detection devices can and should be used to determine if the carpet is dry. These devices can detect moisture that you may not be able to detect with a simple touch test,” says Wilson.

Area Alert
BSCs also need to keep in mind the geographical environment when it comes to drying times.

“If you are in a dry climate, then your carpet will dry in a reasonable amount of time, but if it is a rainy day or you are in a more humid climate, then it is harder to get the carpet dry, so fans and other drying equipment should be used,” says Auserehl.

Humidity in the air is often overlooked and can greatly affect drying time.

“In humid areas, you need to use air movers, fans or dehumidifiers to help ensure the carpet is dry within a 12-hour period,” says Wilson.

The reason these air movers or fans are so important is because stagnant air can be a deterrent to the drying process.

“Moisture in the carpet can create a ground fog or swamp effect that needs to be disturbed by fans, or that can greatly retard the drying process,” says Auserehl.

And when time is of the essence, BSCs should consider the importance of each building area to see what gets the most attention. For instance, it is more imperative to make sure a busy lobby dries sooner than a seldom-used conference room.

D.M. Maas is a business writer in Casper, Wyo.