When building service contractors maintain carpets, they have several goals. They want to clean the carpets thoroughly, efficiently and cost-effectively, without operator error or accident, and without adversely effecting the environment.

To meet these goals, BSCs must choose the proper equipment. But with hundreds of machines and tools from which to choose, deciding which equipment to use can be confusing. To make the right choice, contractors should consider three basic factors: the type of care the carpet requires; the fiber composition of the carpet; and the method of cleaning or extraction they wish to perform.

Types of care
A carpet needs different kinds of maintenance throughout its life. For instance, on a day-to-day basis, a carpet will usually need spot removal and routine vacuuming.

The key to spot removal is immediate action. The longer a spill soaks into a carpet, the more likely it is to cause permanent discoloration and staining.

To remove a spot, the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) recommends blotting out the spot with a clean, white absorbent towel and repeat until the spill is absorbed and use a professional spot removal kit. Lightweight portable extractors are available for thorough removal of spills and to assist in removing spills, rinsing cleaning solutions and extracting wet spills.

CRI’s Web site (www.carpet-rug.com) says there are two types of vacuum cleaning equipment for daily maintenance. One is a heavy-duty, wide track machine for wide and open areas. It should have powerful suction and an enclosed, high-efficiency particulate filtration bag, equipped with adjustable cylindrical brushes to lift embedded soil to the surface.

The second machine is an industrial version of the domestic upright for tighter areas. It should have the same features as heavy duty and hose/wand attachments for hard-to-reach areas. A backpack vacuum with high airflow and efficiency filtration provides increased performance.

Periodically, the carpet will need to be deep cleaned. To determine which method to use, and thus which equipment, BSCs must determine the carpet’s fiber composition.

Type of Fabric
Most carpets manufactured today are synthetic fiber: nylon, polyester, or olefin and may be cleaned with most cleaning methods.

Natural carpets, however, may require specialized care:

  • Wool — Clean using all cleaning methods but avoid excessive agitation and excessive heat.

  • Cotton/Rayon — Clean using all cleaning methods but avoid prolonged drying or use of alkaline solutions. Shrinking may occur if overly wet.

  • Silk — Clean with a dry process. High temperatures may damage fibers that lose strength when wet.

Types of care
Once the fiber composition is determined, BSCs must choose the proper maintenance method. There are several different processes available to carpet technicians today:

  • Absorbent powder-dry extraction: In her article, “Keeping Carpets Clean Required Focus on Dirt & Spills,” Hotel & Motel Management editor Elaine Simon says that absorbent powder-dry extraction cleaning uses a sponge-like product impregnated with water & small quantities of detergent and water. The product holds the soil until extracted dry by vacuuming. The advantage is that it cleans without wick-back or streaking. The disadvantage is that sponges are hard to get out of the carpet.

    “Absorbent powder is effective because it can restore a carpet back, depending on wear, to its original color,” says Keith Lewis, owner of Smart Carpet Care in Santa Rosa, Calif.

  • Bonnet/spin (absorbent) pad: Simon also states that bonnet/pad cleaning is a low-moisture process using a circular nylon and cotton bonnets or pads to topically clean carpets. Use a nylon pad to scrub the carpet, to loosen soil and stains. The cotton terrycloth bonnet absorbs and cleans the carpet. The advantage is that it cleans the top and sides of the fiber for appearances. Disadvantages are that it does not get to heavy soil at the base or have a rinsing action.

  • Rotary shampoo: This method uses a rotary floor machine like bonneting, but it also uses a “solution” tank and showerhead brush instead of pads. It brushes the shampoo into the carpet and then extracts it using a wet/dry vacuum or dries into a crystalline residue and vacuumed. Advantages are that it is inexpensive, has high rates of productivity, and provides excellent agitation with deep cleaning. The disadvantage is that it leaves sticky or powdery residuals.

    “Rotary shampoo is used more for deep cleaning, and is a wetter method,” says Chris Ackerson, a partner at XTRAX, LLC in Signal Mountain, Tenn. ”Bonnet is more of an interim cleaning, a less wet method, and both have the same physical effects on a carpet.”

  • Dry foam extraction shampoo: One advantage to dry foam is that it is a low-moisture process, allowing for reduced downtimes, says Simon. The disadvantages are that there is a low level of soil removal and it allows residue to build up, causing rapid resoiling.

  • Steam/hot water extraction: Steam or hot-water extraction jets a solution into the carpet at 500 to 1,000 psi and is then vacuumed. Advantages are that it cleans the carpet base and is the most efficient process in soil removal. Disadvantages include a tendency to over-wet a carpet if it is operated incorrectly; it requires a high level of operator skill; needs longer drying times; and equipment is expensive.

“You can get the attachment with a wand and a rotary head, to foam clean and extract with one unit,” Eric Hoffman, owner of Clean World in Nashville, Tenn. ”Make sure there is at least 400 psi, dual vacuums, dual heaters that heat up to 190 – 200 degrees, and has at least a 10-gallon tank.”

Careful equipment selection can mean the difference between a productive, profitable carpet-care program and an unsuccessful one. So, building service contractors should consider carpet fibers, cleaning intervals and methods and make the best choice for their businesses.

Ken Fracaro is a business writer in Hixson, Tenn.