The Carpet & Rug Institute provides a certification program for vacuums and extraction equipment, but its testing is limited to performance and does not identify other green attributes. Regardless, it is critical that the equipment is effective for the job.

Ineffective equipment wastes energy, chemicals and time. Plus, it does little to remove soils, water, dust and other contaminants, which may lead to serious problems affecting occupant health: poor indoor air quality, mold growth, damaged carpets and other issues. So making sure your equipment performs the way it should is a huge step toward green cleaning.

While it is incredibly important to get the carpets clean, not all systems are the same. A greener, more environmentally preferable system is one that gets the job done but does so using less water and energy. Choose extractors that use less water compared to others, or for interim maintenance, use dry extraction methods.

Save energy by using equipment that can clean carpets at lower temperatures, which results in the use of less energy to heat the water. Interestingly, the most significant environmental impacts actually come from heating the water and not from the chemicals used for cleaning.

Part of the definition of green is to reduce health impacts on building occupants. Carpets should dry in 48 hours or less. As long as carpets are wet or damp they are a safety hazard. Stepping from damp carpet to a hard floor surface creates a potential slip-and-fall incident. Also, wet or damp carpets are breeding grounds for bacteria, mold and fungi. Any moisture left in the carpet is by definition dirty. Soils are emulsified and suspended in the water and if the water is not removed, neither is the soil.

Choose a cleaning chemical to use on the carpet that minimizes the amount of water to remove it and which are not sticky/tacky to reduce resoiling. Foam cleaners are easier to extract and allow a quicker dry time. Green certified chemicals for carpet extraction are readily available and some extractions can actually be done with no added chemicals at all due to the residue left from previous extractions or interim cleaning steps. And perhaps better yet, some equipment will clean without the use of chemicals at all.

From green and budgetary perspectives, it is unnecessary and unrealistic to immediately replace existing equipment with the exception of when they are malfunctioning or have safety issues. However, developing a baseline will help you plan for the future. Put together a plan that will identify equipment that needs to be replaced immediately and a phase-in plan for the rest.

And when it comes time to purchase new equipment evaluate its usability. No matter how well a piece of equipment performs, if it is uncomfortable, difficult or hard to use, or if it constantly breaks down, no one will use it.

Finally, an important reminder is that the best green cleaning program starts at the door with a good high-quality floor matting system. If you can reduce the amount of soil coming in, you have an enormous opportunity to reduce damage to carpets from the wear and tear that soils and the extraction process have on it, as well as reducing the potential adverse affects on the health and performance of building occupants.

Stephen Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group and executive director of the Green Cleaning Network.