Harmful emissions from carpets and carpet-cleaning chemicals are affecting indoor air quality (IAQ); according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, indoor air is five times more polluted than outdoor air. IAQ is a significant part of the Leadership n Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, and earning those points means green carpet-care techniques.

It’s often assumed that because carpets hide soil that isn’t there. But if left to fester, contaminants enter the air, creating IAQ issues and bacterial odor, as well as premature wear. The key to clean carpets is preventative maintenance — generous use of entrance mats keep dirt and contaminants from entering the building.

But carpets still get dirty , so they must be vacuumed every day (especially in high traffic areas), using vacuums that effectively clean carpets without spreading dust or damaging fibers. The Carpet & Rug Institute's Green Label Web site recommends vacuums that contain dust and remove dirt while maintaining the appearance of the carpet. Prioritizing prevention reduces overall cleaning costs because more intensive cleaning methods are required less frequently. Daily cleaning also means spots are removed before they set in.

One of the most popular methods for interim maintenance, which removes sticky soil from the tips of surface yarns, is spin bonnet cleaning. For periodic deep cleaning, heated, low moisture systems work well to remove oily and other embedded residues without the use of chemicals. Injecting only a small amount of water under pressure and extracting it quickly allows carpet to dry within 24 hours while preventing mold growth. Heat also helps soften and fluff carpet fibers, returning their original loft and resilience.

There are also very interesting new technologies that clean without the use of chemicals —foam, steam vapor, and promicrobial cleaners — which release live microbes that actually eat the soil deep in carpet fibers. Also, some carpet-care products may be included in Green Seal’s institutional cleaners (GS-37) standard, so users can find a safer, effective chemical.

It’s also really important for employees to understand the problems of poor IAQ, and the role clean carpets play. Employees also benefit from clean indoor air and if they really comprehend the issues, they will be more likely to stay on top of the situation — vacuuming where it’s most needed at the optimal frequency, and being on the look-out for spots and soiling.

Clean carpets then, are the result of attention to detail and preventive maintenance, along with the kinds of equipment used, and the level of training provided to employees so that they understand the important of these factors.

Rona Fried is founder of SustainableBusiness.com, an Internet community that provides services and information to companies that integrate triple bottom-line concerns — social, environmental and economic — into their core strategies.