Building service contractors have spent the last 16 months focusing on sanitizing surfaces and disinfecting touchpoints. But with pandemic restrictions winding down and foot traffic picking up, carpet care should move back to top of mind.

There are many reasons to rethink carpet care protocols. Good looking, well-maintained carpet certainly boosts the visual impact of any facility. But with health and safety on the forefront of everyone’s mind, ugly, stained carpets are more than a bad image. They telegraph a lack of care that percolates up throughout the space and calls overall safety into question.

“Cleaning was always looked at as a cost, but now it’s an investment,” says Michael Marrazzo, principal, Summit Facility Solutions, New York. “Facility managers have to keep appearances up. If the carpet looks bad, customers and employees will wonder what else is being neglected.”

What Lies Beneath

To be clear, carpet is porous so it cannot be disinfected to kill COVID-19 or any other pathogen. Luckily, those porous fibers hold on to pathogens and prevent them from thriving. The pores also make transfer and infection far less likely than when compared to a non-porous touchpoint like a handrail or elevator button.

However, this does not mean that carpets are free of possible health problems.

“Carpets have the potential of creating a less welcoming environment, if fabricated or installed with materials that may pose a health concern,” says Rodolfo Perez, PhD., senior director, standard development, International WELL Building Institute. “For instance, emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) may contribute to olfactory discomfort, irritability, headaches and other symptoms that often disappear after leaving the building, creating what is known as ‘Sick Building Syndrome.’”

VOCs aside, carpets may also hold on to dirt, humidity, pollen and dust mites. These irritants can worsen indoor air quality, leading to nasal irritation, allergic reactions, or both.

Then there are the impacts of shutting down a space for an extended period of time, as was the case for many facilities early in the pandemic. It is true that decreased foot traffic translates directly to the decreased need for a robust carpet care program, but building service contractors who implement this may come back to unexpected and unpleasant surprises.

“As exposure to people was reduced, unseen issues such as water leaks, vermin, insects or simply spoiled items left behind introduced other unique and localized issues cleaners may not have faced prior,” says James Tole, board member and approved instructor at the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification, Las Vegas.

John Selkow, CBSE, technical operations manager at Office Pride Commercial Cleaning Services in Palm Harbor, Florida, agrees.

“Low occupancy means less wear and tear. That is good as it extends the life of the carpet,” he says. “But if the carpet was left in poor condition before the shutdown, that dirt has settled in for months or a year. That means a deeper, fuller restorative program would be needed.”

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Keeping a Carpet Cleaning Schedule