BSCs are making carpet cleaning counterproductive
Carpet is a four-letter word to facility-maintenance people. The perception is that it’s difficult and expensive to maintain,” says Shaw Industries technical advisor Carey Mitchell.

That’s because carpet looks dirty in almost every building you see, says John Walker, founder of Janitor University, Salt Lake City. So, he is bringing together contractors and equipment manufacturers, chemical reps and technical advisors from the carpet mills to begin a dialogue regarding what they can change about the way BSCs clean carpets and to test what works best. Some of those people weigh in their opinions here with others in the industry who are concerned about the problem.

New trends and new tools
The fundamentals of cleaning have remained the same through the years, but the emphasis varies as time and technology improve, says John Downey, president of Steamin’ Demon, Chandler, Ariz.

In the 1960s BSCs were concerned about shrinking jute backing on carpets with their cleaning methods, so the shift was made to restrict water flow and raise heat and pressure. But in the past 20 years there has been a big change in carpet construction, says Downey.

Carpet now has different types of polypropylene plastic backing and doesn’t shrink like in the past, but people in the cleaning business have never changed their procedure along the way, he says.

Today, the issue of damaging carpet centers around chemicals. That’s driving a trend toward using safer products that use less harsh solvents and lower pH.

Chemicals also are becoming more environmentally friendly, as companies use renewable resources such as soy, corn and sugar, instead of petroleum-based products, says John Manolas, vice president of operations for Illinois-based Venus Laboratories Inc.

“Chemical companies are making products that leave less residue and rinse cleaner,” adds Lee Zimmerman, president of the Institute for Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC). “Ninety-five percent of chemicals are water based.”

In Salt Lake City’s Jordan School District, Larry Powell is in charge of custodial operations. He’s interested in an encapsulating product Walker is testing there. The chemical is sprayed on, allowed to dry and vacuumed up.

The idea is that it will bond to dirt hiding in the carpet while repelling additional soil. Fabric protectors are not new to the market, but this formulation is different. It is not petroleum-based. It is also designed not to degrade carpet fibers as the encapsulator wears off.

Sometimes, machines can help reduce chemical-related problems. In an era of tight budgets, Powell says one of the best ways for him to maximize his budget is to make vacuuming more effective.

Allen Randolph, president of Denver-based Scout Systems Inc., is interested in high-flow extraction as a possible solution.

“My experience tells me that carpets are not rinsed very well,” he says, “partly because they are not rinsed enough and partly because of the inefficiency of the equipment that’s being used.”

He is impressed by the ability of the new extractor to put a high volume of water down — about four gallons a minute — and effectively remove it. Randolph says that improves the flushing action.

Another new tool: The use of counter-rotating cylindrical brushes on carpet to provide an alternative to bonnet cleaning.

“Unfortunately, bonnet cleaning tends to move dirt around but may not necessarily do a great job of cleaning,” Randolph says. “It’s uniform but it’s not good. Cylindrical lifts the pile and can be effective as interim cleaning.”

Dick Girman, director of training for Minuteman International Inc., Addison, Ill., says hand-held rotary extraction tools can help contractors clean partitions and stairs for better chemical removal in those odd areas.

Truck mounts which have grown increasingly more powerful also are an option due to their efficiency of removal, says Downey.

He also is impressed with products he has seen that are designed to break down chemical residues built-up in carpet. And he suggests BSCs flush old residues out before any new carpet maintenance begins.

The problem lies in fundamentals
“You can have the best piece of equipment but if the person doesn’t know how to use it they still will do a terrible job,” says Zimmerman.

In their quest for time and labor savings some contractors like to clean their own way instead of following the process recommended by the manufacturer, says Girman.

“You can’t avoid steps without having a problem,” he warns. “I haven’t seen an effective short-cut yet.”

He also advises contractors to include a daily spotting program to reduce common re-soiling problems.

The driver behind today’s carpet soiling problems stems from a price-driven industry trying to compete by cutting corners, says Zimmerman.

“It’s a downward spiral because everyone is trying to compete on price. You’re not taking the proper time and following the proper procedures,” he says.

Another problem is BSCs often employ systems that are inadequate for the task at hand. The only carpet system a contractor may have is a bonnet system. But that person is cleaning a carpet that requires restoration cleaning. So the BSC will try to use something that isn’t designed for the job and is set up to fail, says Downey.

Proper chemical selection and strength is another fundamental BSCs tend to overlook. To minimize dilution problems, Girman likes pre-portioned chemicals.

Zimmerman suggestions contractors should use a neutral pH cleaner.

“At the end of cleaning, the carpet should be as close to neutral as possible,” he says. “Soils are acidic and most cleaners are alkaline. Neutral pH will result in better soil removal.”

Also, rinsing is vital.

“One of the biggest problems is residues,” says Todd Sauser, director of marketing for Nilodor/Certified, headquartered in Ohio. “People think that by eliminating the rinse or just letting their extractor do the rinsing for them they can save money. Whether it’s spot removal or general carpet, rinsing is critical.”

The discussion regarding what contractors should and shouldn’t do to remove soil and chemical from carpets takes on even more importance when addressing indoor air quality issues, say experts.

“If a chemical is absorbed into the fiber or matting then it can be released slowly over a long period of time,” says Manolas. “Couple this with the lack of fresh air ventilation in today’s energy efficient buildings and there is the potential for trouble.”

Jennifer Jones is a frequent contributor to Contracting Profits.