vacuuming a carpet

Creating an effective carpet care program takes knowledge, strategic planning, and a little bit of client handholding. Along with the budget considerations, building service contractors (BSCs) must also take fiber type, traffic patterns, local climate, and even the state of the facility’s parking lot into account.  

These details help pull together a comprehensive plan that meets customer expectations, preserves a pricey building asset, and squeezes the full value out of expensive equipment. A well-crafted carpet care plan also improves the indoor air quality (IAQ) and saves money on other cleaning tasks.  

“Planned, strategic, and frequent carpet care is key to a healthier space, lower overall ambient dust levels, and lower related costs for dusting labor, floor cleaning and asset replacement,” explains Allen Rathey, director, Indoor Health Council.  

That is, of course, if BSCs can get their clients on board with a comprehensive plan.  

“Carpet is often called ‘clean’ when it looks and smells clean, but that isn’t necessarily true,” says Rathey, who notes that carpet’s billions of porous strands hide most of the harmful soils and dust below its visible surface. “The biggest challenge is convincing customers that regular carpet vacuuming, deep cleaning and interim cleaning — in that order — is in their best interest.” 

Before getting into service schedules, BSCs must first figure out what they are being asked to maintain. Is the carpet synthetic, stain resistant, carpet squares, or something else entirely? Who manufactured it? Are there warranty restrictions to adhere to? Will the color present challenges? These questions and more should be addressed.  

“Unfortunately, the cleaning crew rarely gets called in when the product is purchased,” says Bill Griffin, president, Cleaning Consultant Services, Inc., Seattle.  

This, according to Griffin, can lead to unfortunate decisions like picking light colored or even white carpet to “brighten up a space,” or choosing inexpensive polypropylene fiber over nylon, even though polypropylene attracts and holds on to oils.  

“If you don’t know what you’re working on, it’s hard to know how to do the job,” says Griffin. “Start by asking about carpet fiber, quality and construction. Then talk about budget, expectations, traffic patterns, and types of soils.”  

Local weather conditions and the spaces immediately outside entryways should also influence the carpet cleaning strategies. For example, cold climates mean dealing with grit and ice melt chemicals for half of the year. Wet weather brings extra moisture into the building. Wildfires may leave traces of soot while a location near beaches may have extra sand to deal with. Meanwhile, newly paved parking lots may produce oily debris that is particularly hard to remove.  

These exterior factors can present big challenges to ill-prepared cleaning contractors. In all, as much as 85 percent of all the soil, dust, contaminants and moisture that is found in carpeting actually comes into the building on bottom of shoes.  

To capture these contaminants, BSCs should promote a comprehensive entryway matting program. Without matting, “That soil load moves throughout the whole building instead of being captured at the doors,” says Eric Cadell, vice president of sales and marketing, Dutch Hollow Supplies, Belleville, Illinois. 

For best results, The Carpet & Rug Institute (CRI) recommends a combination of interior and exterior matting. Coarsely textured exterior mats brush off and trap large amounts of soil, while water-absorbing interior mats can help keep any residual moisture and dirt away from the carpets.  

CRI suggests installing between 9 feet and 15 feet of interior matting in their Commercial Carpet Standard for Maintenance and Cleaning. This length allows the mats to capture 80 percent of soil and moisture within a visitor’s first five or six steps. Also, placing mats around high-traffic or high-spill risk areas like food stations, water coolers, printers, and elevators protect carpet even further. 

Like the carpets they help prevent, mats must also be vacuumed, cleaned or replaced regularly, or they will overfill with moisture and soil and lose the ability to capture any more.   

BSCs can implement the best preventative measures but it’s inevitable that dirt will find its way into facilities. Properly removing that soil requires a well-executed schedule that includes vacuuming, spot cleaning, interim cleaning, and deep cleaning.  

“Every component is critical,” stresses Griffin. “Skip one, and the client will eventually have problems with their carpet.”  

Pushing for Routine Cleaning 

Dry soils scratch and abrade carpet fibers, which, if left untreated, can create ugly wear patterns that cannot be removed. Fortunately, regular vacuuming can prevent damage, but getting a client to sign off on a beneficial vacuuming schedule may be difficult.  

“Companies are cash-strapped, so they look to cut costs by reducing cleaning frequencies, especially in places that ‘look’ clean,” insists Rathey.  

During these times of financial struggle, like that experienced during the Great Recession, many facilities opt to trim back routine vacuuming, choosing instead to spend budget on disinfection and restroom cleaning. Unfortunately, the result can be quickly deteriorating carpets that require expensive deep cleaning and/or premature replacement.  

For obvious reasons, BSCs should advise against reductions in routine carpet care. But accomplishing this is no small task. 

“Too often, when budgets are squeezed, what was daily vacuuming may become a weekly, or even monthly service,” says Griffin. “Or people may just use a Hoky sweeper to gain the look of clean. This is a problem, as 80-90 percent of carpet soils are dry, fall deep into fibers and need to be removed.” 

Fortunately for BSCs advocating for consistent routine cleaning, there have been advances in vacuum technology that make the process more cost effective. One of the biggest changes, in Griffin’s opinion, is the move from upright vacuums to backpack models.  

“The production rate is so much higher with a backpack vacuum,” he says. “You can cover 5,000 to 7,000 square feet an hour as opposed to 1,500 square feet an hour with an upright.” 

These productivity advantages are the ammunition BSCs need when pushing to maintain proper routine cleaning schedules.  

Spotting the Spot 

Despite even the best attempts to hold strong on carpet care schedules, budgets can win out. In those cases, it’s important to emphasize that not all tasks are created equal and some initiatives can’t be reduced. This is true for spots that can quickly become stains if left untreated.  

Letting spills sit and settle can turn a small mishap into a permanent stain. Even worse, the longer the spot sits on and in the carpet, the higher the chance it will attract and hold more dirt.  

“Spot cleaning should be done as quickly as possible and as part of a daily cleaning routine,” according to Cadell. Speedy removal can also save money in the long run. “The faster a spot can be treated and removed the longer you can wait between more costly and labor-intensive interventions like interim and restorative cleaning.”   

Spot removal tools and proper techniques are also important. For example, water-based spills require different chemistry than oil-based ones. Both require a technician with patience, knowledge, and a fair bit of self-control.  

“Don’t scrub!” warns Griffin. “Scrubbing abrades the surface, degrading its appearance. Also, use the right amount of chemistry and allow it to dwell before removing it. Don’t keep adding more as that can make the spot bigger.” 

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The Importance of Interim Maintenance for Carpet Care