Building service contractors use vacuum cleaners in just about every facility they clean, every time they clean. For this reason, alone, making an equipment purchase solely based on cost is not wise. Instead, BSCs should consider the vacuum cleaner’s long-term durability, efficiency, power and maintenance outlay.

They also need to combine quality vacuums with the right extractors to make sure the entire carpet care process is seamless and satisfactory for clients.

Important vacuum factors
Poor-quality vacuum cleaners can lose efficiency. They also may not hold up to the heavy-duty demands found in a commercial setting, resulting in expensive repairs that more than offset any initial cost savings.

One area of quality that is very important is the vacuum cleaner’s air filtration. A vacuum with extremely high airflow, or suction, will have very little value if dust and contaminants escape through the vacuum bag and become airborne.

Many vacuums now have a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter and rating. HEPA filters were first developed in the 1940s as an effective way to filter radioactive materials. A HEPA vacuum filter can capture as much as 99.97 percent of contaminants.

HEPA-rated vacuums are especially recommended for medical and educational cleaning settings where health issues are more prominent. For office cleaning, disposable, high-filtration vacuum bags are suggested and should be replaced before they are full. This helps maintain adequate suction, avoid reduced airflow and allow for adequate soil removal.

The Carpet and Rug Institute has just embarked on a stringent certification program for vacuum cleaners. It rates machines based on their soil removal, dust containment within the vacuum bag and the appearance retention of the carpet after use. Vacuum cleaners that meet these criteria are given a “green” label indicating they have met or exceeded the CRI’s standards.

Basic machine options
There are three basic types of vacuum cleaners: the canister, the backpack and the upright.

Canister vacuums have made marginal impact in the commercial janitorial industry. They tend to be a bit pricey, with more limited applications than the upright or the backpack.
Backpack vacuums have gained more increased popularity. When initially introduced, commercial contractors shied away from backpacks because of their weight, vibration and the way they were carried on the back. However, the vacuums are much lighter now and are much more comfortable to wear and use.

Many contractors also believe they have increased their productivity considerably. Industry tests even have shown that some brands actually surpass uprights in cleaning power.

The backpacks come with basic tools for both hard-surface floors as well as carpeting. Power nozzles or agitators also are available.

The commercial upright is still the workhorse of the industry. Its air filtration has improved considerably in the past few years and many models are HEPA rated. Look for uprights with a 50-foot cord and either a 14-inch or 16 inch base. A chrome hood often is preferable to withstand rough handling, though covers are now available to help reduce wear. Also look for uprights with a rotating, adjustable agitation brush for more effective soil removal.

Most uprights have optional tool kits available, allowing them additional flexibility and uses. Contractors should consider making this investment, which helps better handle a variety of cleaning situations as they materialize.

Though power and suction are a major concern, BSCs should be wary of manufacturer amperage claims. A high amperage machine does not necessarily translate into more suction power, according to Gary Lapinson of Basic Maintenance Supply in Philadelphia. Though the trend today is for two-motor machines with higher amps, Lapinson still recommends purchasing a seven-amp, one-motor machine for most commercial purposes.

Another concern is the operating noise level. Since vacuuming is a time-consuming and daily routine, a quiet vacuum cleaner makes the job much more pleasant.

Carpet extractors
Proper carpet care requires more than vacuuming regularly. Eventually, dirt and soil need extraction before the soil is visible; otherwise it can penetrate the fibers, shortening the carpet’s life.

Carpet manufacturers recommend different cleaning methods to preserve carpet life and these directions should be followed carefully. There are a variety of carpet cleaning methods available, including rotary scrub, bonnet cleaning, dry foam, dry chemical and carpet extraction. All systems remove oil and grease with the goal of achieving the same result: a clean carpet.

The carpet extraction method is very common in both commercial and residential situations because it has the capability of removing deep-down soiling. Carpet extraction should occur at least twice per year and, in certain commercial settings, it is common to have them cleaned much more often.

There also are different types of extractors: portables, self-contained extractors and truck mounts. All carpet extractors mix hot water with a cleaning solution that is injected into the carpet. The machine injects the solutions, and then extracts the soiled mixture. The extraction must be immediate to avoid over-wetting the carpets and to facilitate faster drying times.

Portable extractors are the most versatile and least expensive of the three varieties. Contractors who wish to offer carpet extraction but are unsure how big an investment they wish to make in carpet cleaning should start with these models. Portables have 6-gallon to 12-gallon solution/holding tanks. Some have built-in water heaters. Look for machines with 50-foot cords, 25-foot hose sets and stainless-steel wands. Waist-high control switches also make for easier use.

A self-contained machine looks like a large vacuum cleaner. As you walk it over the carpeted area, it applies the detergent solution, scrubs the solution into the carpet and then vacuums the solution and dirt up into a recovery tank with a squeegee action. They most commonly are used in large banquet halls, lobbies and long hallways.

The most powerful carpet extraction systems are truck-mounted units. These can vary in price from $7,500 to more than $20,000 with installation. Their engines will range in power from 15 to more than 50 horsepower and they have much higher water tank capacity, water pump pressure and water flow rates than either the portable or the self-contained units.

Whichever type of extractor BSCs choose, they need to look for carpet extractors that have pressure ratings of 100 PSI (water pump pressure) or better. Truck mounted units will have PSI ratings higher than 1,000. The machine also should have adequate pressure and suction to thoroughly penetrate the carpet as well as remove soiled solution.

Contractors also might want to consider units with a scrub brush that can help remove stains. Another characteristic to look for is a heated system that keeps water near 212 degrees at the wand tip. This provides for best overall cleaning and removal of oily or hard-to-remove soil and stains. Experts also recommend looking for machines with adjustable and solid-state temperature regulating systems. These ensure consistent heat while cleaning.

Check that the machine has an adequate holding/recovery tank to meet customer needs and an emergency auto shut-off. Since carpet extraction is taxing on the back, weight and maneuverability also are very important.

Contractors should look for the best equipment they can afford, meeting their current needs, and even more importantly, their needs down the road. Above all, BSCs always should consider carpet-cleaning equipment — both vacuum cleaners and carpet extractors — an investment and not an expense for their businesses.

Robert Kravitz has more than 30 years of expertise in the janitorial industry. He now works for the International Sanitary Supply Association, Lincolnwood, Ill.

The finer points of carpet construction
To better understand carpet maintenance, it helps to have a little knowledge about carpets, carpet fibers and carpet construction.

Nylon and wool are the primary fibers used in commercial carpet installation today. Nylon is most preferable because it usually is less expensive than wool and, thus, a better buy where a shorter replacement cycle is anticipated. Nylon also is resistant to cleaning chemicals and stains. Wool, on the other hand, is a resilient carpet. But because it usually is more expensive than nylon carpeting, when found in a commercial setting it is used more for decorative and accent purposes.

Nylon, as a result, is the most prevalent carpet fiber found in commercial facilities. It has proven to have excellent wearability, abrasion resistance and resilience. Solution-dyed nylon also is more resistant to harsh cleaning chemicals and sunlight fading.

Commercial carpet primarily is manufactured by tufting. Tufted carpet is produced on machines similar to sewing machines. Several hundred needles stitch hundreds of rows of pile-yarn tufts through a backing fabric called the primary backing. About 95 percent of all carpeting is made this way.

Density is another key factor in carpeting. A density rating of 5000 or more, based on the number of tufts per inch, is best in heavy traffic areas. Lower pile height and higher pile density will provide the best performance for a building owner or manager’s money. The higher the density the easier it will be to maintain the carpet as well.

Carpet Care Q & A
What's the best way to clean a carpet? There are a number of acceptable methods, chemicals and types of equipment available.

Hot-water extraction, a deep-cleaning method, removes large amounts of soil from the carpet and tends to rinse fibers clean, leaving little residue behind to attract soil. Dry powder, foam and bonnet systems usually are considered interim methods, used once or twice between deep cleanings, and are popular in areas where moisture could cause damage or in locations exposed to round-the-clock traffic. In-plant cleaning is most commonly associated with woven rugs that are more likely to be damaged by onsite, wet cleaning. Portable dry cleaning equipment also can be very effective on these and other specialized carpets.

Should I use hot water to clean my carpet? Hot water typically is more effective for cleaning than cold water. Cleaning solution heated to 212 degrees inside a heated carpet extractor and atomized at 130 to 140 degrees at the surface is an effective and acceptable temperature for cleaning common carpet types.

How often should I clean my carpet? In commercial locations, once-a-year deep cleaning would be normal, with interim cleaning of high traffic areas every 3 to 6 months, depending on usage levels, weather conditions, soiling, carpet type and color, and many other factors.

How do I remove spots? First, determine the nature of the spot — fruit juice, coffee, oil, etc. Then, remove excess soil or moisture.

If you have portable spot-removal equipment and a water-soluble spot, apply a general-purpose spot remover with the spray wand and massage gently. Allow to dwell for 1 to 2 minutes, then vacuum, rinse using a secondary tank, and vacuum again. Alternately, dry cleaning solution may be applied for greasy soil or water-sensitive fibers.

For manual water-soluble spot removal, mist or spray on a general purpose spot remover and massage gently. Allow to dwell for 1 to 2 minutes. Blot with a white towel. After removal, rinse the area with clear water and repeat the blotting process to remove any spotter residue that may attract and hold soil. Use a solvent solution for greasy spots.

If a spot persists, try a specialized carpet-spotting chemical, but remember not all spots are removable. Some will become permanent stains. Be careful that you don't damage the texture and change the appearance of the carpet in your attempt to remove a spot. Go slowly and be gentle.

After I remove a spot, it comes back in a couple of days or weeks. How do I prevent this? If it comes back within a couple of days, it's often due to wicking — the migration of soil from the carpet backing and base of fibers to the tips of damp fibers. Wicking is best prevented by thorough cleaning or secondarily by quickly drying the area with a portable blower.

If the spot comes back more slowly, perhaps over a few weeks time, it's likely caused by soil attraction. The original soil causing the spot or residue from the spotting agent is attracting and holding soil. Reclean the area, rinse thoroughly and dry with a portable dryer.

Information provided by Steve Hanig, Vice President of Marketing for U.S. Products.