With the winter months looming, harsh weather will soon become a factor for many building service contractors. During these labor-intensive months, carpet care becomes a more complicated and demanding subject. Snow, ice, water, frozen debris and salt are all considerations when developing an effective maintenance plan for this time of year.

“You really need to plan out your maintenance schedule a little differently in the winter months to compensate for the extra work that these conditions create,” says Joe Car, president of Service Master Quality Cleaners, located in Anchorage, Alaska.

“Sometimes you will have to increase your cleaning frequency in certain areas if the customer will allow you,” says Lee Fahrenkrug, president and owner of First Choice Cleaning Inc., located in Oshkosh, Wis.

However, while many BSCs would like to increase the frequency of their cleaning, it may not be that easy. The additional work needs to be compensated for not only in wages, but also in extra chemicals and additional wear on equipment and staff. BSCs may find it difficult to increase their cleaning frequency due to their clients’ or their own budget constraints.

Carpet and Salt The product that makes getting around outdoors easier during the season is one of the worst enemies of the indoor environment — ice-melt compounds, especially those that are salt-based.

“Our carpet care changes in the winter months primarily because of the salt. The entrance areas of all of our facilities end up a mess, with the clouding of the carpet’s color due to salt residue,” says Car.

Salt in many areas is a major issue for BSCs, but there are many ways to combat salt exposure.

“We try to encourage the use of walk-off mats to help keep the carpets clean,” says Walter Simpson, owner of Simpson Service Co., based in Carmel, Ind.

Fahrenkrug agrees.

“We encourage the use of track mats whenever we can,” he says.

Ice-melt residue is not only unsightly but also damaging to carpet fibers and other types of flooring.

“Almost every one of our facilities needs a salvage cleaning at least once in the winter using more chemicals and brushing to bring the salt out of the fibers,” says Car.

If these extra deep cleanings are not done, in many cases the carpets are damaged due to the stripping of their chemical compounds because of the salt’s harshness.

Hard-surface flooring can also be affected. The salt in many cases will strip the urethane coating off of wood and tile floor surfaces, leaving them susceptible to damage from moisture, abrasion and dirt.

Besides mats, another way to combat the effects of ice melt is to encourage spreading only the proper amount of the compound.

“Salt alternatives would be a great help, but so would the limiting of the amount of salt used. Excessive salting is a big problem, so follow the labeling on the salt product you use,” says Car.

Snow and Frozen Debris Snow, ice and debris are not a major problem in and of themselves, but what they become is: water and mud and, if left unattended, mold.

“We try to encourage our cleaning staff to keep the entrances extra clean and dry so the moisture and soil are not tracked through the building,” says Fahrenkrug.

In this case, as with salt, area mats are one of the best ways to combat the situation.

“Track mats are the best way to take care of the dirt, moisture and mold problem. Most mats are rented, so they are replaced regularly, and they have a rubber backing that prevents the mud and moisture from seeping down into the carpets,” says Fahrenkrug.

Another way to combat moisture and debris such as mud is daily vacuuming, says Simpson.

One of the biggest enemies of wet, dirty carpets is mold, and unfortunately a problem can develop quicker than one may think.

“If carpets sit damp and dirty all the time, mold is definitely a possibility, and that can also lead to a musty smell that emanates from the carpets as well,” says Fahrenkrug.

Air quality is another factor to take into consideration when combating moisture and mold.

“A building needs an adequate air transfer system to move the moisture out of the air and help with the drying process,” says Car.

Basically, it comes down to keeping the carpets as dry as you possibly can to help prevent mold.

“It is just a matter of trying to isolate the problem before it is tracked through into the building,” says Car.

Carpet Treatments Opinions vary on whether carpet treatments really make a difference when protecting carpets from winter’s harsh elements.

“We use a carpet treatment, and you will still get the dirt and moisture, but it will clean up easier,” says Fahrenkrug.

Car, however, does not agree.

“We have tried carpet treatments, and there doesn’t seem to be a difference from the areas we don’t treat,” he says.

Using a carpet treatment needs to be a decision made by BSCs and their clients together, weighing the pros and cons of the products and their prices.

It is important to remember that the winter months bring different challenges to staff, equipment and customers than those bygone days of sun and summer. All does not need to be gloomy, though, if BSCs are prepared and up to the challenge for the change the season brings.

“Overall, I think the best thing you can do is stay on top of the situation and be proactive. When we call our commercial customers and tell them they are due for a carpet cleaning, they need to let us come because that will save them money down the line,” says Fahrenkrug.

D.M. Maas is a business writer in Washington, D.C.