Carpeting isn’t meant to last forever — grit, foot traffic and even agitation from cleaning will eventually erode fibers and reduce benefits like aesthetics, safety, noise dampening and indoor air quality, necessitating replacement. But today, facility managers are keeping the carpet investment looking like new for longer, even exceeding their warranties. How do they do it?

“It’s about keeping appearances high to extend the life of a carpet,” says Product Manager and Quality Engineer for New Castle, Pa.-based R.E. Whittaker Company Joe Bshero, citing a survey revealing that carpet is replaced most often because it ‘uglies out’ due to improper maintenance.

“Esthetically, carpets are like any other surface,” adds Robert Allen, Ph.D., vice president of operations for Amano Pioneer Eclipse, in Sparta, N.C. “The perception of clean is important. People want to know it’s clean and well maintained.”

Bshero, Allen and other carpet cleaning experts, comment on how housekeeping managers can fine-tune their programs to prolong the lifespan of their facility’s carpeting.

According to experts, every carpet care program should incorporate the following tactics, which are also recommended by the Carpet and Rug Institute:

1. Keep entries, sidewalks and parking lots clear of dirt and debris and place trash receptacles at entrances. Maintain matting systems to remove the bulk of soils before they even enter the facility and focus extra efforts on entrances and high traffic areas.

2. Vacuum daily to remove debris before it erodes fibers and conduct daily spotting to remove spills before they become stains.

3. Perform interim cleaning and spot removal regularly.

4. Conduct occasional restorative cleaning.

While specifying chemicals for any of these tasks isn’t rocket science, there are some rules that should be followed in order to avoid cleaning mistakes that could lead to carpet damage. Aside from improper maintenance, operator error — using too harsh a chemical because it wasn’t diluted properly, or overwetting carpet — are two of the most common causes of damage and discoloration.

Experts emphasize that training is key.

“Follow the directions on the label,” says President of Core Products Company, Inc., Canton, Texas, Brent Crawford. “We as manufacturers do testing on products with dilutions listed on the label. More is not always better.”

Experts recommend training and educating employees on all cleaning products and specifically, follow directions for usage of chemicals. Instructions for use of these products are traditionally straightforward.

“Using too much product is not only bad for the carpet, it wastes money,” says Allen. “Excess product can also leave residue behind, attracting dirt, or ‘reswelling’ carpets quicker than if used properly.”

All About Spotters

“People usually choose carpet based on the types of spots and spills that are typical for that kind of facility,” explains Racine, Wis.-based Racine Industries’ Director of Marketing and Training Geoff Greeley. “Nylon tends to be the most common fiber and releases oily, greasy soils more easily. Olefin, used often in health settings, releases water-based spills more easily. An office would probably also look at other characteristics, like aesthetics, and tend to go with a nylon, which has more resiliency and springs back faster.”

It is important to identify the fibers used throughout the facility. If unsure, there are tests that can help.

“Many IICRC (Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification) courses teach cleaners to identify fibers by a burn test, appearance or actually looking at the fiber twist,” Crawford says. “If you can’t identify it, play it safe by staying in the neutral range.”

Once the fibers have been identified, determine which spot removal method is best for the situation.

Multi-Clean, Shoreview, Minn., Vice President Mike Tarvin adds, “Carpet spotters utilize different chemicals depending on the spot or stain. Coffee or anything with tannin would require a mildly acidic spotter for effective removal. Food and protein-based stains are typically best attacked with an enzyme-based spotter. Urine is typically best treated with active microbial products and grease or oils require a mildly alkaline or solvent-type spotter.”

Whatever the type, Allen recommends attacking spots before they have a chance to set in.

“If you get stains when they are fresh, you’re more likely to get them out,” he says. “If you let them dry, they might set in and never come out.”

Maryland Heights, Mo.-based Buckeye International’s Director of Research Scott Maag explains that when a spot sets in and becomes a stain, a color neutralizer that removes the color in the stain is often the best bet.

“Some stains — coffee, ketchup, ink — are beasts to remove, and won’t pull up with traditional chemistry,” says Maag. “A specialty cleaner removes the color from the spot — at least that’s how your eye perceives it.”

A pH range of 5 to 10 is standard, advises Greeley. “Outside that range you can run risk of creating problems,” he says. “If you have a solution-dyed carpet like olefin, it’s possible to go higher with some detergents than 10 pH, and it won’t bleach, but the general rule is to stay between a pH of 5 and 10.”

Experts agree that remediation and spotting performed with higher-alkaline compounds can be followed up with an acid pH formula, to neutralize the carpet and remove any high alkaline residue that could attract dirt.

Also keep pH in mind when specifying other carpet care chemicals, like anti-browning treatments, that visually restore carpet color; soil retardants are handy in early-educational facilities, extend the grace time available for spotting measures; and carpet sanitizers can help to remove odors in places like hospitals and nursing homes.

Interim Cleaning Options

First and foremost, vacuuming regularly is essential. According to Allen, this is the easiest way to keep carpets clean and should be done daily. This, and other types of interim carpet cleaning can help reduce the need for more invasive, remedial cleaning.

Greeley compares this to regular scheduled car maintenance, versus waiting until something breaks and requires serious repair. He says that even schools, which traditionally wait for extended breaks to do restorative carpet cleaning, are gravitating to interim low-moisture cleaning, freeing up time during those longer breaks.

“You’re saving on labor cost,” says Greeley. “With regular interim cleaning, you’re cleaning carpet that’s less dirty, in smaller increments and in smaller areas — as opposed to waiting and having to do everything wall to wall, which requires more people, time and effort.”

Areas are often back in service in 30 minutes, versus 12-36 hours for hot water extraction, adds Bshero. And there are fewer mold or mildew issues.

Interim techniques offer a way to keep carpets appearing and smelling clean with minimal carpet down time. Sustainability-wise, these methods also use less water and chemical than hot water extraction.

“The choice of chemistry depends on the method you clean with,” says R.E. Whittaker Company Director of Market Communications Dan Prokop.

Restorative Cleaning Tips

Even with the benefits of interim cleaning, experts agree that there is still a time and place for deep extraction, which traditionally has the pressure, heat and suction to put cleaning product deep into the fibers and to pull it out again.

Prokop says that some encapsulation systems can also be used for prespraying before hot water extraction to remove sticky residues and eliminate the need for shampoo in the extractor.

“You mist and agitate with the cylindrical brush machine as before, but this time you come back with an extractor, spraying with clear water and then four vacuum passes,” he says. “The pile of the carpet is lifted, so there is greater efficiency for the extractor to draw out water. An added benefit is that the surfactant used has a polymer component, so any remaining chemistry dries and can be vacuumed up.”

Like any deep extraction method, the use of fans are encouraged to decrease dry time.

“Every situation is different,” says Crawford. “Know your situation, have the understanding of the traffic and how much time you have to allow the carpet to dry. Hotels and schools with high traffic do not have a lot of down time, so for that application a spin bonnet method with drying agents for quick cleaning may be the technology of choice.”

Dry time depends on the carpet, the chemicals used, the equipment, the temperature, humidity and airflow. The thickness of the carpet, how tall and tightly woven it is and whether it’s looped or shag is also a factor in dry time. The more air space there is between the fibers, the quicker it will dry.

Drying agents can also be used, but using liquids vs. powders and deep extraction vs. surface cleaning can vary dry times as well.

Going Green

Green cleaning has been driving new generations of carpet care chemicals and cleaning methods. Green initiatives related to carpet care include minimizing water use, recycling, energy efficiency and indoor air quality with proper walk-off matting, and using green chemicals certified by third-party entities.

“More and more green chemicals are being developed,” says Crawford. “They’re safer on the environment, to health and are less corrosive. The chemistry definitely has changed for the better. It has come a long way and now we can offer safer green chemicals that live up to performance standards and are price comparative.”

Tarvin points to a new advance in encapsulation cleaning: hydrogen peroxide chemistry that destroys odors, boosts cleaning power and then breaks down safely into oxygen and water.

Adds Prokop, “With excessive soil, cleaners are tempted to use more powerful chemicals to clean, but it’s not as safe. With proper maintenance you can use mild surfactants.”

To learn more about assembling the best overall carpet care program, download the Carpet and Rug Institute’s Carpet and Maintenance Guideline, available at

Lauren Summerstone is a freelance writer based in Madison, Wis.