Tackling the topic of carpet care can be a daunting chore for many custodial managers. With the various types of carpeting, cleaning requirements and technique differences, not to mention the varying types of machines used to complete the task, even a seasoned manager can find themselves in a web of confusion.

When it comes to cleaning carpets, the obvious first steps to consider are the type of room, building occupant presence and potential obstacles. Cleaning techniques will vary greatly depending on these factors.

Preparation Is Key

Whether vacuuming or deep cleaning, preparation of cleaners, machines and open areas is important. Outlining proper steps to carpet cleaning can save time and money.

Before cleaning can begin, cleaners must assess the area and determine which equipment is most appropriate for completing that task. This includes a suitable vacuum or pre-spotter necessary for clean-up prior to extraction. Once determined, prepare that equipment with the water and chemicals required to clean effectively.

Once the equipment is ready, collect any fans and safety signs necessary to complete the cleaning task. This preparation will streamline the cleaning process.

“Get everything ready before going to the cleaning area so no time is wasted,” advises Robbin Gordon, facilities manager of housekeeping at Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino in Altoona, Iowa. “We want to get all our equipment ready and take it with us so we can go to that particular area and get to work.”

Once the equipment is ready, it is time to prepare the room for cleaning.

When cleaning large areas, it can be difficult to work around building occupants and furniture. The removal of obstacles is essential, but there are areas where foot-traffic never stops. That is why it is important for cleaners to post signage identifying areas as closed, or cleaning in progress.

“This is especially important if cleaning is taking place on a day shift, or in high traffic areas,” says John Vogelsang, facilities services director at Illinois Central College in East Peoria, Ill.

For safety purposes, it is important to post signage in cleaning areas, transitional areas from carpet to hard floor and over machine cords.

Safety considerations should be strictly followed when dealing with corded machines. Whether signage or safety guards are used to cover cords, protecting building occupants from this trip hazard is essential.

“Cords are normally bright yellow or white,” says Gordon. “We also stripe them with either yellow, red or black tape to make that cord stand out even more.”

Experts also recommend placing signs on top of coiled cords and by outlets to notify building occupants of the hazard. Finally, make a habit of changing outlets frequently so cords are not stretched taunt, causing trip potential.

Once signage is posted, cleaners should start on floors by removing large debris, vacuuming and pre-spotting.

Although these cleaning techniques are optional, experts recommend them to help extend the life of carpets and reduce cleaning frequency.

“You have to look around on the floors for gum and debris, move furniture, pre-treat spots and then use a good vacuum to collect the fine particles,” says Vogelsang. “You have to use a good vacuum because you can’t rely on your carpet machine to pick everything up. How well you take care of carpet ahead of time will determine how well you keep carpets clean.”

Gordon agrees that vacuuming and spot-treating can lengthen time between needed extraction. Her crew vacuums carpets daily — more when necessary — and gives special attention to spills and entryways.

“If you don’t vacuum before extraction, you are actually just pushing dirt particles down into the carpet,“ she says. “It’s very important to get as much dirt and debris out of the carpet as you can. It will make cleaning more effective and extend the life of carpeting. Dirt is very hard on carpets.”

Once debris and obstacles are removed and signage has been posted, cleaners can begin the task of extraction.

The Right Equipment

Identifying the proper cleaning method and machine can make or break the end result. For instance, departments that are focused on reducing labor costs might complete tasks quickly, but might not remove all contaminants from the carpet. At the same time, cleaners who go slow to guarantee a job well done, might inadvertently leave excess moisture in the carpet, which can attract additional dirt, bacteria and even mold.

“How do you know if you have done a good enough job?” asks Vogelsang. “You see that the spots are removed, but how do you know if carpets are really clean?”

Following manufacturer recommendations for procedures, as well as implementing the proper equipment can help.

When identifying the best equipment to suit the needs within the facility, it is essential to consider size and functionality. In a large area, larger machines can help complete tasks quicker than smaller options. They might also minimize user fatigue with ride-on capabilities or battery-powered options.

“We have two walk-behind battery extractors that hold 40 gallons of water and have 5 to 6 hours of runtime,” Gordon says. “It’s common sense to have these large machines for large open areas so cleaners don’t have to go back and dump and refill constantly.”

Experts recommend that for large areas, it is best for departments to purchase the largest and quickest machine the budget allows for. The savings will come in the form of labor reductions, reduced user fatigue and increased cleaning efficiencies. The same is not necessarily true for smaller areas or rooms with many obstacles.

When dealing with smaller areas, departments should consider alternative machines or those that feature extension tools, such as wands that can reach into tight areas. These machines provide cleaners with the necessary power to complete extraction without having to move all the heavy furniture out of the room.

“We have two sets of stairs that are carpeted,” says Gordon. “We can hook up the hose and a hand tool to the machine and do the stairs with the power of a medium-size machine that has a high psi. It does a nice job.”

Manufacturers often offer a variety of attachments to their machines, but it is up to the end user to ask about them. For instance, a machine might come with a 25-foot hose, but a 50-foot hose is also offered if requested. These attachments will allow users the power of a larger machine with the capability of cleaning small areas.

Sometimes, though, power is not a driving factor. Vogelsang comments that even though they might not have as much power, he would rather use smaller machines for tight areas instead of dealing with attachments.

“The size and power of the machine doesn’t matter,” he says. “The slower you go, the deeper you’ll clean.”

In facilities where crews can not afford to close down areas for cleaning, low- or no-moisture machines might be a viable option. This technology allows cleaners to scrub carpets using very little moisture and is easily completed by vacuuming.

To determine what machine and features are best suited for the facility, invite sales representatives or distributors in for an assessment. They can provide recommendations and explain machine capabilities.

Finishing Up

The final step to cleaning carpets is also the most overlooked by custodial crews. Although slip and falls are rare on carpeted surfaces, there are safety concerns with any wet floor — transfer of moisture from carpet to hard floors, slips on excess water, potential of mold, etc.

To properly dry wet carpets in large areas most experts recommend the use of multiple fans, while closely monitoring placement, speed and repositioning.

“We use fans and control the speed to control noise and dry times,” Gordon says. “You have to keep checking it, but with a fan, the carpet will dry fairly quickly. It is imperative to keep moving the fan and staying on top of it.”

Although fans are the most popular technique for drying carpets, there are additional options. After a flood, Vogelsang learned that dehumidifiers can quickly and effectively remove moisture from carpets.

“Air moving over carpets is great, but pulling water out of the carpet is a smart idea too,” he says. “A lot of people are moving in this direction.”

Regardless of what drying method is used, it is important to remove these obstacles once the task is complete. As Gordon says, just because the cleaning is done doesn’t mean the cleaner is done.

Workers must continue checking to make sure carpets are dry, collect any remaining equipment, attachments or supplies and return furniture to its rightful place. Once this is complete, the task is done and cleaners can move on to other assignments.

Cleaning carpets in large areas can be a daunting tasks, but done correctly and orderly, custodial crews can successfully complete the task quickly.