The most important aspect of carpet maintenance is the removal and disposal of accumulated dry soil. The removal of dry soil improves indoor air quality, extends carpet life and helps maintain carpet.

Extolling the benefits of regular dry soil carpet maintenance is one thing — making sure you have the necessary equipment to do the job adequately, quite another.

Look for the Green Label
Fortunately, the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) has developed a “Green Label” testing program for vacuum cleaners. The CRI developed the performance protocol with the following goal: “To help protect indoor air quality, keep all surfaces as clean as possible by vacuum cleaning — without putting dust back into the air.”

The Green Label program identifies vacuum cleaners that meet three criteria:

  1. Removes soil
  2. Keeps dust out of the air by containing it within the filtration bag and the machine itself
  3. Doesn’t damage the carpet and helps keep its appearance looking good.

Tests for determining certification of a vacuum cleaner were developed by carpet and vacuum manufacturers and peer-reviewed by scientists with expertise in maintenance and indoor air quality.

Soil Removal — The soil-removal test protocol requires that the vacuum cleaner removes a satisfactory quantity of soil from the standard test carpet in four passes.

Dust Containment — The dust containment test protocol dictates the total amount of dust particles released into the surrounding air by the action of the brush rolls, and through the filtration bag, and any air leaks from the vacuum-cleaner system. The vacuum cleaner must not release more than 100 micrograms of dust particles per cubic meter of air — well below levels stated in the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

Carpet Appearance Retention — The test protocol for appearance retention requires that the vacuum cleaner should not adversely affect the carpet’s appearance, based on one year of normal vacuum use.

If a vacuum cleaner measures up to all three requirements, the manufacturer may display the official CRI Indoor Air Quality Testing Program Label (The Green Label) on its vacuum cleaner.

The CRI tests upright and canister vacuums, wide-area vacuums, and walk-behind and rider sweepers.

Match machines to the application
Looking for the Green Label is the first step to providing better air quality and longer carpet life for your facility. The next step is to select the proper vacuum cleaner for a given area. Vacuum cleaners are like screwdrivers, you wouldn’t use a flathead screwdriver to remove a Phillips-head screw.

In large, open areas a wide-area vacuum cleaner or sweeper can produce excellent cleaning results, as well as a substantial increase in productivity. A 14-inch upright vacuum cleaner can vacuum at a rate of 3,000 square feet per hour while a walk-behind or rider sweeper can clean 10,000 to 40,000 square feet per hour, and also lift the pile of the carpet in high-traffic areas where carpet fibers are subject to crushing and matting.

A two-motor upright vacuum cleaner is a good choice in areas such as executive offices (cut pile carpets), conference rooms, lobbies, vestibules and break areas. The two-motor upright provides grooming of the carpet fibers and removal of the dry soil. Most two-motor uprights also have a removable hose and on-board tools for cleaning other areas such as chairs and vents.

A backpack vacuum is well-suited for vacuuming cubicles, offices, classrooms, dining rooms and edging. Maneuverability and high productivity are some benefits of the backpack vacuum.

Low-decibel vacuum cleaners should be used in noise-sensitive areas such as call centers and in daytime cleaning operations. The general noise level of an office area is 64-68 decibels, so a vacuum cleaner with a decibel level at or below that level is preferable. Friction sweepers can be used to remove larger debris such as paper dots or cookie crumbs.

In addition to area type, consider the needs of the vacuum-cleaner operator. Managers should look for vacuums with ergonomic features, especially if the vacuum cleaner will be used for several hours at a time. If the vacuum is not ergonomically designed, it could cause operator injury. At the very least, the cleaning worker might avoid using a cumbersome machine.

Maintain your investment
Make sure you establish a good vacuum cleaner maintenance program:

  • Follow manufacturers’ instructions for vacuum cleaner operation;
  • Inspect vacuum cleaners daily;
  • Keep brushes clean and replace when worn;
  • Check all hoses and attachments for obstructions;
  • Clean or replace filters as manufacturers recommend;
  • Check belts for nicks, cuts and elongation;
  • Change vacuum bags when they are more than half-full, or daily;
  • Replace cords and plugs as needed for safety;
  • Use proper replacement parts and bags as recommended by the manufacturer; and
  • Keep spare parts in stock — especially belts, bags, brushes and hoses.

Steve Spencer is a facilities specialist in cleaning and interior maintenance, in the facilities management department of State Farm Insurance, Bloomington, Ill. He has more than 30 years of experience and is responsible for all facility cleaning-contract specifications.