Carpet is a good flooring choice for public and commercial spaces. It allows freedom and flexibility in design and customization, enhancing a facility's appearance. Its acoustic qualities aid in noise reduction. It contributes to indoor air quality (IAQ) by collecting air pollutants, dust, allergens, and toxins, trapping those molecules in its fibers. It is also cost-effective: A quality commercial carpet has a life expectancy of 10-30 years and will remain in good shape, as long as it is properly maintained. 

“Properly” being the key word. 

Ask cleaning and maintenance experts what the most common mistakes made with carpet care are and some of the responses are unanimous: Not cleaning frequently enough. Using the wrong equipment. Using too much water. Using the wrong cleaning chemicals, especially to treat stains. Cleaning too aggressively. Poorly trained cleaning staff. Any others?  

“I suspect the list for this is longer than I can surmise,” says Mike Steger, director of facilities management for Berkeley Preparatory School in Tampa, Florida. “But to hone in on a couple points, I would say that some of the most common mistakes are taking the carpet care program for granted, or not having a solid program in place.” 

Get With a Program 

The experts agree: carpeting requires an in-depth and structured cleaning program. According to The Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI), the trade association for the North American carpet industry, the five basic steps to keeping carpets clean and maintained are soil prevention, routine cleaning, spot and spill removal, interim maintenance and deep cleaning. Establishing the frequency with which these steps are performed must be tailored to the facilities' needs. 

“We base our program largely on the level of traffic a specific area receives, as well as what type of traffic that is,” explains Steger. “Entry area lobbies will see more frequent care than a classroom that sees five or six classes per day. Daily preventive care is the key to our program.” 

But sticking to an established schedule isn't always the final answer. 

“I’d say [a set schedule is] very important but monitoring the condition of the carpet is critical,” adds Steger. “Don’t clean a carpet just because the schedule says so. If it is not showing signs of soiling, increased wear patterns, etc., be flexible and adjust the timing of the project.” 

At the University of California, Riverside, Assistant Director of Custodial and Housekeeping Services Aaron Uresti says, “Our management team has worked together to establish a carpet care program that consists of routine, interim and restorative maintenance.”  

As part of that program, Uresti agrees that soil prevention — keeping dirt and contaminants from entering the facilities to be deposited into the carpets — is an important first step to effective carpet care. He does this with strategic matting programs used at building entrances. 

“Keeping the outside from coming inside it critical to the process,” confirms Steger. “A solid walk-off mat program is the first line of defense. Keeping those mats clean will ensure that we capture as much of the outside (sand, dirt, etc.) as possible at the door.” 

With a matting program in place, the next step in an effective program is routine cleaning. Very basically, this takes the form of regular vacuuming. The CRI recommends departments create and follow a robust vacuuming schedule that regularly tackles all carpeted surfaces. 

“You can’t manage what you can’t measure,” says Uresti. “Having established vacuuming and carpet cleaning frequencies and schedules for your facilities is critical in making sure that you are utilizing your labor properly and protecting the carpet in your buildings.”  

Beyond the Routine 

Regular vacuuming — daily for high-traffic areas, less frequently for lower-traffic areas, under or behind furniture, etc. — should be routine and part of an established cleaning program, but more immediate attention must be given to spills (beverages, food) and tracked-in contaminants in bad weather (mud and salt). Areas suffering spills that can cause stains and damage to carpet must be taken care of promptly.  

Checking for spills and new stains should be part of the technicians' daily vacuuming routine. When discovered, the proper cleaning treatment can be instituted quickly. 

The next step in CRI's five basic steps to effective carpet care is interim maintenance. This is the process between routine vacuuming and deep cleaning. Interim maintenance should also take place on a regular schedule — monthly or quarterly, for example — and keeps the carpets' appearance level acceptable.  

This process can aid in extending the life of the carpet by removing the dry soil more often. It is also a process that Uresti sees as prone to mistakes. 

“I think one of the biggest mistakes being made in the industry is with interim carpet care,” says Uresti. “I still hear of facilities managers bonnet cleaning their carpets as a form of interim cleaning.”  

Bonnet, or spin cleaning, uses a rotary floor machine with a cleaning pad soaked in cleaning solution. As it moves over the carpet, the agitation causes dirt to be absorbed into the cleaning pad. 

“I find that bonneting removes very little surface dirt and, instead, pushes most of the soil further into the carpet, leaving behind detergent residue that can lead to re-soiling and an oversaturation of the carpet,” Uresti continues. “We eliminated this method in our buildings several years ago and switched to encapsulation cleaning. This method provides a higher level of cleaning with less chemicals being used and a faster dry time.”

Also considered a method of interim carpet care, encapsulation is a low-moisture type of cleaning using a special encapsulating chemical that features polymers to encapsulate and crystallize stains and dirt on and in carpet. The polymer crystals absorb and hold dirt and soil to be vacuumed out, leaving no sticky residue.

“We have also seen an increase in productivity through encapsulation cleaning versus bonneting, and the equipment is more ergonomically friendly as we strive to protect the health and safety of our custodial staff,” Uresti adds.

CRI's final step in effective carpet care is deep cleaning. What vacuuming, spot cleaning and interim cleaning miss, extraction cleaning, or deep cleaning, should fix. The extractor is the machine, while the deep cleaning system is the combination of that machine and a particular cleaning solution, following a set procedure.  

“We use a low-moisture, surface cleaning method (think a 21st-century equivalent of bonnet buffing, but healthier for the carpet), and then hot water extraction,” says Steger. “Again, the frequencies of when these efforts take place are predicated on the amount of traffic a particular area will see.” 

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