When Jim Wharman, director of environmental services for Home Hospital, a medical facility in Lafayette, Ind., is asked how he keeps high-traffic carpeting looking its best, he replies, “It’s impossible!” And Wharman is only somewhat kidding. Often, carpeted areas such as building entryways, hallways, lobbies and common areas, are the hardest to keep clean in any type of building.

A heavy amount of foot traffic can make carpeting look dirty only a few hours after it has been cleaned. Frequently the middle of the carpet (where people walk) takes on a drab, worn-out appearance, even though the carpet’s edge looks brand-new. High-traffic areas also experience more frequent spills, stains, ground-in soil and damage caused by heavy use.

Such high-traffic areas may be hard to schedule for routine cleaning, but without enough attention, a building’s main thoroughfares can help occupants further track dirt into other, less soiled areas, creating more work for cleaning staff than necessary.

Key to keeping high-traffic carpeting looking its best is an effective and efficient care program requiring a commitment of time, planning and energy.

Vacuum frequently
Frequent vacuuming is essential in high-traffic areas, according to Terry Major, grounds custodial support services and fleet manager at Southeast Missouri State University, Cape Girardeau, Mo. “It’s important to vacuum often in order to get the dirt out of the carpet before it’s actually set. Ground-in dirt particles erode the carpet fibers and contribute to premature carpet wear.”

To reduce this wear, Major recommends rating each area on the amount of its traffic flow, and using that estimate to adopt a regular schedule of vacuuming. He has found that vacuuming areas with the heaviest amount of foot traffic up to three times per day can keep soil accumulation to a minimum.

Immediate spot removal
Because high-traffic areas such as entryways or eating areas often experience accidental spills, they need constant monitoring to ensure that substances are removed as soon as possible. Major’s office fields calls from campus employees reporting accidents and then sends a project relief employee out right away to clean up.

Immediate spill removal in such high profile areas isn’t just for the carpet’s sake either, says Ron Segura, manager of janitorial services for Walt Disney Pictures and Television in Orlando, Fla. It also helps boost employee morale. “If a cleaning worker is vacuuming a spot-filled area, that person is more likely to cut corners and is unlikely to believe what he or she is doing is important,” says Segura. But a continuously cleaned area makes it easier to instill pride in employees, giving the impression that what they’re doing matters.

Applying carpet protector also makes cleaning easier, according to Segura. A carpet protector keeps spills on the surface of the carpet and doesn’t allow them to penetrate, which is helpful if a spill isn’t reported to housekeeping right away, he says.

Walk-off mats
People coming in from the outside often track in dirt, which gets ground into the high-traffic carpet of lobbies and initial hallways. That is why housekeeping departments cannot stress enough the importance of well-placed walk-off mats or indoor/outdoor carpeting near entrances. Low-pile olefin is a synthetic fiber that can be quite durable as an indoor/outdoor carpeting due to it’s chemical and stain-resistance.

These precautionary measures can help catch approximately 80 percent to 90 percent of tracked-in soil, which can make a large difference in the amount of dirt cleaning crews must remove from buildings on a regular basis. The less dirt tracked in, the less time and effort employees take to clean what does get by entrance measures. This can help reduce carpet care tasks and leave time for staff to address other important cleaning needs in a building.

Major uses a series of three mats — together measuring 20 feet long — to trap tracked-in dirt. Outside the building, he places a rough textured carpet, which scrubs larger particles of dirt off shoes. Inside the breezeway (the section between the exterior and interior door), Major uses a smoother carpet mat, which catches fine dirt. Finally, a fine-textured mat is placed inside the entryway to trap any remaining soil.

Use the right equipment
Even clean carpets can look worn if their fibers have been matted down; for this reason Home Hospital’s Wharam recommends using an extractor with a built-in beater brush. After the water is sprayed down, the beater brush roughs up the nap and picks the carpeting fibers back up, giving the carpet a fresh, renewed look. Some housekeeping veterans debate whether the use of beater brushes helps carpeting or just gives the freshly vacuumed look that ensures tenants their areas were cleaned. But in areas where constant use mats down fibers, the rejuvenation can help reduce visible traffic patterns running down the center of rooms.

Major relies on high-quality vacuum cleaners to remove dirt from soiled high-traffic areas. He also has invested in newer models of carpet extractors, which have more powerful suction capabilities. These machines remove almost 80 percent of the water that is put down, so the carpet dries much faster and is available for use more quickly — a necessity in any popular area of a building.

Choosing carpet
When purchasing new carpeting for a facility, make sure to place the most durable fibers in high-traffic areas. Olefin, while a good walk-off surface, will wear down fairly quickly when in high-traffic areas such as hallways.

A more preferable high-traffic fiber would be nylon because it has high wearability, abrasion resistance and resilience. It also can be dyed to rejuvenate its look, rather than needing replacement when colors fade. Solution dyed nylon also is useful in areas exposed to sunlight because it doesn’t fade as fast as other fibers.

Wool, though not very common, is considered another durable fiber. Though it comes with a mix of good and bad characteristics. It makes vacuuming up dirt easier due to tiny scales on the outside shaft that capture dirt, keeping it from settling deep within the fibers. Wool also is water-repellent, but if spills set in for too long they can be much more difficult to remove.

When cleaning wool, staff should be aware of it’s sensitivity to alkalies and that it dissolves in bleach.

Housekeeping executives should always remember that while choosing good carpeting built to withstand high traffic can reduce cleaning needs, a regular program still is necessary to maintain a professional appearance and reduce tracked-in dirt throughout a building.

Schedule strategically
Finally, because high-traffic areas are continuously in use, careful scheduling is important. Wharam recommends using carpet extractors during the middle of the night or at other low-use times; this is especially important as a safety procedure because wet carpet can become slippery.

Lynne Knobloch is a cleaning industry writer currently based in Mishiwaka, Ind.

Do you know the difference between spills, spots and stains?
A spill is anything that has been dropped on the carpet that doesn’t belong there. A spot is a spill that can be removed from the carpet by cleaning. A stain is generally permanent because the spill has changed the color of the carpet fiber.

To clean a spot, experts recommend first scraping away any solid matter that might be present. Next, carefully blot the area with a cleaning solution. Never pour cleaner directly onto the spot, because this causes the dirt to sink to the bottom of the carpet fiber. Work the spot from its outer edge to the center. Blot the carpet with a damp cloth. Do not brush — this will cause wear.

When a stain has discolored carpet, a heat-transfer process is employed. A dye-stripper, which is specially formulated to remove dye, is applied. Using a steam iron to apply heat over a towel, the dye-stripper draws the less-fixed discoloration of the stain into the towel. This process must be timed carefully, however, because the dye-stripper will remove the carpet dye if left on too long.

When all else fails, it’s time to repair
Several techniques are available for repairing damaged carpet. Reburling is a technique used when small amounts of carpet fibers are damaged. The pieces of yarn in question are plucked and replaced with new tufts.

For seam repair, a special seaming tape, which has a synthetic backing with glue on it, is applied to the seams. When a hot iron is applied, the glue melts and holds the seams together.

When a larger area has been burned or damaged, repair experts carefully check the damaged carpet’s wear pattern and then search for a piece of carpet that has approximately the same wear. Next, an identical, irregular pattern is cut out of both pieces of carpet, and the new section of carpet is inserted to fit inside the old damaged section. Edges are glued together, creating a seamless look.

When carpet is discolored, carpet coloring experts can re-dye it to match its original color. The existing color is measured using special tools, and a color match is found. Then chemicals that both clean and dye carpet are applied in one step. Connie D’Imperio of Color Your Carpet, Inc., estimates that re-coloring could restore 90 percent of carpet that otherwise is replaced.

Phillip D. Thornton is a 22-year industry veteran. He currently is a housekeeping services supervisor for the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Division of Physical Plant.