Carpet represents a huge investment for the majority of facilities. By the time it’s bought, delivered and installed, thousands of dollars may have gone toward the investment. With that kind of capital at stake, it’s no wonder carpet manufacturers push their R&D departments to innovate materials with improved durability and value to ensure customer satisfaction.

Likewise, sanitary supply distributors have an obligation to seek out the best carpet cleaning methods and products for their customers.

“Property managers are always afraid that someone will use the wrong cleaning chemical, damage the carpet, and they’ll have a disaster on their hands,” says Tom Green, president of Allied Cleaning Technologies, a jan/san distributor in New Cumberland, Pa. “It can happen very easily. That’s why it’s critical that distributors educate their customers properly.”

Knowing this, Green wanted to make sure that his company’s approach to carpet care was congruent with advances made by carpet manufacturers. A couple of years ago, he hired a full-time carpet specialist, Joel Hoover, to oversee the company’s carpet-cleaning sales.

“We both go to carpet seminars twice a year and get educated about new formulations in carpet-care solutions, new equipment, and things the carpet manufacturers are doing,” says Green. “Joel really gets into the information and finds out what direction our company should pursue regarding carpet care. Hiring him was one of the best decisions I’ve made.”

“The textures of carpets have changed quite a bit over the years — nylons and other synthetic materials, which are more common now, need to be cleaned differently than natural fibers,” says Hoover. “A good distributor is able to help his customers keep up with those changes.”

Natural or Not
Natural fibers require a vastly different cleaning regimen than synthetic fibers. Since the 1980s, the majority of commercial facilities — office buildings, conference centers and retail stores — have switched over to carpets made with synthetic materials.

“Moisture is the biggest concern when it comes to maintaining carpets,” says Hoover. “Synthetic fibers don’t retain water the same way most natural fibers do. That makes it easier to extract and easier to take care of.”

If you’re looking for an example of how synthetic fibers release moisture, the sports world has plenty, adds Hoover. “Wicking fibers are synthetic, and they’re quite popular in our industry,” he says. “The way they work is very similar to the wicking fabrics that a lot of athletes wear for their uniforms. The fibers are able to keep the sweat off an athlete’s body, just as they are able to keep moisture out of a carpet.”

For a professional cleaner, working on a synthetic carpet means having to haul fewer carpet blowers, which speed the drying of carpets after extraction. In fact, some carpets dry so quickly, blowers aren’t required at all — a huge time-saver for any end user.

Synthetic fibers are also traditionally more durable than natural fibers, a factor that is paramount when cleaning commercial buildings, says Green. “Durability is definitely one of the most important factors when a facility chooses a carpet.”

Because carpets in commercial buildings take so much abuse, more facilities are turning to the durability of synthetic fibers, he adds. “When carpet manufacturers give a warranty on a carpet, it’s usually for a residential building. If that carpet is in a commercial building — a hotel, office building or conference center — and powerful commercial equipment is being used to clean it on a regular basis, then those warranties don’t usually apply.”

However, that’s starting to change, says Green. “As the innovation behind carpet [design] improves, a few manufacturers have started giving warranties for commercial carpets,” he says. “Their competitors have noticed, and I think pretty soon the majority of carpet manufacturers will be doing it.”

The increase in commercial-carpet warranties underscores the advances that carpet manufacturers have made in terms of durability. However, synthetic carpets aren’t the only type of carpet to prove durable, says Harvey Taratoot, president of Tara Chemical Products, an Atlanta-based jan/san distributor. “Wool is still an outstanding fabric for durability,” he says. “In the past, you’d see wool everywhere. Even the airports had wool carpet. Now, it has gotten so expensive that most facilities have moved away from it.”

End users — and, therefore, distributors — still need to know how to clean wool properly, despite the increase in the use of synthetic carpets. “A lot of high-end accounts will have fine Persian rugs, and those — if they’re real — are always made out of wool,” says Taratoot.

In order to clean wool carpet, an end user should implement a cleaning program that meets the standards of the Carpet & Rug Institute, Dalton, Ga., for wool, he adds. Cleaners often submit chemicals to the Wool Institute in order to make sure they won’t damage the fibers of the carpet.

“You have to be extremely careful with that kind of rug or carpet,” says Taratoot. “In addition to using a gentler method than you would on a synthetic carpet, you really have to worry about retaining the color and making sure the carpet doesn’t fade after cleaning.”

Keep the Color
There’s no worse sight for a facility manager than a new carpet that’s colors have faded after its first cleaning. “Facility and property managers get very nervous about cleaners exposing the dye sites in a carpet fiber,” says Green.

The dye sites are tiny capsules of colored dye that run up and down each carpet fiber. “If you were to look at a raw carpet fiber with no dye sites, it would be clear,” adds Green. “Over a period of time those dye sites within each fiber can be exposed, and the color of the carpet will become dull.”

Cleaning with extremely hot water or aggressive chemicals can speed up the fading process, he explains. The right cleaning program, however, can prevent fading and can even help enhance the color of a carpet.

“Most carpet-care chemicals today are made with alkaline detergents,” he says. “They’re better than acidic cleaners, obviously, because they won’t directly affect the carpet’s color. However, they also leave behind a residue that can build up on each fiber, which indirectly dulls the color.”

Green instructs his customers to use an acid-rinse neutralizer every third time they clean a carpet. “People are genuinely amazed at the way the color bounces back when they use the neutralizer,” he says. “It enables you to release all the alkaline buildup and you’re back to the original color of the carpet.”

No Coating, No Problem
Carpets with protective coatings were the hot commodity in the late 1980s and early ’90s, but they aren’t as necessary today, says Hoover.

“You don’t see nearly as many protective coatings on carpets as you did 10 or 15 years ago,” he says. “People are still selling protectants, but today’s fibers don’t take stains the way they used to.”

Even if the carpet an end user is working on has been sprayed with a protectant coating by the manufacturer, Green still recommends thorough extraction during every cleaning cycle.

“I just stressed this at a seminar I was giving to end users,” he says. “Even if you’re keeping the top part of the carpet clean, and a coating is preventing any stains from surfacing, you absolutely have to do regular extraction to get into the base part of the carpet, where soil and dirt can be trapped.”

Too many times, adds Green, a cleaner thinks a carpet is clean just because it looks clean.

“Extraction makes a world of difference,” says Hoover. “Especially when you consider the way carpets are designed today — many are solidly compact in order to increase their durability. When dirt gets trapped down below the surface, extraction is really the only way to get the carpet clean and prevent future damage.”

A Tough Carpet in Town
One of the newest trends from carpet manufacturers are multi-purpose carpets. These carpets are much denser than their predecessors — somewhere between a hard-floor surface and a carpet.

“A lot of schools near us use multi-purpose carpets,” says Green. “They’re extremely durable because the fibers are pushed together so tightly. It’s not uncommon for them to be used in a room that serves as a cafeteria, a classroom and an athletic gymnasium.”

A multi-purpose carpet that is used in a room that is both a gymnasium and a cafeteria presents its own problems.

“Our customers run into some difficult cleaning situation when you combine food and athletics on one carpet surface,” says Green. “From a cleaning standpoint, it can be really frustrating, and sometimes the cleaners even ask for the cafeteria to be moved. But for the schools it makes a lot of sense to have multi-purpose rooms.”

Multi-purpose carpets are easy to vacuum because soil stays on the surface longer than traditional carpets. If vacuuming isn’t done regularly, then the soil can become trapped. But one of the biggest problems with multi-purpose carpets has nothing to do with soil or dirt, says Green.

“The biggest downside that I see is when students are wrestling or rough-housing and they leave scuff marks in the carpet,” he says. “Those scuff marks actually cause a kind of burn that damages the fibers.”

Multi-purpose carpets can be seen in many other facilities, but they usually go by different names.

“Go into an airport and notice how stiff and tight the fibers are in the carpet,” says Green. “That kind of heavy-traffic facility has its own problems, because so much dirt is tracked in. You really have to stay on top of it and clean almost non-stop.”

In general carpet manufacturers seem to be moving away from loose carpet and toward the tight, multi-purpose carpets, says Hoover: “You almost never see the spongy or loose pile carpet anymore. It’s usually that really thin pad that is more durable.”

Keeping abreast of changes that carpet manufacturers make is critical for jan/san distributors, says Taratoot. “You don’t want to be the cause for any deleterious effects on a carpet.” he says. “If you show your customers that you know what you’re doing, they’ll keep coming back.”