Many times it’s the little things in an organization that can lead to failure or success. Some people contend that it was the failure of the rivets in the steel plating of the Titanic that led to the sinking of that great ocean liner. The tragic demise of the space shuttle Challenger was blamed on the failure of a relatively small “O” ring, and many a great racehorse has failed to perform all because of one faulty horseshoe nail. Likewise, many successes result from small things. The inventor of WD-40 probably never foresaw the hundreds of uses the small commodity would have today. George Washington Carver probably never anticipated the long-range impact of the peanut and its integration into cooking oils, desserts and cakes. And there’s carrageenan, a colloid extract from seaweed that is used as a suspending agent in many frozen dairy products today. Though it’s a minor ingredient on product labels, the dairy industry would be limited in its ability to bring dairy products to your table without it. Yes, often it’s the little things that matter.

In the operation and cleaning of a facility there is a little thing underfoot that often goes unnoticed, yet it is something that can lead to the success or failure of a cleaning operation in a facility. What is it? Here are some hints:

  • It can keep 80 to 90 percent of dirt out of a building, with very little labor

  • It can extend the life span of indoor flooring systems

  • It can add aesthetic appeal to an entryway

  • It can reduce on-the-job injuries and liability from people slipping and falling

  • It improves indoor air quality by keeping most foot-borne dirt out of a building

  • It traps ice, snow and sand and keeps them from entering a facility

  • It reduces cleaning costs

  • It makes interior floors easy to clean

  • It pays for itself in three months or less, according to some case studies

  • It reduces overall maintenance costs

  • And it minimizes the need to reseal or recoat floor surfaces

What does all this? Walk-off matting. When strategically placed and properly maintained, there is probably no better tool for the cleaning manager than walk-off mats. However, too often this product is overlooked by the distributor and the cleaning manager.

Plan for Prevention
Cleaning managers, if they complain that entryways and hallways are dirty, might incorrectly assume that better chemicals, mops, vacuum cleaners, floor scrubbers and buffers are the answer, when in reality, the answer may be in preventing dirt from entering the building in the first place. It is probably 10 times easier to keep dirt out of a building than to remove it after it enters the building. A proactive walk-off mat program can lead to increased sales for the distributor and decreased cleaning costs for the cleaning manager.

The success of a matting system, however, relies on its ability to actually keep dirt out of a building. The dirt-removal process starts outside the door and finishes up in the lobby of the building. The following are elements of a successful walk-off mat program:

  • Use of multiple mats of varying texture and composition. Generally, the industry standard is to have an aggressive walk-off mat outside the building to trap the heavy dirt particles. Once in the entryway or foyer, a less aggressive mat is used to absorb moisture. A third mat is often placed after that to help polish and remove any remaining particles or moisture off the shoes. The distributor should work with the end user to determine traffic patterns, how heavy the pedestrian traffic is, and the types of problems faced at each entryway.

  • Enough space must be allowed for a matting system to work. Too often, people at both home and work place a 3-by-5 foot or a 4-by-6 foot mat outside their doors and expect all the dirt to be removed. Matting experts project that it takes 6 to 10 paces before about 90 percent of dirt is removed. Thus, the minimal combined length of all matting should be 18 feet or more.

  • Entryway mats must be cleaned on a regular basis. Regular vacuuming of the mats is a must, and some may need to be hosed down to remove the heavy dirt (exterior scraper mats) or cleaned with a carpet extractor (interior mats). Failure to regularly clean the mats can lead to the early failure of a matting system.

  • A thorough knowledge of the different types of matting is imperative. Outside, aggressive matting that scrapes the feet is often composed of vinyl, rubber or nylon. Interior mats may be made of nylon, olefin, polypropylene or other synthetic fibers. Grid matting systems are becoming increasingly popular and are viable options in any matting system. The matting grid is made of metal that is topped with strips of matting (made of various substances) and is suspended over a shallow, recessed area, or floor pit. The water and dirt is scraped off the feet and falls into the floor pit for removal later, either manually, through a drainage system, or both.

  • Match the matting system to the aesthetics of the entryway. Efforts to strategically place matting and color coordinate it can boost sales. Too often, matting isn’t seen as a necessity, or even beneficial, because the cleaning manager or occupants feel it detracts from the beauty of the original floor surface. Many matting systems have been designed and installed that actually complement and add to the aesthetics of the entryway. Increasingly, customized entryway mats with company logos are being installed, drawing attention to the company’s name from everyone who walks through the door.

The Match Game
There is no doubt that a good entryway matting system is costly, yet the advantages far outweigh the expense. However, the distributor must match the right matting system to each entrance or type of building. Thus, it would be prudent for the distributor to ask the end user the following questions:

  • What is the greatest concern at each entryway? Is it aesthetics? Dirt? If so, what type of dirt?

  • How many people enter and exit the building on a daily basis? Does a certain entryway or entryways bear the brunt of the traffic?

  • What are the types of climactic conditions and soil conditions that the impact the facility? In northern-tier states there is a lot of snow, ice and ice melters to contend with, whereas in the Southwest, the major concern is more likely sand and grit.

  • What type of entryways are involved and how much space is permitted for matting systems? End users have often procured matting systems, on the recommendation of the distributor, only to find out that once the mats have been installed the doors will not open because there is not enough clearance between the threshold and the base of the door.

  • What potential impact will the matting have on persons that are physically challenged? For instance, a sight-impaired person may have to use a dog to guide them to buildings. Some dogs may not like walking on aggressive matting with sharp blades and may guide the person off the mat and cause problems when the person reaches the door. Some wheelchairs will not operate well on matting that has too much pile or tufts.

A Boost in Productivity
During tight economic times, cleaning managers are looking for ways to increase productivity while decreasing costs. One industry source says, “Walk-off mats at building entrances to capture soil, and regular vacuuming of all carpet to remove dry soil, are important preventive measures that will extend service frequency cycles and reduce overall cleaning costs.” A simple item such as the entryway matting can decrease operating costs because it keeps upward of 90 percent of dirt out of buildings. One industry study says that 1 kilogram of dirt can be tracked in by 1,000 people in 1 month. The first 2 meters of entrance area can be stripped of 42 percent of its floor finish after only 1,500 people have entered.

By providing an effective matting system to an end user, the knowledgeable distributor will be able to increase the effectiveness of the cleaning operation because dirt will be kept out of the building and floor finishes will not be damaged, resulting in lower operational costs for the end user. The combination of an effective matting system and a knowledgeable distributor will provide steps for success in keeping buildings clean.

Alan S. Bigger is the director of Building Services for the University of Notre Dame, and Linda B. Bigger is a freelance editor.

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