The figures are quite staggering: according to Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI), the carpet industry in the United States shipped over 1.99 billion square yards of carpet in 2000. The value of the shipments, at mill level, is more than $12 billion. In a study presented in April 2002, Jeffrey L. Campbell and Jay S. Newitt of Brigham Young University stated, “Carpet covers more than 70 percent of the floors in today’s workplace. More than 1.6 billion square yards (SY) of carpet are installed annually.”

It seems that carpet, in one form or another, is in every type of building today. For the facilities manager and the sanitary maintenance distributor, the maintenance of carpet through the use of cleaning products or carpet cleaning equipment continues to present unique challenges.

Any floor installation is an expensive proposition, whether it is carpet, vinyl composition tile (VCT) or any other type of flooring. However, the initial cost of the flooring type is not nearly as significant as the cost of maintaining the flooring throughout its expected life cycle. One study by an organization used a life expectancy of 22 years for carpet, whereas another industry source stated that “the actual statistics on carpet replacement is about six years to a maximum rare cases of about 9 years.” Campbell and Newitt (2002) indicated that “one of the largest components in the life-cycle cost of flooring is the cost of cleaning.”

Depending on the type of traffic that the carpet is exposed to, the cost for cleaning and maintenance, per yard, for 22 years is $7.77 (light to medium traffic areas) to $14.17 for heavy-traffic areas according to CRI. Indeed, purchasing and maintaining carpet is an expensive endeavor.

Cleaning is Key
Since carpet is a costly investment and the proper cleaning of carpet can increase the life expectancy of the carpet (thus affording a better return on the initial investment), the need for a proper carpet maintenance program is stressed by professional organizations such as the CRI. It has its own recommendations, which state:

    “Proper, consistent carpet maintenance is critical to extend the life of your carpet and to sustain an optimum performance and appearance level and a healthy indoor environment. The Carpet and Rug Institute encourages facilities managers, designers, maintenance personnel and any others responsible for commercial carpet maintenance to develop and sustain a complete maintenance program for all commercial facilities.”

What are the elements of a carpet cleaning program? The most basic strategies in keeping carpet clean are:

    Effective entryway mats: According to one industry source, 85 percent or more of the dirt that enters a building can be removed by walk-off mats. Remember to clean the mats on a regular basis, otherwise their soil-removing capability will be compromised.

    Keep outside entryways clean. If there are leaves outside the main doors of a building, these will be blown or carried in. Clean the outside of main entryways and that dirt will be removed before it can enter the building.

    Vacuum on a regular basis. Probably the most powerful cleaning method for carpet, and the simplest to use, is the vacuum cleaner. The vacuum cleaner industry has made gigantic strides in producing quality, powerful and lightweight vacuum cleaners that are easy to use. A daily or consistent vacuum cleaning program will pay rich dividends because not only does the act of vacuuming remove soil, it also freshens the carpet fibers.

    Remove stains and spills as soon as they appear. It is inevitable that someone will spill something on a carpet. The simplest and easiest thing to do is to clean the spot as soon as it appears. The successful cleaning of spots is largely contingent upon how long the spot is allowed to “set” before removal. In most cases, clean water and a clean cloth will remove a large percentage of stains and spots. Occupants of a building should be encouraged to soak up spills as soon as they occur.

These basic steps for keeping carpets clean afford distributors numerous opportunities to partner with facilities managers to provide vacuum cleaners, entryway mats, cleaning cloths, and brooms and dust pans to keep entryways clean. However, even the best daily carpet maintenance will only go so far. Additional methods and subsequent supplies and equipment will be needed by facilities managers to maximize the life expectancy of the carpet in their facilities.

Beyond daily vacuuming and spot removal, what are some of the most common methods used today?

Bonnet cleaning: This method uses a slow-speed rotary floor machine to which a bonnet has been attached. The bonnet is similar to a disk made out of cotton, synthetic or blended fibers and the disk is attached to the machine by using a pad holder. Either the bonnet, or the bonnet and the carpet, are treated with special carpet cleaning chemicals that are low- or no-foaming. The bonnet is passed over the floor using the rotary buffer and the dirt is transferred from the carpet to the bonnet. The bonnet is then rinsed out and reused and the soil is transferred to a mop bucket.

Rotary cleaning: A machine with rotary or cylindrical brushes is used to agitate cleaning chemicals sprayed on the carpet from either an on-board solution reservoir or a spray tank. The brushes agitate the solution and the soil is broken down and removed by vacuuming after it has dried.

Dry extraction or dry foam: This method uses a special machine that agitates a low-moisture compound that is applied to the floor either by the machine itself or by hand application. The dirt adheres to the foam or compound and the residue is picked up by a vacuum.

Extraction: Extraction utilizes a machine that pushes water and a cleaning solution deep into a carpet and immediately vacuums up or “extracts” the residue. The system cleans deep to the base of the carpet fiber. Numerous types of equipment are available today to include small “box type” extractors, walk-behind extractors or truck-mounted extractors.

More Carpet Cleaning Tips
For any carpet cleaning process to be successful, the following basic steps should be followed before or after cleaning:

  • Remove all loose debris such as paper clips, paper or staples.

  • Vacuum the floor to remove as much soil as possible. Use the appropriate carpet cleaning method as discussed above.

  • Allow enough drying time prior to occupancy of the room.

  • Vacuum as soon as possible after treatment to remove any residue.

  • Use the right cleaning chemicals and methods as advocated by the carpet manufacturer based on the carpet type and carpet fibers.

We have talked at length about carpet cleaning methods and equipment, but what are the benefits of regular carpet cleaning? The benefits of a complete carpet maintenance program are many and give the distributor of sanitary products a fertile marketplace while affording the facilities manager solutions to maintaining carpet. An effective carpet cleaning program will:

Extend the life of the carpet. For the facilities manager this is a critical issue. Maintenance dollars allocated to the replacement of any type of flooring in a facility are dwindling and most managers will want the carpet to last as long as possible before replacement.

Enhance the appearance of the carpet: A new carpet could be installed today and in a matter of months the carpet could look old or ugly because the dirt and soil have not been removed. Regular vacuuming and cleaning will make the fibers more resilient and appear cleaner.

Minimize customer complaints: Carpeting is everywhere and customers expect their carpets to look clean and fresh. A complete carpet maintenance program that includes regular vacuuming, spot removal and heavy soil removal will minimize customer complaints.

Be Persistent in Removing Residue
An effective carpet cleaning program will reap rich dividends for the both the distributor of sanitary maintenance products and the facilities manager. Yet a few words of caution are necessary:

All carpet cleaning methods are not equal. It is important that the right carpet cleaning method be used on the carpet in your installation. Using the wrong method could damage the carpet and decrease the life of the carpet. If in doubt, contact the carpet manufacturer.

Placing cleaning solutions on the carpet is only part of the process — removing the moisture and soil is even more important. Carpet cleaning agents are manufactured to enable soil to be released from the carpet and to be removed from the carpet surface. If too much or too little chemical is used, the dirt will remain on the top of the carpet and a few days after cleaning the carpet may look worse than before. As much of the applied solution as possible must be removed during the cleaning process. Failure to remove the residue will negate the cleaning process.

People that clean carpets must be trained to clean carpets. Carpet cleaning is a complex process that uses chemicals and equipment. Improperly trained people, using the wrong product or equipment, could cost the facilities manager dearly. Having the carpet cleaned correctly, by properly trained people is a lot cheaper than having to replace the carpet because it was damaged during the cleaning process.

Carpeting, as a floor covering, is here to stay and is installed in most every facility that one can imagine. Carpet manufacturers and interior designers are becoming increasingly innovative in the installation and application of carpet as a floor covering. Thus facilities managers will be looking for advice, equipment, chemicals and supplies to keep the carpet in their facilities in optimal condition. Campbell and Newitt indicated in their study that, “An effective maintenance program is essential to extend the useful life of carpeting.” The distributor who knows about carpet cleaning methods and equipment has the elements needed for success.

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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