By Craig Jasper
From the June 2013 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
Ask a group of occupants about the carpet in their facility, and there will be fairly predictable answers. To many people, carpet is an aesthetic (or unaesthetic) element of the interior design. Others may comment about comfort, and a few may even bring up hygiene.
But the reality is that carpet serves a range of critical and often hidden functions in a facility. When well maintained, it is a high performing asset that can reduce operating costs and improve occupant satisfaction. If carpet is poorly maintained, it is more than simply unattractive but also a source of early replacement expense and even occupant risk. Modern commercial carpeting can last more than 20 years with proper maintenance; deciding on the right cleaning and maintenance regimen begins with understanding how the carpet serves the facility.
Beyond comfort and aesthetics, carpet is often the largest air filtration system in a facility, capturing particulate matter and allergens from the air and reducing the load on HVAC systems with its insulating properties. Carpet also has noise dampening qualities, and if well maintained it can reduce slip-and-fall risk for facility managers (fms) by lessening the severity of injury if someone does fall.
But all of those benefits are only realized if the carpet is consistently maintained. As with so many other aspects of a modern facility, a planned maintenance program is the cornerstone of a best practices approach.
Plans will vary by facility, but fms should start by asking themselves a few key questions: What is the strategy? And who will do the work?
What Is The Strategy?
Setting strategy for carpet maintenance may seem like overthinking the issue, but there are long-term factors to consider. Decade old, high traffic carpet that has not been on a best practices maintenance schedule will not look like new, no matter how many times it is cleaned. A carpet made of synthetics will be scratched by soil, which shortens lifespan by months or years while also hampering appearance. In those situations, the goal should be to maximize the life left in the floorcovering and maintain a carpet clean enough to perform its air filtration and comfort roles.
Establishing a proper cleaning and maintenance schedule for new or nearly new carpet significantly extends the life of this facility asset. Since large installations of new carpet represent a significant investment for most facilities, many fms take that opportunity to train maintenance staff, bring commercial grade cleaning machines in-house, or introduce a more rigorous cleaning schedule to prolong the life of the asset.
In addition, there are strategies specific to the type of carpet, its backing, and the type of facility under care. Are there extraordinary issues related to allergen concerns, a commitment to green maintenance, or antimicrobial cleaning (the process of treating floorcoverings with EPA approved compounds to retard microbial growth)? Are there mat systems in place to reduce damage (and future cleaning) to floorcoverings in high traffic areas? These and other factors, once analyzed, help fms to stop thinking in terms of a one-off or annual carpet cleaning and instead to think about life cycle maintenance.
Wet Versus Dry: A Comparison Guide
Although there are many ways to clean carpet, at the broadest level the approaches can be divided into so-called “wet cleaning” and “dry cleaning.” Each approach has its adherents (indeed, some service providers use only one method or the other), and each has its place in commercial cleaning.
Generally speaking, using dry cleaning will return an area to functional use more quickly because there is less drying time involved. In contrast, a wet cleaning approach may generally offer lower costs. Each of the methods may or may not involve use of a pre-conditioner, depending on the technique that is employed and the severity of the cleaning challenge.
There are several dry cleaning methods, which are listed here.
Absorbent compound. This method incorporates the use of an organic or synthetic carrier that contains detergents, solvents, and a bit of moisture (the texture can often look a bit like damp sawdust). The compound can be spread by hand or with a specially designed machine, and brushing is used to spread and agitate the compound, which in turn absorbs the suspended soil. Following drying, the suspended soil and compound is removed by dry vacuuming.
Dry foam. Dense foam is produced through mechanical aeration of a liquid detergent. The foam is distributed and agitated via mechanical brush action. Suspended soil and the foam are extracted by the same machine or with a wet vacuum.
Encapsulation. The cleaning agent is brushed into the carpet using a cylindrical or rotary brush machine. Encapsulation chemistry surrounds each soil particle and crystallizes it so it does not attract other soil; the encapsulated particles then release from the fiber and are removed through dry vacuuming. Encapsulation prevents spills from wicking after cleaning and is ideally suited for commercial maintenance in areas where high productivity, lower costs, and fast dry time is critical.
Absorbent pad (bonnet/oscillating pad). This method straddles both wet and dry methodologies, depending on the carrier that is used. Detergent in either a dry solvent or water-based carrier is sprayed onto the pad and the carpet. These pads might be round or square towels made of cotton, rayon, synthetics, or a combination of fibers.
In place of spraying the pad, these might be dipped into a bucket of cleaning solution. During the agitation action (spin buffing/oscillating), the pad attracts or absorbs suspended soils that are in a carpet.
Meanwhile, wet cleaning methods (as described below) include shampooing and hot water extraction (HWE).
Shampoo. A high foaming detergent is applied to the carpet through a shower or channel feed, nylon bristled rotating brush. The agitation of the brush creates the foam that suspends the soil. Depending on the detergent used, either a wet or dry vacuum will be used to extract the suspended soils and detergents. Brushes that are not properly lubricated with shampoo can cause textural damage to the carpet.
HWE. A preconditioner is normally applied through a pump sprayer, in-line sprayer, or by using a rotary shampoo machine. The suspended soil and preconditioner is then flushed from the carpet with an HWE machine. Heavily soiled carpets may need several flushing passes followed up with several overlapping, extraction only passes.
HWE cleaning can be broken into two categories—portable and truck mounted machines. The latter generally feature higher production and greater heat, pressure, and vacuum strength than a portable unit. With either type of unit, complete drying normally occurs in six to eight hours but may take longer based on humidity, airflow, and other factors, and air movers may be used to expedite drying. Prolonged drying may be due to over wetting from operator error.
No matter which approach is chosen, all methods should be followed by pile setting or grooming as necessary. Nap setting must be accomplished for uniform distribution of any post cleaning treatments.
Who Will Do The Work?
Fms generally have four options for carpet cleaning and maintenance: have the on-site staff handle it; hire a company to do a one-off cleaning; respond to a solicitation from a company that offers a maintenance program; or do nothing, handling spills and stains on an as-needed basis.
Assuming that doing nothing is not an option (and it’s not, unless an fm wants to budget higher capital expenditures consistently for carpet replacement), then any of the three remaining options will work. The key is to set and maintain standards of care.
The Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC) BSR-IICRC S100 standard is a hallmark for best practices carpet maintenance. Beyond exploring how to clean effectively using a range of equipment and cleaning compounds, the standard addresses investigation into carpet material, backing material, and stain types—all crucial in order to maximize cleanliness and avoid damage to the carpet.
When hiring out the cleaning, fms should consider working with IICRC certified firms or firms that employ certified technicians and work to IICRC standards. Fms should also look for vendors that focus on commercial solutions.
If the strategy is to have in-house staff handle the work—particularly given the investment in cleaning equipment involved, then those personnel should attend relevant training courses to enhance their knowledge. Either way, fms (and their carpet) will benefit from working with technicians who understand and adhere to internationally accepted best practices
Plan The Work, Work The Plan
A best practices, standards driven approach to carpet maintenance doesn’t start with noticing the carpet needs cleaning; it starts with a facility specific (sometimes room specific) plan to prolong the working life of this asset.
To put together a proper maintenance program, fms or their vendors need to examine traffic flow, carpet and padding type, age, and other factors. And in fact, if the work is being hired out on an as-needed basis, then it is also a very good idea for fms to keep a detailed record of this information, which helps to ensure accurate estimates and proper cleaning practices across multiple vendors.
Part of the larger plan also involves looking beyond periodic, deep cleaning. Vacuuming on a regular basis is a necessity, since this keeps soil from accumulating and abrading the fibers. And using HEPA filter vacuums can remove allergens. Additionally, regular carpet spotting prevents residue from attracting more soil and causing more damage. And advances in chemical technology mean there are low-cost, environmentally friendly carpet protectors that coat fibers and help keep carpet from getting scratched and abraded while keeping soil from sticking.
Ultimately, taking a long-term and cost-effective approach to carpet maintenance begins by shifting the mindset from cleaning simply when things start to look bad towards a strategic life cycle maintenance plan. A bit of planning can add years to the life of a carpet, while saving significant money in avoided replacement costs.
Jasper is first vice president for the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC). He is an IICRC approved instructor and a Master Textile Cleaner, Master Fire and Smoke Restorer, and Master Water Restorer.