By Steve Willis
From the June 2017 Issue
Installing carpet can be a costly investment, especially when those carpets are sustainable. But as every good facility manager knows, the real work is in maintaining that investment. When it comes to sustainable carpets, the one factor that determines maintenance tactics is fiber type, which can be broken down into two major categories: natural and synthetic.
Natural Carpet Fibers
Natural fibers come from animal or plant sources. The most common sustainable carpets with natural fibers are made from wool or bamboo. Here are some maintenance considerations to keep in mind regarding natural carpet fibers.
Water. When maintaining natural carpets, avoiding moisture should be a top priority. In some cases, water can actually damage the fibers. Most wool manufacturers prefer dry cleaning methods versus hot water extraction, and that’s a good rule to follow with all natural fibers, except in extreme cases when carpet has seen significant amounts of soil. Natural fibers are extremely absorbent, making these more difficult to dry—which then, in turn, makes them susceptible to the growth of molds and mildew. These should be dried quickly and thoroughly.
Brushing. The stiffness of a cleaning brush is determined by how the fiber is constructed. Wool, for example, can be damaged if too stiff a brush is used in the cleaning process.
Chemicals. Wool fibers do not require particular chemicals to clean them effectively. However, the fibers could be damaged by a high-alkaline pH, and it is recommended to use cleaning chemicals that stay between a 4.5 pH and 8.5 pH. Other natural fibers, on the other hand, require special chemistry. The levels and particulars depend entirely on the fiber source and whether it’s blended with any other materials.
Costs. Although wool is reasonably inexpensive to maintain, other natural fibers can be much more expensive because these need particular chemistry blends and techniques. Natural fibers have no inherent moisture-repellent component, and their absorbency can make stain removal challenging and maintenance costly.
Synthetic Carpet Fibers
Synthetic carpet fibers are man-made fibers, and in order for them to be considered sustainable, these must be created from recycled materials. Some of the most common types of recycled synthetic materials used in sustainable carpets are nylon and polypropylene. Here are some maintenance considerations to keep in mind regarding synthetic carpet fibers.
Water. Synthetic fibers are not as absorbent as natural fibers and will be fine with a hot water extraction, as long as these are dried quickly and completely to avoid potential mold growth.
Brushing. Again, how the fiber is constructed determines the stiffness of the cleaning brush. Most synthetic fibers are stronger and can withstand thicker brushes than natural fibers.
Chemicals. Although it varies by fiber source, the range of chemicals that can be used on synthetic fibers is much wider than those that can be used on natural fibers. For recycled nylon or polypropylene, anything with a pH level below 10 is acceptable.
Costs. Synthetic materials are a lower cost maintenance option than natural materials. These do not require special cleaning or chemicals. And durability makes these easy to clean, and no vigilance regarding water and spills is necessary. This ease makes maintenance relatively inexpensive.
What To Look For In A Maintenance Professional
When facility managers are looking for a professional to maintain their sustainable carpets, there are a few things they should expect to see done (and not be done) in order to help guarantee the best results.
First, every good professional will ask if it’s possible to perform a test clean or demo to determine proper cleaning methods for the rest of the facility. During a test clean, he or she will clean two or three square feet of carpet, starting with soft bristles and working up to stiffer ones.
Both natural and synthetic carpets will shrink if their backings contain natural fiber and get wet. Shrinkage is not the only issue at stake—if water gets underneath the carpet it could damage the flooring underneath. A knowledgeable professional will know how much water to use and will prevent cleaning products or moisture from coming in contact with the carpet’s backing.
Carpet maintenance professionals should avoid the spin bonnet method, especially on sustainable carpets. The spin bonnet method uses a rotary action on a machine with a cotton pad. While spin bonnet is a low-moisture approach, this method does not effectively deep clean carpets and frequently violates carpet manufacturer warranties.
Choosing The Right Sustainable Carpet
When facility managers have the opportunity to choose new carpeting for their facility, maintenance should be a top consideration. Avoid light colors and delicate fabrics in high-traffic areas. Facility managers should be included in design choices because they have a solid understanding of the traffic, wear patterns, and conditions of their facilities.
Installing sustainable carpet saves significant environmental resources. And, more resources are saved with sustainable cleaning methods after a sustainable carpet installation. Facilities that make environmentally friendly decisions should extend those same decisions into their maintenance choices by hiring professionals who understand how to protect those investments.
Willis has over two decades of management experience and has an extensive background in sales, marketing, and franchise development. He joined the milliCare team in 2017 as the network’s managing director, responsible for leading all aspects of growth and performance within the global milliCare franchise network. Willis holds a Certified Franchise Executive (CFE) designation and is both an approved BOMI continuing education provider for property and facility managers and an IICRC Master Textile Cleaner.
Do you have a comment? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below or send an e-mail to the Editor at [email protected]