Services & Maintenance: Carpet Selection And Maintenance

By BOMI Institute
Published in the June 2004 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Carpet maintenance is crucial to the appearance of the building and health of employees. The results of carpet cleaning are visible to the public, customers, and personnel, especially if cleaning is not well executed.

Carpet has become the subject of intense scrutiny by environmentalists and corporate health specialists. Many workers have become convinced that poorly maintained carpet contributes to poor IAQ.

Most air quality problems associated with carpet are the result of poor maintenance. Carpet is a natural dust filter that traps particles that float around the office.

Carpet Types

Carpet for commercial office space is available in two basic types: broadloom (similar to the wall-to-wall carpet in homes) and modular tile. For facility professionals considering raised access flooring for utility distribution, modular tiles, typically 18″ or 24″ squares, may be the only viable option. Also, facility professionals may need to consider using conductive carpet tiles to prevent electrostatic damage in technology areas where static-sensitive electronic devices are handled.

Carpet fibers are natural or synthetic. Advances in synthetic yarns have created carpets with characteristics equal to or exceeding natural fibers. Wool and cotton are the most familiar natural carpet fibers.

Because of their lower cost and improved characteristics, synthetic fibers account for over 95% of carpet production in the U.S. and Canada. The most popular synthetic fibers are the following:

  • Acrylic. This fiber is long wearing.
  • Nylon. This material has good stain resistance and no longer fosters significant static electricity.
  • Olefin (polypropylene). Olefins are suitable for outdoors and for walk off mats, because they are not absorbent and do not fade.
  • Polyester. This fiber has abrasion resistance and a luxurious feel, but it is not easy to keep clean.
  • Rayon. Rayons do not perform like the other synthetics and are used only in the cheapest carpet.

Helpful Hints

The current generation of synthetic fibers has physical properties that allows it to perform better than earlier versions. Characteristics that have improved include durability, resilience, and soil hiding.

New nylons are configured to reduce static electricity. Yarns processed through a heat set oven acquire a permanent twist that fosters resilience. Solution dying impregnates fibers during the liquid stage of yarn production; the color is resistant to fading by the sun.

Coating the fibers with a moisture resistant chemical, such as Scotchguard™, improves a carpet’s resistance to moisture and stain damage. Not all synthetics are manufactured and treated in this way.

Solid color carpets are difficult to keep clean. For easier maintenance, avoid them and use three or four color tweeds to hide dirt and stains.

Greasy or wet soil will penetrate different carpet fibers to different extents. Stains penetrate wool fiber and acrylics more readily than they penetrate nylon. Continuous filament nylon, which normally has a maximum moisture absorption of about 6%, is the most resistant to staining, although it also tends to build up static electricity, causing the fiber to attract surface soil.

Using anti-static aerosol spray can minimize buildup of static electricity. A comprehensive carpet care program that includes vacuuming, spot cleaning, and regularly scheduled thorough cleaning can significantly increase the life of a carpet.

The use of carpet with integrated cushioning (as opposed to separately installed padding) may alleviate this problem, because integrated cushioning repels liquids, and stains remain superficial. This product is more expensive than the standard product, but much of the difference is offset by simpler installation.

Carpet cushion or padding is an underlay that goes between the carpet and the floor. It cushions the carpet, preventing the carpet from bottoming out and rubbing the floor, which would cause the carpet to wear. Softer and thicker padding is not necessarily better because it can provide insufficient support and allow the carpet backing to break down. Besides extending the life of the carpet, proper padding adds thermal and acoustic insulation.

Carpet Care Equipment

As with any maintenance endeavor, having the right tools for the job is paramount. Understanding the capabilities of tools can give facility professionals better insight.
The equipment and supplies that are used to maintain carpets are as follows:

Dry Vacuum Cleaners. A surface vacuum cleaner can remove the lightest soils; a vacuum cleaner with a brushing attachment more effectively removes soils that are buried within the pile. A special type of dry vacuum has a pile lifter, which provides an aggressive brushing and vacuuming action to remove the greatest amount of soil.

Dry Foam Shampooers. The dry foam generator sets up a lather from a liquid detergent solution and brushes it into the pile. Some types of dry foam shampooers have a built in vacuum. In others, a separate vacuum follows behind.

Wet Shampooers. Traditionally, carpets have been shampooed by using a single disc floor machine with a shower feed brush and solution attachment. This operation is hazardous to the safety of the operator and may damage the carpet through over wetting.

Hot Water Extractors.
These machines inject a hot water solution into the carpet and then remove it by vacuuming. This type of cleaning, sometimes called steam cleaning or steam extraction, does an extremely effective cleaning job.

Fabric Protectors.
Products such as Scotchguard provide a coating to prevent soil from permeating carpet fibers and creating permanent stains; a fabric protector is applied by spraying it on clean carpet.

Good selection and maintenance can increase a carpet’s life. Having the foresight to pick the right carpet and tools for the job is not only cost effective, but it also provides a positive first impression about a facility to visitors and employees alike.

BOMI Institute is the leading provider of educational programs for facility managers. For information about the Institute’s courses and professional designation programs, call (800) 235-2664.

Do you use any special remedies for cleaning carpet? Do you have any strategies for buying carpet? E-mail comments to