Schedule your carpet cleaning

18th of September 2013
Schedule your carpet cleaning

Writing exclusively for ECJ, Richard Sudall of Chemspec Europe examines the key challenges facing today’s carpet cleaning operations. He emphasises the importance of implementing a planned carpet cleaning regime.

Carpets are now installed across a much wider range of buildings than ever before and are even being laid on top of the recent trend towards wood or laminate flooring. Years ago carpets were laid like rugs with floorboards visible around the edges, often painted black, until, with the advent of Broadloom, wall-to-wall carpeting became the norm.

I’m guessing that most of us who spend large parts of our working day in an office will have noticed that it’s carpeted; mine is. Where carpets are laid in commercial premises like theatres, hospitals, hotels and offices, the challenge to keep them clean is greater than it is in domestic situations.  So what are the challenges we face in keeping these carpets looking great?

Larger areas and higher footfall are obvious factors but logistics can play a part in adding to the difficulties of cleaning. In airports, for example, clearing security can take longer than actually doing the job. Sometimes there can be problems with access to clean water and often the waste water has to be carried large distances for disposal. Some premises, like casinos, hotels, hospitals and nursing homes are occupied 24 hours a day and noise can be an issue.

The practical aspects of commercial carpet cleaning are largely the same as domestic, just on a larger scale. Clearly soil is THE major factor; not just the amount, but also where it is and its type. If we consider the amount first, the majority of soil found in carpet is dry particulate soil - up to 79 per cent. That’s why it’s critical to vacuum carpet regularly and thoroughly, even immediately before periodic cleaning. 

Failure to remove sufficient dry soil prior to wet cleaning will make the cleaning task harder as the soil combines with the water to form a type of mud, which is then more difficult to extract. This can cause wicking problems as the residues ‘wick’ to the surface of the fibres in the drying process, leaving the grey shading that appears in the heavy traffic areas soon after drying.

Avoiding it is simple - always vacuum thoroughly, use a low moisture carpet cleaning method such as rotary bonnet cleaning, use encapsulating solutions or ‘dry’ compound cleaning and force dry the carpet after cleaning with a high moisture method. The 79 per cent figure applies to carpets fitted in the vast majority of areas, not just in high traffic locations.

Vacuum frequently

In terms of where the soil is mainly located, think of barrier matting, which is designed to remove soil from feet and keep it near the doorways. Barrier matting is fantastic at doing so, especially if it extends further than just the first one or two footfalls. Eighty-five per cent of soil enters the typical building on footwear and, after seven steps the soles of our shoes are cleaned. If no barrier mat is fitted, then the entry carpet holds onto the soil acting like a reservoir and keeps hold of it until the carpet is vacuumed.

If the carpet is not vacuumed sufficiently well, or frequently enough, it will become saturated with soil and subsequent foot traffic will begin to transport soil from the reservoir further and further into the building creating what carpet cleaners call traffic lanes.  Eventually, if the carpet continues to be neglected, these traffic lanes will spread throughout the building. Obviously it is equally important to vacuum the barrier mat, as that reservoir, similarly, will become saturated if neglected.

Having discussed the amount and location of what is thought of as typical soil, now we will discuss some of the different types of soil that might make the carpet cleaning task more challenging in a commercial environment.

Carpet soil is defined as anything that is foreign to the construction of the carpet.  We are not just faced with the fine carpet soil that drops deep in the pile. It can be physical soil such as chewing gum or food particles, or the carpet can be discoloured with stains of the liquid dyes contained in such items as coffee, tea, energy drinks, fake tan solutions and a wide variety of natural and artificial dyes within spices and other food additives.

These are most likely to be found in public areas: chewing gum and drink stains in cinemas, food and drink stains in food service areas and food dye stains in restaurants and roadside service stations.

These types of soil are a serious concern to building owners and contractors due to the high concentration of soil and the resulting contrast in colour.  If 200 ml of dark coloured coffee is spilled in a 10 cm x 10 cm area of a light coloured carpet it’s likely to be noticeable from several metres away.

Even colourless clean oils will darken as other soils stick to them, over time.  A single stain can make the difference between a carpeted area looking good or bad.  These types of stains can all be removed from the majority of carpet but contractors need to select specialist products and perhaps take on additional training from specialist manufacturers to achieve the best results.

Some types of cleaning tasks are tricky by their very nature - casinos are open 24 hours per day so when do you clean the carpets and can you guarantee high speed drying? Many carpet cleaning systems are noisy. Even the self contained truck-mounted units, that remain outside the building whilst simply running hoses inside, produce lots of noise outside, certainly too much if guests are trying to sleep during the day in a hotel room. Even using a portable machine outside a hotel room would be too noisy.

Elderly and mentally infirm units pose access difficulties, not just in terms of security but access to rooms where residents may be bed-bound. Not only is the soil a challenge but also there is the deodorisation task. The professional cleaner needs to remove the source of the problem to fully eliminate the unpleasant and potentially harmful odours. Fortunately, a number of very effective deodorising cleaning solutions are available, some containing enzymes that will digest the residual bacteria that can remain in the fibres of the carpet.

Stairs can be thought of as a challenge but, with the right equipment and technique, they are not really a major problem, simply taking more time and effort, and therefore more cost, to maintain them in good condition.

Cost effective maintenance

Of the wide variety of commercial premises with carpet cleaning needs it is probably the nursing homes and dementia units that pose the greatest challenge. There are inevitable spills of brightly coloured medication, slip risk from damp carpet, odour control, constant recontamination, health and safety risk from body fluid spills with hepatitis and other virulent microbial hazards.

Keeping commercial carpets looking good is a budgetary decision. The cleaning task is straightforward for professional carpet cleaners but is made more difficult and, in the long term, more expensive if the carpet gets too heavily soiled, when cleaning becomes the more difficult task of restoration.

Perhaps building owners and facility managers need to think about carpet maintenance in the same way that they think about the security alarm maintenance - plan it, schedule it and get it done before it is noticeable that work needs doing.

Whilst certain commercial premises are more difficult to keep clean than others, they should all have a proper cleaning regime where specific tasks are performed to a well-documented schedule of routine maintenance. Where such a regime is implemented this will not only create a cleaner and healthier environment for the occupants but also will prove cost effective   in that the life of the carpet will be extended considerably.


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