Carpet care - customised approach needed

14th of September 2017

What have been the most important developments in the carpet industry in recent years in terms of materials used and how they are cleaned/maintained? And can proper cleaning actually prolong the life of a carpet? Writing for ECJ Stephen Lewis, technical director at milliCare explains why carpet care requires customisation in light of the more sustainable fibres now available.

Some of the most recent advances in the carpet industry stem from the increasing demand for sustainable carpet - or carpet made from renewable resources. There has been significant progress on the sustainability front regarding fibres. Varieties of natural fibres (from animals or plants) are becoming more and more prevalent in the carpet industry.

Even sustainable synthetic fibres (man-made from recycled materials) have seen progress with the development of a new fibre called triexta. Triexta combines the properties of nylon and polypropylene with increased resilience for better wear.

While the progress towards a more sustainable industry is positive, such advances are not happening at the same rate for the maintenance aspect of these new sustainable sources. Natural fibres are often more difficult to clean and can require special chemistry. Sustainable fibres typically need to avoid water, so specialised cleaning methods are needed for removing soil from those carpets. The increase in sustainable carpet is a huge factor in why carpet care requires customisation.

What factors matter

No two buildings are the same, and a customised care plan may even differentiate cleaning frequencies on each floor. All carpet care methods however, are ultimately determined by two factors: fibre type and soil load.

Fibre type

What a carpet fibre is made of determines the carpet cleaning methods employed. A natural fibre, like wool or bamboo, will have greater absorption properties than synthetic fibres and a dry-centred cleaning approach will be necessary in order to avoid shrinkage and growth of mould or mildew. Synthetic carpet fibres are typically more resilient to water-based cleaning methods.

Another cleaning variable that’s determined by carpet fibre type is brush stiffness. Here again, natural fibres are more likely to be damaged by stiff brushes, while synthetic fibres are generally more resistant.

Soil load

The second factor in determining cleaning methods is soil load. The soil load will determine the level of aggression in the cleaning methods employed. Carpet with more soil will require a more aggressive approach than carpet with less soil. Because of the soil load coming in, a customised carpet care plan will frequently target entrances as a top priority. A number of factors matter here, as well, including:

• Amount of foot traffic on the carpet
• Frequency of spills on the carpet
• What kind of spills are occurring
• Type of soil being tracked into the facility.

The type of soil is a factor often overlooked, but the outside environment must be considered. If for example, employees frequently track in snow and ice, the moisture level may be more of a concern in that facility than for one that’s in a dryer climate. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to carpet care.

What chemicals to use

Maintenance methods chosen must, as a rule, do less harm than leaving the soil in the carpet would. And accordingly, chemicals should be a key consideration. Chemicals used on carpets should strike the perfect balance between being effective and not harming the construction of the carpet fibres. That chemical balance is determined by fibre type and whether it is natural or synthetic.

Natural fibres

As previously mentioned, natural fibres can be high maintenance. Most can be damaged by a high-alkaline pH. Wool specifically does not require special cleaning chemicals but does require those used to stay between 4.5 and 8.5 pH. Whether other natural fibres require cleaning chemicals with specific chemistry levels depends entirely on the fibre source and whether it’s blended with any other materials. When installing a sustainable carpet with natural fibres it’s imperative to ask the manufacturer about any particular chemical requirements.

Synthetic fibres

Facility managers should still ask the carpet manufacturers for any chemical requirements, as these can also vary by fibre source. However even sustainably sourced synthetic fibres generally have a much wider range of acceptable chemicals. It’s common that synthetic sustainable fibres are made of recycled nylon or polypropylene - fibres that only mandate cleaning chemicals with a pH level below 10.

Why cleaning is important

Over 79 per cent of the soil that’s brought into a building is actually silicate or sand - which is extremely abrasive and easily scratches and wears away at carpet fibres, no matter what they are made of. Imagine someone using sandpaper on fabric, and that’s what sand and silicates are doing to carpet fibres. When a carpet has soil in it, the last thing it needs is foot traffic grinding that soil in even deeper. Extending the life of carpet hinges on keeping soil and dirt out, and the most effective way to do that is through vacuuming. Frequent vacuuming is absolutely critical to any facility.

The remaining 21 per cent of soil are sticky substances that actually bond to carpet fibres. This 21 per cent is what requires professional maintenance teams to come in and remove the build-up, using detergent that causes the substances to release from the fibres.

Customise cleaning schedules

Facility managers know their space better than anyone. They know what kinds of wear their carpet sees each day and over time. They know what their carpet is made of, how much soil it sees and which areas receive the most wear. Facility managers should consider all these factors when creating and implementing a carpet care schedule and when communicating with the cleaning staff.

The most important way to prolong a carpet’s life is through its maintenance, so it’s important that trained professionals are hired to clean the facility. The day-to-day cleaning team is the first line of defence against the carpet’s wear and should be well vetted. Facility managers must verify that vacuuming is scheduled and even provide the staff with a programme of frequency that may vary by area, depending on the facility’s needs.

Carpet care professionals

When a deeper carpet cleaning is required there are a few key indications facility managers should look for when hiring professional carpet cleaners. First, when a new carpet cleaner is brought into the facility, he or she should ask to perform a test clean or demo on a small patch of carpet to determine proper cleaning methods for the rest of the facility. Second, professionals should ask about the carpet fibre type and know exactly how much water to use. Finally, they should know the level of wear the carpet should be able to sustain and employ methods that are not likely to damage the carpet fibres and will instead extend the life of the carpet.

It is also worthwhile for facility managers to hire professionals who will provide interim care if a spill or accident occurs on the carpet between cleanings. Stains on the carpet may damage a facility’s reputation from an aesthetic standpoint but are even more likely to harm the carpet fibres themselves if the spill contains liquid, oil or any material with acidic properties. Having a professional carpet cleaner quickly target the spot or stain will ensure the life of the carpet is not drastically reduced.

Facility manager checklist

In summary, taking a standard approach to carpet care will not provide an optimal method that is focused on addressing a facility’s specific needs. Facility managers should determine a customised carpet care plan using the following checklist:

• What type of fibre is used in my carpet? Is it natural or synthetic?
• How many people come in and out of the building on a daily basis?
• What types of spills are happening on the carpet and how frequently?
• How many entrances are in my facility?
• What type of outdoor environment?
• How much soil is being tracked into my facility? What type of soil is it?
• Does the cleaning staff meet the requirements necessary to extend the life of my carpet?
• Are the cleaning staff using chemicals that do more good than harm?

Asking these questions will determine both the frequency and methods necessary to keep carpet clean and ensure its long life through an effective customisation plan.


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