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Guidelines for Maintaining Carpet

 

Carpet offers many advantages over other flooring systems, such as reduced fatigue, sound absorption, and lower life cycle costs. From the start, the carpet maintenance program should be considered part of the carpet buying decision. If proper maintenance is neglected, the carpet’s appearance will suffer, shortening the carpet’s useful life and raising long-term costs. A comprehensive carpet care program* consists of four elements:

  • Reduction of soil entering the building
  • Removal of dry soil
  • Removal of spots and spills
  • Cleaning by hot water extraction
The importance of planning carpet maintenance must be established as a scheduled program, rather than being a random series of reactions to soiling conditions and infrequent cleaning. Virtually every complaint of poor appearance, rapid soiling, and many times poor performance has been shown to be related to a lack of planning and control for the maintenance program.

The most important consideration when planning a maintenance program is the budget. Like other expensive furnishings or equipment, carpet represents a substantial investment for any facility and deserves adequate care to prolong its effective life. If the carpet maintenance budget is set unrealistically low, the carpet will need to be replaced prematurely. Other items to consider are the amount of traffic and type of soiling, which will vary by area. Due to the higher traffic level, entrance lobbies, elevators, and hallways will need more care than offices. Food service areas and outside entrances will require more effort due to the more difficult soiling conditions.

* Please note that the information in this article pertains to most carpets made of synthetic or man-made fibers for commercial installations. However, it may not be suitable for wool and wool-blend carpets or custom-printed carpets.

Reduction of soiling

The use of walk-off mats at transition areas from hard surface to carpet is important. Walk-off mats can greatly reduce the amount of soil entering a facility by normal traffic. They are also necessary at service entrances with direct contact to the outside, from the hard surface area in a kitchen to the carpet dining area in a restaurant, or at entrances from plant facilities into the offices.

The choice of mats is important because, although cheaper mats may initially do the job, they will not stand up to the demands of a commercial location and are a poor investment. Walk-off mats fall into two categories, those designed to remove and trap gritty soil and those intended to absorb water during wet weather. Good soil removal mats have a coarse texture and are able to brush soil from shoes and hold large amounts in the pile.


The water absorbent mat must be used inside, either full time or at least during wet weather, to prevent the moisture from getting to the carpet. A wet carpet acts like a giant shoe cleaner, so it soils more rapidly. When both types of mats are used in combination, they should always be placed so that incoming traffic passes over the soil removal mat first, because the absorbent types have very little soil holding ability.

For mats to continue to trap soil, they should be cleaned on a regular basis more frequently than the carpet. If the accumulation of soil is not removed, the mat will become overloaded and be unable to prevent soil from entering the building. When a building is new or still under construction, soil may be tracked in from unfinished grounds so that mats need to be cleaned more often.

Removal of Dry Soil

Vacuuming is the most significant element in the maintenance of carpet and the overall appearance of the facility. Research has shown that 85% of the soil tracked into a building is dry, and the other 15% is oily. Vacuums are designed to control this dry soil. Frequent vacuuming removes particulate soil from the surface before it works down into the pile where it is more difficult to remove. Walking on the carpet accelerates the rate at which the particles get deep into the pile. Heavily trafficked areas, such as entrances and major corridors, should be vacuumed at least once a day. Areas with less traffic, such as offices, should be vacuumed every other day depending upon conditions.

Vacuum Cleaner Recommendations:

Carpet VacuumVacuums should have dual motors one to drive the source of agitation or vibration which loosens the soil, and one to drive the vacuum fan which creates the suction which picks up the particles. This prevents the vacuum from losing efficiency as the beater bar/brush becomes slowed by excessive debris or as the bag fills. Dual motor vacuums also survive the demands of a commercial location and last longer than single motor vacuums.

For carpet tile and carpets that are glued directly to the floor without cushion, a vacuum with a rotating brush, rather than a beater bar, should be used to agitate the pile and loosen the soil. Beater bars can damage the pile of direct-glued carpet if the machine height adjustment is set too low. This can also damage the vacuum.

Vacuums with beater bars should be used for carpet installed over pad, or with attached cushions. The beater bar vibrates the carpet/pad assembly to loosen the soil. These vacuums are also recommended for double stick installations where the carpet is glued to the pad.

Bags that fill from the top are preferred over those that fill from the bottom. As the bag fills, it does not add to the load on the vacuum motor. Bags should be checked frequently and replaced when 2/3 full. When changing bags, also check the belt and replace if loose or worn. Replaceable paper bags or paper liners for cloth bags are better filters than cloth bags alone because they can trap more of the small particles that cloth bags allow to pass back into the air. Some vacuums can also be used with micro-filtration or high efficiency bags; these capture even smaller particles, which tend to be related to allergy complaints, and can also reduce the need for dusting.

CarpetA cheap vacuum cleaner is a poor investment, delivering marginal performance that results in reduced carpet life. A hundred dollars of savings in the price of a vacuum could easily cost thousands of dollars in reduced useful life of the carpet.

Between cleanings, regular use of a pile lifter can remove deeply imbedded dry sand and soil, help stand up the pile, and renew the appearance of the carpet in high traffic areas such as traffic funnel zones, elevators, and lobbies. A pile lifter is an upright two-motor vacuum with a large, adjustable, gentle bristle brush with a motor, a high suction vacuum motor, and a sand trap. Using a pile lifter in traffic lanes just prior to cleaning will remove the deeply imbedded soil and open up the pile so the hot water extraction can be more effective. Another good use of a pile lifter is for post-construction cleanup. Vacuum first to pick up the larger sized chunks of dried mud, dirt, and construction debris. Then use a pile lifter to remove the fine particulates, such as dry wall dust, which are deep in the pile. After using a pile lifter, the final step—cleaning by hot water extraction to remove the residual soil will be less difficult.

Cleaning

Even with thorough vacuuming, cleaning is necessary to remove the 15% of soil which is the oily type material. In order to maintain a good appearance, the carpet must be cleaned on a periodic basis to prevent it from becoming so dirty that it can no longer be cleaned satisfactorily. The frequency of cleaning must be adjusted to the rate at which soil accumulates; therefore, heavily trafficked areas typically require more frequent cleaning, as do areas with less traffic but more soil.


When the color of the carpet begins to look dull, it is time to clean the carpet. The traffic lanes will show this first. If the carpet is cleaned before it becomes excessively soiled, the cleaning will be more successful and a much easier task. This is especially important in places oily soil is prevalent, such as the areas near streets or asphalt parking lots, and those around cooking or dining facilities. Oil tends to oxidize slowly, forming a sticky material similar to varnish which traps and holds dry soil and may become nearly impossible to remove as it ages . Another stubborn problem is the salt or deicer from snow melt which accumulates in the carpet over winter. Salt pulls moisture from the air and prevents the carpet from drying as quickly as it normally would. And remember, damp carpet cleans shoes and collects soil faster. The resulting black discoloration in the traffic lanes will require pretreatment with a traffic lane cleaner to break down the soiling and the use of hot, not warm, water to dissolve and remove the salt.

The Cleaning System

Carpet

When choosing a proper cleaning system, it is necessary to consider how effectively it cleans and how well it enhances the appearance retention of the carpet texture without leaving a heavy residue. We recommend the hot water extraction system, which research indicates provides the best capability for cleaning. This system is commonly referred to as ‘steam cleaning’ although no steam is actually generated. The process consists of spraying a solution of water and cleaning agent into the pile and recovering the used solution and soil with a powerful vacuum into a holding tank. This can be done from a truck-mounted unit outside the facility with only the hose and wand brought into the facility.


Self-contained, walk-behind machines are another type of hot water extraction equipment that are commonly used. They apply the cleaning solution at a rate which is balanced with the recovery capability of the machine, resulting in a carpet that is only damp after cleaning. This feature prevents untrained users from overwetting the carpet to the point that drying time is unacceptable. This type of machine is employed largely by hospitals and schools where there are in-house maintenance staffs.


Recommendations For In-House Maintenance:

If you decide that cleaning by in-house personnel is best, here are some guidelines to follow. For a good reference describing carpet cleaning and the hot water extraction method specifically, read the Carpet Cleaning Standard, by the IICRC.

Thoroughly vacuum the area to be cleaned thoroughly before beginning steam cleaning to remove as much dry soil as possible. Use a pile lifter if necessary in high traffic areas.

Pre-treat the heavily soiled areas and traffic lane and wait the recommended time before cleaning. Although it is advisable to minimize the use of solvents, many traffic lane cleaners do contain some solvents to help remove the stubborn oily dirt often found in traffic areas. A small area should be treated, and the liquid extracted before the traffic lane cleaner dries.


CarpetOn most commercial carpets, use a detergent with a pH of less than 9, preferably near 8, and with a minimum of non-sticky residue. However, for printed styles, use a detergent solution that has a pH between 6 and 8. The attraction between the detergent and the particles of soil and oil is critical to the cleaning process. However, the detergent residue continues to attract these particles even after drying. Increasing the amount of detergent beyond the recommended level does not greatly increase cleaning performance but makes the complete removal of detergent more difficult. Because build-up of detergent residue is the most common cause of accelerated resoiling complaints, do not use extra. Shaw Contract Group does not recommend the use of cleaning agents with optical brighteners.

Avoid overwetting the carpet. Prolonged dampness may cause discoloration, promote growth of mildew and bacteria in the carpet, or cause separation of the backing. This is controlled by a combination of proper equipment and operator training.

Do not use any silicone-based anti-soil treatments on carpets. The only anti-soil products approved for use as needed are formulated with either DuPont's Teflon or 3M’s Scotchgard.

Reduce drying time by using several fans or air movers to move air across the carpet, in combination with a dehumidifier or air conditioner to pull moisture out of the air. Carpet should be dry within twelve hours; even less is better.

Bonnet Systems: 
The name for these systems is derived from the rotating bonnet of terry cloth or other absorbent material used to agitate the pile and absorb soil. A detergent solution is sprayed onto the pile, which is then worked with a bonnet attached to a rotary floor polisher. It is at best a temporary appearance enhancement because it only absorbs at the surface and does no real extraction of deep soiling.

It may be used as a supplement to hot water extraction on high density loop pile carpets, but it is not a substitute. If bonneted more than once or twice between cleanings by hot water extraction, multiple passes will be necessary to remove the build-up from the frequent bonneting, particularly in traffic lanes. It has very limited capability for soil removal and often leaves most of the detergent in the pile. The spinning bonnet may distort the pile of cut pile carpets, leaving distinct swirl marks. Most complaints of excessive soiling have been found to be related to improper employment of this cleaning system.

Spot and Spill Removal:
All maintenance procedures mentioned thus far have been planned; spot and stain removal is the reaction to an unplanned incident. Therefore, it is desirable to have the needed materials handy by planning ahead of time. The companies previously mentioned have available spot removal kits in convenient carrying cases that contain all the necessary materials

General Instructions

  • Remove as much of the food spill as possible by scraping gently with a spoon or dull knife.
  • Absorb wet spills as quickly as possible by blotting with white paper or cloth towels.
  • Always blot, never scrub or rub abrasively, as a fuzzy area may result. When blotting, work from the outer edge in toward the center of the spot to avoid spreading the spill and enlarging the problem.
  • Always follow spot removal with a water rinse to remove the sticky residue from the spotter, which can cause rapid resoiling. There are spotting extractors that work well for the rinse and extract step.
  • Draw out the remaining moisture with several layers of white towels weighted down on the spot with a heavy object that will not transfer color (such as a plastic jug of water).

Removal Procedures

 

A. WATER SOLUBLE STAINS - Absorb as much as possible with white towels. Blot the affected area with more towels dampened with cool water until no more color transfers to the towels. If any of the stain remains, use a no more than a teaspoon of a detergent solution like CLEAR, NON-BLEACH liquid hand dishwashing detergent to a quart of water in a clean spray bottle OR use a general purpose spotter with a pH less than 10. For printed styles, do not use a solution with a pH higher than 8. Spray lightly onto the spot and blot repeatedly with white towels. Rinse thoroughly by spraying with clean water, and then blot or extract. Do not use too much detergent because the residue will contribute to rapid resoiling.


CarpetA-1. Same as A, but BEFORE using the detergent, apply a solution of white vinegar (one part white vinegar to one part water (1:1)) to a white towel and blot onto spot OR use a slightly acidic spotter made for coffee, tea, and other tannin stains rather than the detergent. Do not use on printed styles.

A-2. Same as A, but BEFORE using the detergent, apply a solution of household ammonia (one tablespoon ammonia to one cup water(1:1)) to a white towel and blot onto spot OR use an alkaline spotter made for removing blood and protein stains rather than the detergent. Do not use on printed styles.

B. GREASE - Blot as much as possible with white towels. Apply a volatile solvent, such as 1,1,1-trichloroethane (methyl chloroform), to paper or cloth towels and repeat blotting. Use sparingly and do not pour or spray directly on the carpet pile as damage to the backing or adhesive underneath may result; use the towels to transport the solvent to the carpet. Repeat as much as necessary. Protective gloves should be worn as the solvent will quickly remove oils from the skin and may result in irritation. Provide adequate ventilation! Do not use flammable solvents! Rinse thoroughly by spraying with clean water, and then blot or extract. If needed, continue with procedures in "A."

C. FREEZE - Stains such as chewing gum and candle wax can be frozen with ice or a commercially available product in an aerosol can. Shatter with a blunt object and vacuum before the chips soften. Follow up with solvent as in B.

D. Several commercial preparations are available to remove medical stains such as Betadine, but they should be used with caution. A 5% sodium thiosulfate solution (from a photography store) may be used. For stains that are more than a few hours old, this solution should be heated.

CarpetE. RUST - Rust can be removed in most cases with a 10% solution of oxalic acid or Rust Spotter. Stubborn cases require 5% hydrofluoric acid which is difficult to obtain and dangerous to use. Both should be used with caution by a trained professional.

F. WARNING! - If the carpet has a printed pattern, the following procedure must not be used. Only carpets which are solution dyed are resistant to bleaching, but do not exceed the recommended concentration. Do not use this procedure unless you are absolutely sure the carpet is solution dyed. Carpets dyed by other systems will be damaged. Products with olefin and nylon blends cannot be exposed to bleach without removing the color from the nylon fibers unless the nylon component is solution dyed. If in doubt, call 1-800-441-7429. For solution dyed carpets with stains such as food dyes, fruit drink stains, and coffee not removed by A-1, use a solution of one part chlorine bleach to five parts water (1:5). Rinse several times with water to remove excess bleach because it can affect the fiber if allowed to remain. Do not track to other areas where there might be conventionally dyed carpet.