10 How-To's for Realistic Carpet Care in Schools

October 22, 2001
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Cleaning the carpet once before school starts and once at Christmas is the problem. Instead, we need to deal with the dirt as it accumulates and that means a programmed approach.

If we really want to improve the health and learning environments in schools we maintain, we owe it to superintendents, principals and custodial personnel to provide them with a solution that fits within the budget. The easy excuse is that there is no cleaning budget. The solution is either increase the budget or be more efficient with what you have.

The facts are:
1. Most schools are not happy with the appearance or performance of their flooring;
2. On average, most school systems clean their soft flooring (carpet) once per year; and
3. Many schools are tearing out carpet, due to the above, and wasting taxpayer money.

What's a facility manager to do?
Here are some realistic guidelines for cleaning and maintenance. Cleaning the carpet once before school starts and once at Christmas won't solve the three problems. That is the problem. Instead, we need to deal with the dirt as it accumulates and that means a programmed approach.

Real Dirt Demands Realistic Carpet Maintenance
In terms of sheer performance, we are asking a lot of carpet in school environments. But, we must ask for proper cleaning and maintenance to ensure performance. Ask a fellow facility manager how often they have the tile floors of any school classroom or common area cleaned and swept. Then ask yourself where that quantity of dirt is. Carpet has the ability to hide dirt so we don't see it until it is too late. Changing the flooring system does not change the amount of dirt brought into a school.

Acknowledging this critical fact will help you provide maintenance planning and schedules that achieve real carpet performance.

So from a practical, day-to-day maintenance point of view, where does the custodial supervisor begin? What should he or she do to keep carpeted areas clean and in service?

Here are 10 recommendations that will make a significant, immediate difference in keeping carpet clean and contributing to a healthy physical environment:

Trap Dirt Outside - By keeping parking lots, playgrounds and sidewalks clean, less dirt ends up inside. More than 80 percent of dirt in indoor carpets is tracked in.
Use Walk-off Mats At All Entrances- These should have pile, be at least 20 lineal feet long, and be able to trap both dry dirt and moisture. It is important to include these mats in the daily vacuuming activities, which will remove a great deal of tracked in dirt. In winter, vacuum more often and change wet mats.
Daily Vacuuming - This is the single most important thing to do. Vacuum all high-traffic areas, entrances, main hallways daily. It may be necessary to vacuum entrances twice a day. The more vacuuming you do, the less cleaning you will need to do. Remember, the majority of the dirt that comes into a building is dry dirt, which is effectively removed through vacuuming. Think how often a custodian dust mops the hallways in a school; this correlates to vacuuming.
Lift Pile - Many carpet manufacturers recommend pile lifting as an important maintenance step. Use a pile lifter regularly, perhaps weekly and certainly monthly. This opens the yarns and stands them up vertically so that regular vacuuming is more effective.
Remove Spots Every Day - Establish a simple spot removal program that encourages and makes it easy to clean up and remove spots every day. An incredibly simple technique is to use a dry extraction cleaner and a brush. Brush the cleaner through the spot and vacuum up the cleaner; no mixing of chemicals, no risk of damage. And spots do not reappear. Since the best time to clean a spot is right now, consider placing a small bag of dry cleaner in each classroom. This way, a teacher can quickly cover a spill with the absorbent cleaner, thereby making the removal easier.
Clean Carpet Based on Usage - While wall-to-wall cleaning is occasionally needed, you don't have to clean all the carpet, just high-use areas. These include high-traffic areas where school users walk.
Use A Maintenance Plan - An effective plan can guide both where and when the cleaning equipment should be used, not the other way around. The plan should "drive" the equipment, rather than the equipment "driving" the plan, a critical distinction for managers committed to being in charge of their carpet.

Focus On Lower Floors - Spend more time and effort cleaning and vacuuming ground floor areas because that's where dirt comes: Ground level. The more we do there, the less is needed on the upper floors.
Clean Overall - Plan for cleaning the less-used carpeted areas at the start of the school year, at Christmas and/or summer break. Many methods can accomplish this task well. The trick is to keep highly used carpeted areas, via the steps noted above, clean between overall cleaning.
Effective Vacuums - Make sure your vacuums are in good operating condition. Check belts, beater bar and brush agitators, vacuum bags and filters. The brand is less important than vacuum care and maintenance; even the best vacuum performs poorly when not maintained.

Post your cleaning and vacuuming schedule in a public place to send the message that you are serious about cleaning. Stick to your plan and watch others in the building begin to respond. They may even help out by clearing areas or picking up after themselves. A clean school is everyone's responsibility.

These maintenance tactics accommodate the way many school facilities are used - year around. That reality can steer custodial managers away from a giant summer or holiday clean up to an ongoing school maintenance strategy. Through a daily maintenance program, buildings and furnishings can stay in a high state of cleanliness year around. Carpet stays on the floor - and every day it can look clean and very user friendly.

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