Cleaning & Restoration Tools and Gadgets / Carpet/Rug/Upholstery Cleaning / Web Exclusive Features

How to Deal with Heavy Traffic Lanes

How do we successfully deal with traffic lanes?

May 2, 2013

When you walk through the front entrance of your commercial carpet cleaning account, it is often easy to locate the busiest areas by following the trail of asphalt tracked in from the parking lot on matted carpet that is already heavily impacted with soil. The equivalent on residential jobs are the living rooms and family rooms when you can tell where the sofa was located, and trace the path from Dad’s recliner to the kitchen - even when the furniture has been moved out.

These heavily soiled traffic lanes could be the reason that prompted this client to call you. Their appearance when the cleaning is complete may also be the way your client judges your work. For those owner/operators who tend to be perfectionists, they may also be one way we judge our own work.

A key question to be answered then is: “How do we successfully deal with traffic lanes?”

It is as true with carpet cleaning as with other cleaning. Driving your old clunker through the car wash won’t clean away dings in the paint or undo the effects of years of sunlight and road film on the paint job. Cleaning carpets can remove soil, but not years of wear and traffic. We use cleaning wands, not magic wands.

If the fiber is not resilient, cleaning can’t make it stand up. If fiber has worn away, cleaning does not replace it. Your expectations, and your customer’s, must be reasonable.

With that disclaimer out of the way, what can we do to assure that our cleaning removes the maximum amount of soil and provides the best possible appearance? 


When you have an ongoing relationship with the client, share some advice on preventing soil load from tracking onto the carpet in the first place. Most soil comes from outside. It is not being manufactured inside. Exterior and interior walk-off mats can do wonders.

Since most people don’t stop to wipe their feet, be sure the mats are long enough that people are forced to take three steps or more with each foot before reaching the end of the mats. Then have the mats cleaned or exchanged regularly. Traffic lanes will be greatly reduced. 

Thorough Vacuuming

Dense carpet fibers can trap tracked-in soil. Glued down installations drastically reduce air flow through carpet, so vacuuming doesn’t remove all of the soil located below the surface of many commercial carpets. This allows dirt to wick to the surface during drying - the result being unsightly traffic lanes.

A Brush Pro or other counter-rotating brush with the renovators attached helps to open up the pile and allow for deep soil removal. Extra vacuuming passes from multiple directions also helps. 

Proper Prespray

You may believe that the strongest, highest pH, and most aggressive prespray is the one that will remove the most soil from the carpet. That isn’t necessarily so. The prespray that is best matched to the soil and the fiber will give the best results.

Some soils are oily. These soils will respond well to a cleaning agent with high solvent content. Other soils - red clay and copier toner to name just a couple of examples - consist of very small particulates. A prespray containing a charged hydrotope can counteract the attraction between surfaces at extremely short distances (sometimes referred to as van der Waals forces). Traffic lanes may also benefit from the anti-resoiling properties of encapsulating polymers included in some carpet cleaning products. 

Increased Concentration

When I say “concentrate” I am not talking about focusing your mental powers on the traffic lane. I mean applying a more concentrated prespray solution. This is one of the advantages of the adjustable in-line sprayer we’ve discussed in the past. As the term “traffic lane” implies, not all of the carpet receives the same heavy soil load. It is wasteful to mix your cleaning agent extra strength for the entire carpet, though with an adjustable in-line sprayer you can set the dial for the normal dilution rate, maybe 32:1 and dial it up to 16:1 for the traffic lane. 

Increased Agitation

We’ve considered increasing the chemical section of the cleaning pie. What about also increasing the agitation slice of the pie?

Depending upon the level of soiling, the density of the carpet fiber and the resources you have available, agitation may be as simple as a brush or groomer. Mechanical agitation can be helpful and a real back-saver, especially on larger accounts.  A counter-rotating brush machine featuring a splash guard allows you to work in your cleaner without concerns that liquid will splash into the electrical area of the machine. A triple-head machine or a rotary machine along with a cotton or micro-fiber bonnet can also be used.

For maximum agitation on commercial grade dense loop pile, some have even used beige floor polishing pads under their machine. Be careful! This is not suitable for all types of carpet. 


A lot of troublesome tracked-in soil consists of non-soluble particles. Your presprays won’t dissolve or emulsify this type of soil. Whatever remains after dry vacuuming must be flushed out. Increased water flow provided by larger openings in your spray jets assists with the flushing action. However, additional water flow has to be balanced against your extraction unit’s ability to remove the added volume of water. Wetting wood subfloors or over-wetting the carpet can create other problems. 


One or two wet cleaning strokes and you have rinsed away the prespray you’ve applied. If a traffic lane requires a chop stroke or additional wand strokes, your only cleaning power comes from whatever is flowing through your solution line. Although some technicians favor cleaning with water only, water simply won’t clean as well as when a quality emulsifier has been added to your rinse solution. 

Anti-Wicking Spray

Despite your best efforts, you will leave some soil behind. No method and no technician will remove 100% of all soil from dirty traffic lanes. But there is something you can do to assure that whatever soil does remain will not easily work its way to the surface, presenting your customer with a brown dingy appearance the next day.

Anti-wicking encapsulation polymers can be sprayed on the traffic lanes after cleaning. These present a non-stick surface to any water that wants to wick soil to the surface. The water simply can’t wick uphill against gravity on this surface. During subsequent vacuuming, the remaining soil that has been encapsulated meets with little resistance and is easily pulled into the vacuum. 

What Worked for Us

A combination of these aforementioned methods worked wonders when our company moved into new quarters and encountered heavily soiled traffic lanes from the previous building occupants.  The first attempt with normal prespray and then truckmount extraction resulted in wicking and streaking. Even though a large load of soil was removed, the carpet looked lousy.

To improve the look and soil removal on our next cleaning, we used a system which had worked well for us back in the day when we cleaned carpet for a living. Following vacuuming, we presprayed concentrated product on the pathways, and then preconditioned by agitating using a bonnet with green polyester strips. This was followed by hot truckmount rinsing with a neutral extraction formula. Our encapsulating anti-wicking product was then sprayed evenly over the carpet.  In order to work this in, as well as remove any excess moisture, we then buffed over the carpet using a microfiber bonnet. This last step also aids in removing any remaining soil, and evening out the overall look of the carpet. 

Keep in mind that the encapsulate we used is not a cleaner, but a product designed specifically for this type of situation. As a bonus, the carpet stayed clean twice as long, compared to regular extraction cleaning only. This system works great for the low pile olefin and nylon carpets you find commercially. A similar, but less aggressive system, could work on cut pile and residential carpet.

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