Carpet Cleaning and Indoor Environmental Quality

May 10, 2005
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Regular maintenance is key to keeping up a carpet’s appearance.
One of the major challenges to the growing acceptance of carpet as the floor covering of choice in the commercial market has been the idea that carpet cannot be kept clean.

This falsehood is slowly being overcome, due in large part to advances in the science of carpet cleaning. Most of us whose bread and butter is maintaining carpet are certainly aware that carpet maintenance is a challenge, particularly if there is a lack of training, budget and efficient equipment to perform the necessary procedures. But as carpet owners have become increasingly aware of the proper maintenance procedures and the correct timeline for maintenance, carpet use in the commercial arena continues to grow. Much of the credit for this increasing awareness goes to carpet manufacturers who have learned about carpet care and have in turn passed this information on to their representatives in the field. These reps then pass the information onto the carpet owner.

One of the major changes taking place is the growing recognition that not only must carpet be vacuumed regularly with efficient equipment by a trained staff, it must be cleaned on a regular basis as well. And one of the backbones of carpet maintenance is cleaning performed on a regular schedule, rather than on an "as needed" basis. In the past, carpet owners called for cleaning to be performed when the carpet looked dirty. Today, with all the technological advances in fibers and yarns, by the time a carpet looks dirty it is literally packed with soils. In a growing number of cases, we are actually cleaning carpet that has been abused to the point that the best cleaning agents are gasoline and a match.

Another major challenge being met is the belief that carpet contributes to poor indoor environmental quality, or IEQ. This myth first began to show cracks way back in the 70s, when carpet was banned in commercial buildings in Sweden. In the next two decades, the incidents of people reporting allergies rose, from 900,000 in 1973 to 3.1 million in 1990. Seems as though when the carpet was removed, allergens, which had been trapped by the carpet, started going airborne from normal trafficking.

I believe that it was Dr. Michael Berry who introduced the term "sink" to describe carpet as it relates to airborne particulates. It has been pretty well documented that carpet is the largest filter in most structures, and that particulates trapped in carpet do not become airborne as easily as particulate deposited on a hard-surface floor. Like any sink, carpet can become "full" and overflowing, becoming a source for airborne contaminants if not emptied on a regular basis. The primary method of emptying the sink is regular dry vacuuming with a power agitation head and a properly functioning HEPA vacuum.

Unfortunately, we must still deal with the portion of our society that has not grasped the concept of the sink effect, such as the allergists that recommend removing carpet and upholstery and replacing them with hard flooring and non-upholstered furniture.

Carpet's role in the indoor environment, and the effect of proper carpet maintenance, was researched by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The building contains approximately 1,800 square meters of carpet. A thorough cleaning of the building and its contents was followed by changes in standard housekeeping procedures. New equipment, including vacuums and walk-off mats, was put in place, and staff members were trained on proper vacuuming techniques and procedures.

After five months of employing the new cleaning practices, the improvements in indoor environmental quality were obvious. The changes in cleaning procedures and equipment had resulted in a decrease in total VOCs by 49 percent, and a decrease in bio-pollutants by as much as 88 percent. These results would seem to bear out the position that carpet, properly maintained, will improve IEQ by reducing the level of airborne bio-pollutants, VOCs and particulates. So actually, rather than being detrimental, carpet has proven to be very beneficial to indoor environmental quality.

Long live properly maintained carpet! Until next month, see ya!

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