Carpet Tile Maintenance

January 15, 2004
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On my recent trip across the country to Las Vegas for the Connections 2003 Convention and Trade Show, I had the opportunity to pass through five different airports. Your groans of sympathy are appreciated.

I was favorably impressed with the large amount of carpet tile installations I saw in those five airports, as well as in several other locations. Carpet tile, also known as modular flooring, has been around for many years, but it seems to have experienced a definite growth spurt during the past couple of years. Carpet tiles offer many advantages to the end-user; ease of maintenance, however, is not one of them.

Ease of replacement is a primary benefit and selling feature of modular flooring, along with the ability to create patterns in the floor such as colored pathways to follow to your destination, e.g. "Follow the Yellow Brick Road." Most carpet tiles are tufted into a synthetic primary backing with a flowed on latex composition backing. This backing does a great job of gripping the tufts, preventing sprouting or loss of tufts during the life of the floor and providing the dimensional stability necessary for a modular floor to perform properly. Also, the flowed-on backing is a little tacky so the tiles don't move around after being laid.

In some cases, the tiles are laid on the floor with no adhesive. Other times every four or five rows are glued, and in some cases a full spread of glue is used. Sometimes a release adhesive is utilized; the actual specifics of each installation dictate which type of adhesive is selected.

Carpet tile floors present a real challenge in the area of maintenance. It is difficult to get good results cleaning carpet tiles with hot-water extraction due to problems in getting excess water removed from the tiles after the rinsing process. This difficulty is related to the flowed-on backing, which prevents air from flowing through the carpet as it would on a tufted broadloom product with a woven-poly primary backing and an ActionBac secondary backing. Excess moisture left in the tiles will wick to the surface during drying and bring much of the residual soil and spots to the surface, causing an unsatisfactory appearance.

Carpet tiles are often best cleaned using a very-low moisture method to prevent wicking as much as possible. Proceed carefully when cleaning carpet tiles if you are using a rotary-type machine. Systems that use counter-rotating brushes, either rotary or cylindrical, appear to be the best way to clean carpet tile installations to prevent problems with tiles moving or corners lifting.

The advantages of carpet tiles are mostly related to its capacity to replace portion of the floor without having to disturb the entire installation. Theory has it that if an area gets soiled or stained and the discoloration can't be cleaned out, it is possible to pick up just the affected tiles and replace them with tiles that are not soiled or stained.

The reality is that tiles available to use as replacements may not be as trafficked, faded, soiled or crushed as the tiles being replaced, and may very well not match the rest of the floor. Carpet tiles do have a definite advantage if they are being replaced in an occupied space, since it is necessary to clear only a few square feet of floor for access to the tiles, as opposed to replacing broadloom, which may require extensive furniture removal as well as complete dismantling of cubicles and accompanying wiring systems.

If a carpet tile installation is being replaced or altered, the contractors will have access to a jacking system to lift the cubicle panels from the floor allowing removal of the old tiles and installation of the new flooring. Voila! Carpet replacement without total removal of the fixtures in the area being replaced. This can save a considerable amount of money and time.

As I stated earlier, carpet tiles have been around for quite some time in the commercial marketplace, and are now being designed for the residential do-it-yourself sector. The big box retailers like the "rug-in-a-box" concept because it is easier to handle in shipping and allows the homeowner to load the new carpet into the back of the family SUV for transport. It may be wise to determine if that family room carpet that you are going to clean is composed of tile or broadloom before you start cleaning.

In a nutshell, don't be afraid of carpet tiles, but think before you tackle them. They aren't as much of a problem as they may seem. Just be sure to proceed with care. Until next month, see ya!

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