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Commercial Carpet Cleaning Conundrum - Part 1

September 8, 2005
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The Carpet and Rug Institute commissioned a survey of residential and commercial consumer attitudes toward carpet. Know what they found?

Given a choice, and money being no object, 41 percent of residential consumers would opt for wood flooring in their homes. Pretty alarming. However, there is hope for carpet manufacturers and cleaners alike, since most of those wood floors are covered by an area rug in short order. In fact, area rug production has risen to a staggering 17 percent of the total produced by carpet manufacturers today. And that spells opportunity for cleaners as well.

In the commercial market, however, there is no such "de-selection" trend. Commercial end-users continue to choose carpet as the floor covering of choice for several reasons:

  • Insulation - the R-value of carpet is estimated to be 15-25 percent greater than hard surface flooring
  • Noise suppression - carpet is 6-10 times quieter than hard surface flooring
  • On-going maintenance - carpet is estimated to be some 31 percent less than hard VCT to install and maintain over a comparable use life
  • Safety - according to the National Floor Safety Institute, some 555,555 slip-and-fall injuries occur on hard flooring, resulting in some 600 deaths, and costing the economy an estimated $100 billion annually.

    The Remaining Problems with Carpet?
    Since increased safety, reduced liability and lower cost - not to mention aesthetics - are major factors driving the selection of carpet for commercial buildings, about the only thing left for commercial end-users to express concern about is maintenance and cleaning. Specifically, they are telling carpet manufacturers that maintenance and cleaning of commercial carpet:

  • Is not effective - "We can't maintain the levels of appearance we desire."
  • Is not efficient - "Carpet maintenance and cleaning can't be accomplished productively."
  • Is not economical - "Carpet maintenance and cleaning costs too much."

    Carpet manufacturers and professional cleaners can argue the fallacy of this reasoning until we're blue in the face, but sometimes perception is reality, and concrete proof is the only thing that will convince end-users otherwise. So what's causing these perceptions to prevail? Indeed, are there any real solutions to the commercial carpet-cleaning crisis?

    The Real Problem
    Let's begin solving this "conundrum" at the beginning, with carpet specification. Interior designers, architects, building contractors all must become better educated on the practical realities of carpet selection, maintenance and cleaning. They all need more education on fibers, dyeing, construction, and styles, and on proper installation, maintenance and cleaning of carpet, so that problems and failures aren't encountered from the outset.

    Second, all parties of the "carpet value chain" - fiber producers, manufacturers, distributors, retailers, installers, building service contractors, specialized cleaners - must begin preaching "programmed maintenance and cleaning" rather than thinking of these important functions as an after thought. The prevailing attitude seems to be, "Oh yeah, cleaning's gotta be done, but it can wait 'til later."

    Nonsense!

    Solving the Crisis

    In the last 10 years or so, the Carpet and Rug Institute has been asking a lot of questions about consumer perceptions regarding carpet. They've done all of us - end-users, consumers, and cleaners - some big favors that have gone almost totally unnoticed. Those favors came in the form of CRI Seal of Approval programs.

    The first CRI Green Label SOA program involved vacuum cleaner testing. Here's the deal: upon testing a few vacuum cleaners in a closed, stainless steel chamber with carpet on the floor and a measured amount of soiling, the CRI found that most vacuum cleaners didn't harm the carpet, but neither did they trap and retain soil very efficiently. Bottom line, many of those vacuums were removing soil from the carpet, where it was doing no harm in terms of human health, and flinging it into the air where it became part of the airborne soil burden. Oops.

    The CRI contacted vacuum equipment manufacturers and told them what they found. The vacuum manufacturers - well, most of them - did the right thing by voluntarily re-engineering their equipment to make it more efficient. Today, the CRI has a listing of Green Label SOA vacuums on their web site at www.carpet-rug.org, a huge benefit to professionals and consumers alike!

    The second CRI SOA program involved testing carpet-cleaning chemicals. Seems that some of the most popular chemicals on the market didn't clean as well as plain water! Some contained high pH that adversely affected carpet dyes, some contained optical brighteners that yellowed over time, and many left residues that caused rapid re-soiling. No wonder carpet consumers have the impression that, "You can't clean carpet effectively."

    Like vacuum manufacturers, chemical formulators were contacted and products have been voluntarily reformulated to be less damaging, more effective, and to leave less residue to attract soil. Again, a list of approved chemicals can be found on the CRI web site, www.carpet-rug.org.

    The third phase of the CRI SOA program involves carpet-cleaning equipment. As early as 1995, the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification, working with Professional Testing Laboratories in Dalton, Georgia, developed a cleaning methods testing protocol. Carpet was soiled uniformly, the method was applied, and the results were evaluated with a spectrophotometer using ∆-E values. The whole process is described in the "IICRC S100 Standard and Reference Guide for Professional Carpet Cleaning."

    As of 2005, the IICRC Carpet Cleaning Methods Testing Protocol has been refined to incorporate designer soils and X-ray fluorescent technology developed by NASA, a much more accurate and efficient protocol. Next time, we'll discuss the steps for formulating a comprehensive maintenance and cleaning plan.

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