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Commercial Carpet Cleaning Conundrum - Part II

October 7, 2005
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Last month we discussed why the commercial carpet cleaning conundrum evolved and what the Carpet and Rug Institute is doing with its Seal of Approval programs for vacuums, cleaning chemicals and, eventually, cleaning methods testing using X-ray fluorescent (XRF) technology from NASA. Next, we'll talk about how programs - properly formulated and applied - can address and solve the myths and misperceptions perceptions about effective, efficient and economical carpet maintenance and cleaning in the commercial environment.

Programmed Maintenance and Cleaning
OK. So, thanks to the efforts of carpet manufacturers through the CRI, vacuums, cleaning chemicals and cleaning equipment have been evaluated and improved significantly. What's next?

Here's where all members of the carpet value chain must begin singing from the same songbook. Along with general housekeeping and maintenance of building systems, our message to all end-users should be that programmed maintenance and cleaning of commercial carpet is accomplished in three phases: routine maintenance, interim cleaning and restorative cleaning.

Routine Maintenance
Let's assume the building is being viewed holistically. By that I mean that there is a maintenance plan for building grounds (parking lots, landscaping, sidewalks, entry aprons), barrier matting (exterior, interior), general housekeeping (trash collection, high dust, low dust, restrooms, food preparation areas, special projects) specialized work areas (clean rooms, warehouses, industrial work areas) and HVAC systems (proper filtration, fresh air exchange, positive pressurization).

Whether accomplished by in-house custodial or contract maintenance personnel, programmed vacuuming and spotting are critical to the success of any carpet maintenance and cleaning program. For the most part, vacuuming must be accomplished daily, before soils have an opportunity to sink deeper or be ground into the carpet pile by traffic. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that the three most critical factors in any carpet maintenance program are: vacuum, vacuum and vacuum!

Vacuuming must be accomplished using quality equipment that's properly filtered with high-efficiency collection bags. Otherwise, maintenance personnel merely spread the soil around. Maintenance personnel must be educated in the fact that, it's the dirt they can't see that does the long-term damage to carpet and to overall appearance as well. Vacuuming must be slower and more concentrated in entry, lobby, first floor, and high-traffic hallways. Vacuum, vacuum, vacuum!

Interim Cleaning
Corrective cleaning methods of carpet cleaning are divided into two general categories: interim (e.g., absorbent compound, absorbent pad, dry foam, encapsulation, light shampoo, soil transfer extraction, hot water rinse), and restorative (rotary shampoo with wet vacuuming, hot-water extraction, or a combination thereof). Since restorative cleaning involves more time and expense, periodic "interim" cleaning is recommended in most carpeted areas to maintain appearance, while extending the interval between restorative cleanings.

Now, recall the problems that commercial end-users are voicing about their carpet: effectiveness (visual and physical soil removal), efficiency (rapid production and drying), and economics (reasonable cost). In recent years, carpet manufacturers have been testing all methods of carpet cleaning and their effect on carpet. It's important to heed manufacturer warranty information, if any, when selecting any method of cleaning.

Two major methods employing high-speed, low-cost interim cleaning methodology, encapsulation cleaning and soil transfer extraction, have gained in recent years. They address carpet end-user concerns about the three "Es" - effectiveness, efficiency, and economics.

Encapsulation Cleaning. Since the advent of synthetic detergents in the late 40s and early 50s, all properly formulated, mixed and applied detergents have contained embrittling agents that caused the detergent to dry to a "crisp" residue. The idea was that, after shampooing and drying carpet, the home or business owner could vacuum that carpet thoroughly and remove detergent and "encapsulated soil" that wasn't removed with pre-vacuuming or wet vacuuming during the actual shampooing or dry foam process.

The frequency of maintenance cleaning depends on the size of the building, the amount of traffic and the objectives of building managers. Carpet may need to be maintenance-cleaned as infrequently as semi-annually or as frequently as weekly.

Introduced by The Tennant Co. in August 2004, Soil Transfer Extraction is a relative newcomer to the carpet cleaning industry. It's an interim-cleaning version of hot-water extraction that, instead of spraying cleaning solution directly onto the carpet, sprays it instead onto nylon fiber that is bonded to cylindrical "rollers." These rollers, in turn, wipe soil from the carpet pile. In sequence, once the two rollers absorb soil from the carpet, they are sprayed with cleaning solution, and then, absorbed soil and water is wet vacuumed and deposited it into the vacuum recovery tank - some 400 times per minute.

The STE unit is filled with hot rinse water and appropriate detergent. When the unit is switched on, the cleaning head lowers and the vacuum motor starts. As the handles of the STE unit are rotated forward, the rollers begin to rotate wiping soil from pile yarns; the spray nozzles apply solution to the nylon fiber bonded to the rollers, and the vacuum extracts (cleans) soiled solution from the rollers rather than the carpet. The speed control dial is set at about 100 feet per minute for average soil, slower for heavier soiling and faster for lighter soiling. Cleaning is followed by procedures (e.g. HVAC, airmovers) to ensure rapid drying.

Interim Cleaning
Interim cleaning is surface cleaning, not the deep cleaning required to protect the carpet investment and to restore it to a sanitary state. Although the uniform appearance may make the carpet look as if it has been "restoratively cleaned," don't be fooled into thinking that this will prolong carpet use life or prevent a slow degradation of appearance.

Generally, interim cleaning (even coupled with aggressive daily vacuuming) is not recommended more than three times between "intensive" or "restorative" cleaning. In some heavy-soil areas, such as specialized work areas, food service areas and some entries, restorative cleaning may be required on a weekly or monthly basis.

Restorative Cleaning
Sooner or later, routine maintenance and interim cleaning procedures can no longer produce acceptable visual results or physical soil removal. At that point in the maintenance and cleaning program, periodic restorative cleaning is required to return the carpet to a sanitary state or higher. The IICRC S100 Standard and Reference Guide for Professional Carpet Cleaning provides guidance for cleaning frequencies of various types of residential and commercial environments. Still, professional judgment on the part of professional cleaners is required to establish an effective maintenance and cleaning program.

While shampoo cleaning, using CRI SOA-approved chemicals, followed by wet vacuuming or even cold water rinsing, is one of the oldest of the restorative cleaning methods, most of today's restorative cleaning is accomplished using the hot-water extraction method.

As with interim cleaning, the frequency of restorative cleaning depends on the size of the building, the amount of traffic and the objectives of building managers. Carpet may need to be restoratively cleaned as frequently as two-to-four times annually. Heavy-use entries, food service areas and special work areas may require monthly restorative cleaning.

The Ultimate Solution?
Since carpet specifiers seem to be more concerned with color, style and decorative impression in the carpet they recommend, it's obvious that both the manufacturing and cleaning industry must do a better job in communicating with and educating these key people in the carpet value chain. Not only must carpet selection decisions be practical, based on performance data, but there must be decisions made up front about appropriate maintenance and cleaning even before the floor covering is installed.

Building users must wake up and acknowledge the real costs involved in floor covering maintenance and cleaning. As with any other business asset, there are hidden costs in terms of depreciation, and loss of employee motivation and productivity, and even absenteeism resulting from the neglect of necessary maintenance and cleaning, and culminating in building-related symptoms.

In the final analysis, it may be that only carpet manufacturers can motivate end-users to acknowledge the importance of programmed maintenance and cleaning by building minimum compliance standards into their warranties. Consider, for example, automobile manufacturers: oil changes, lubrication, even routine tune-ups - all are necessary to maintain car warranties. The consuming public accepts that.

Carpet manufacturers also must take a strong stand on who is qualified to maintain and clean their products if warranties are to be valid. It's really a question of trained vs. untrained technicians. And to date, there exists in the industry no better objective indication that a technician has received appropriate training than IICRC certification.

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