Daily Spot Treatment Helps Preserve Carpet

February 16, 2004
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Imagine, for a moment, that you're a contestant on Jeopardy! You choose "Cleaning" for $400. Alex Trebek reads, "These items share something in common:
"Coffee with cream and sugar."
"Copy machine toner."
"Dirt, mud, leaves and grass."
"Shoe polish."

If you answered "What are the most common causes of spots in commercial carpeting?" congratulations: You're headed for Final Jeopardy.

You will probably not be surprised to learn that these items are dropped, spilled, rubbed and ground into carpets in commercial buildings across the United States with great regularity. Whether it's by the person dragging her feet on the carpeted steps or someone who drips coffee as he hurries down the hallway, carpets are treated to a daily diet of dirt, spills and spots.

How complex is the challenge facing cleaning professionals charged with preserving carpet in a commercial setting? One way to measure the size of the task is by the number and kinds of spots they typically encounter in high-traffic areas.

The Kitchen or Coffee Area. The carpeting in a company's congested kitchen or coffee area can be filled with spots caused by food, juices, coffee and other drinks.

Hallways. Carpeted hallways and pathways leading from the kitchen area are sprinkled with food, coffee, and other beverages.

Entryways and Foyers. When entering the building, employees bring with them debris from the outside ranging from dirt, mud and grease to salt and leaves. This debris easily transfer from shoes to the carpet. And once in the foyer, others who pass over the carpet as they enter the building grind it into the carpet.

Transition Areas. When hard surface floor areas are mopped, residual water often splashes onto nearby carpet in transition areas.

Spots are also prevalent in other transition areas - where employees and visitors shuffle and spill their way from large areas, into smaller areas inside a building.

By the Copier. The copier area is a destination frequented by many employees during the workday. The carpet there is usually filled with spots from a mixture of two of the most difficult-to-remove items: toner and coffee.

Elevators. Spills and dirt on the carpet area in the elevator are the result of both high foot traffic, and the jolt of stopping and starting between floors.

Boardrooms. Interestingly, many executives polish their shoes prior to big meetings. Unfortunately, too much of it ends up on the carpet under the conference room table in a corporate boardroom setting.

Stairs. In today's health-conscious world, more and more employees are choosing to take the stairs between floors, rather than the elevator. But when the steps are carpeted, this trend adds up to more exercise for building cleaning professionals, as well.

Spots occurring on carpets in any of these areas of an office environment must be properly and immediately addressed. Failure to do so can cause premature aging and replacement of carpet.

Office carpeting is typically replaced every six years, even though manufacturers of high-grade commercial Nylon carpet claim their product is designed to last anywhere from 20 to 40 years without significant fiber loss. As a result, many building management experts call premature carpet replacement the most senseless expense appearing on any company's books.

The culprits of premature replacement are soils that build up in the carpet's fiber base, coupled with spotty maintenance and stopgap emergency corrections. But ironically, "deep soiling" is completely avoidable through regularly scheduled cleaning and maintenance. More and more office managers and building service contractors are calling this the best way to add years to the lifespan of carpets.

The carpet industry sells $9 billion worth of carpeting per year. What percentage of any given company's operating expenses is spent to purchase carpet? Of course, that depends on the size of the company. But generally a firm can expect to spend anywhere from $36 to in excess of $100 per square yard to purchase new carpet. Do the math in your own space to gauge the impact of preserving, rather than replacing, the carpet in your office area.

Businesses rarely replace carpet because it's actually worn out, but because it is stained and unsightly. The Canadian Carpet Institute notes that even a carpet with a stain-resistant treatment is not "stain proof." There's no such thing. If a spot is not removed promptly and effectively, it may, over time, become a stain that is difficult if not impossible to remove.

That's why establishing a maintenance schedule for regular carpet cleaning is critical. Treating spots in the high-traffic, public areas of office buildings before they become stains can help preserve the carpet and add years to its life, saving companies thousands - in some cases to millions - of dollars. Addressing spots daily should be the first step of a regular maintenance schedule that also includes bonnet cleaning to remove more high-traffic soils and extend the time between extraction cleaning.

Knowledgeable cleaning professionals have not only worked out the proper frequency of carpet cleaning, but also the best ways to remove spots on carpeting before they become stains. Let's take a minute to clarify terms:

  • A stain is something that will not come out of the carpet; a spot will.
  • A stain could form from an old (aged) spot or it could be something spilled on the carpet that immediately damages the carpet. Carpet spot removers are designed to remove spots, not stains.

    Spot removal should be part of the daily building maintenance program, in an effort to minimize the impact of aging. However, the actual procedure used to remove spots can greatly impact success. Experience has shown that even before addressing the spot, it is advisable to remove as much soil as possible by either vacuuming or blotting. Next, be use the appropriate spot remover; avoid over-wetting the carpet; work on the spot from outside to inside; pick-up as much dirty solution as possible (applying a weight or pressure helps); rinse with water and blot dry.

    It is also especially helpful to enlist the aid of building occupants in the task of prolonging carpet life by encouraging them to leave notes about what kind of spot it is (coffee, ketchup, etc.), which can help lead to appropriate treatment.

    But with or without inside help, in general the broader the applicability of a spot lifter, the better chances of successfully removing the spot. For example, an effective general-purpose spot remover combining enzymes with the right surfactants, builders, solvents, agent to neutralize iodine and the right pH, will break down protein and food spots (as well as penetrate to remove most of the common soils). More specialized spotters are available for specific tasks, such as removing tannin and rust spots (acidic technology) organic soils such as blood or milk (alkaline technology) and chewing gum (freezing technology).

    Other cleaning professionals have found that "product systems" work effectively on spots because they are designed to take advantage of the previous treatments, while also trying to minimize the harshness of individual chemicals needed to remove the spot (i.e. start mild and work up). With any product, when a sequential order is recommended on the label, never change the sequence; applying in a 3-1-2 or 2-3-1 order, for instance, may neutralize the effect. Product systems work on the basis of interactive synergy, and a research and development team has carefully thought out the chemical interaction.

    No matter which maintenance strategy you choose, success in preserving carpet and extending its life comes down to product performance. What you choose to use and the ability to apply it correctly are critical to achieving increased productivity, profitability and the satisfaction of your customers.

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