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Partition Cleaning

January 3, 2011
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Prior to the 1960s, just about everyone had their own private office space. This was replaced by the “open plan,” which was intended to make the work space more efficient, allow for a more flexible office setting, and reduce costs.



Prior to the 1960s, just about everyone from the mail clerk to the president had their own private office space. This was replaced by the “open plan,” which was intended to make the work space more efficient, allow for a more flexible office setting, and reduce costs.

Although the open plan had its naysayers when introduced, today only about 8 percent of all office interiors are divided into private offices. The open plan may have became more readily accepted because of the development of partitions, metal dividers about five feet high usually covered with fabric that could separate one office worker from another. This allowed for some semblance of privacy between office staffers while still adhering to the open plan design concept.

While the partitions proved to be an innovative solution, the designers gave little thought to their cleaning and maintenance. Even today, cleaning and maintaining office partitions in many facilities is given little if any thought …until they become noticeably soiled or, worse, impact the health of office workers nearby.

Preventive Steps

The most effective way to keep office partitions clean and healthy – removing dust and dry soils that can discolor them and trigger allergies and respiratory problems – is to vacuum them regularly. However, because most of the vacuum cleaners used by cleaning professionals in the U.S. are upright machines, most with no or very limited hose attachments, more often than not this regular vacuuming is rarely if ever performed.

Complicating the problem is that fabric partitions often get covered with the personal items of office workers, everything from to-do lists to family pictures. Unless staff has been asked not to post these items on the partitions or they are instructed to remove them every month or so to allow them to be vacuumed, the partitions are rarely vacuumed.

This is why, in most settings, about the only time office partitions are cleaned is when complete restorative steps are required. This then becomes a business opportunity for the carpet-cleaning technicians who are most often called in to tackle the job. Following the steps below should help technician’s clean their client’s fabric partitions quickly, effectively, and thoroughly.

Cleaning Concerns

Before discussing the most effective ways to clean fabric partitions, we should discuss some cleaning “warnings.” For instance, in many cases, today’s partitions do not have a metal or wood backing. Instead, they have a cardboard backing. This is important to know because if too much moisture is used in the cleaning process, the cardboard could become wet. Mold or mildew can develop, and, in some cases, the entire partition will need to be replaced … at the technician’s expense.

Other issues to be aware of:
  • The dyes used on some partitions are not necessarily as colorfast as those used for carpets and upholstery. Using the strongest cleaning agent that might be used in the cleaning process, test for color fastness in a small inconspicuous area.
  • Fabric partitions tend to collect smudges, spots, and stains. Most can be removed in the extraction process but ink stains can be a problem. Often using gel solvent will help dissolve the ink and the spot will disappear.
  • It seems almost natural to start cleaning partitions from the top down. However, partitions should be cleaned from the bottom up. The reason is simple. If cleaned from the top down, chemicals start running down the fabric, which can cause streaking and discoloration. Cleaning up helps prevent this.


Equipment Issues

Most often a portable carpet extractor is employed to clean office partitions. Select a machine with variable psi so that it can be adjusted downward for more delicate fabrics. A heated system is preferable. Heat improves the effectiveness of cleaning chemicals, which can make your job easier. Additionally, less chemical may be necessary, protecting the environment and saving money, and the partitions will likely dry faster.

Finally, to enhance worker productivity, an extractor that filters and recycles the cleaning solution reduces the amount of time required to empty and refill the machine significantly.

Other items in the partition cleaning arsenal include these:
  • Upholstery tools are mandatory when cleaning fabric partitions. There can be overspray when cleaning partitions, causing water and chemical to fall on to desks and nearby surfaces. Some upholstery tool nozzles have enclosed spray jets. These help prevent overspray and moisture recovery is often enhanced as well.
  • As with carpet cleaning, the partitions are often pre-sprayed with a chemical agent. After proper dwell time, a brush may be required to gently agitate the chemical into the fibers and loosen and dissolve soils. Special attention should be paid to the high-touch areas of a partition such as corners, edges, and tops. Smudges, oils from hands, and other soils collect here. The brush agitation will help remove these.
  • Keep handy a number of clean, absorbent towels to wipe surfaces accidentally sprayed. Additionally, plastic coverings may be necessary to shield desks, chairs, and other nearby furniture.


Drying and Inspection

Partitions can take two to 24 hours to fully dry. Using the type of enclosed spray nozzle discussed earlier will usually result in a shorter drying time. However, too much water was likely used if more than 24 hours is needed for the partition to dry.

Be sure and inspect the partitions once they are dry. It is not uncommon that areas of the partition are missed in the cleaning process. This is because the area cleaned with an upholstery tool/nozzle is far more exact than a conventional wand attachment on a carpet cleaner. Since they may not be cleaned again for several months, making sure every area of the partition has been thoroughly cleaned helps keep them attractive and healthy just a little longer.

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