In the May 2001 issue of ICS, I discussed some of the current information on indoor allergens and the conclusions of the scientific community that indoor pollutants are among the top environmental risks to public health.
We have heard statements in the past that carpet act as a filter or reservoir that hold materials until they can be cleaned from the surface. Although the statement is true, we need to keep in mind that maintenance needs to be broader than clean carpet — we should be looking at the entire building envelope. Dr. Eugene Cole of Dyn Corp. has coined the phrase “Home Environment Specialists.” I don’t think this is far from the mark when assessing effectiveness for our customers.
So much misinformation has been repeated that our customers begin to take it as truth.
A good case in point is what happened in Sweden more than 10 years ago. At that time, Sweden thought carpet contributed to poor indoor air quality. Installed carpet was banned from public buildings and its market share went from 40 percent to 2 percent today. During the same time, allergic cases increased 600 percent. Now, Swedish authorities believe the rise in allergic reactions is associated with poor indoor air quality.
Let’s look at how we can help improve the environmental hygiene of our customers.
Remember, we’re not carpet cleaners; we’re in the service business. We need to look at the customer’s home or place of business and see what services we can offer. Yes we clean carpets but, what about the upholstery, area rugs, air handling system, drapery, hard surfaces, fabric wall coverings or any other surface?
The number one allergen in the home environment is dust mite fecal matter. It contains a protein Der p 1 that acts as a trigger to cause allergy symptoms.
For allergy suffers the bedroom is the primary source of dust mite exposure in the home. The bedroom provides the best conditions of warmth, humidity and food for their growth. They are present in mattresses, pillows, blankets, carpets, upholstered furniture, curtains, and similar fabrics.
Most of the mites in our homes are found in our beds (about 60 percent) with the next most populated area the carpets in the bedroom (20 percent) then upholstery (20 percent).
To effectively control dust mite allergens, the mattress needs to be regularly cleaned, about every six months for allergy suffers. It should first be vacuumed, ideally with a truckmount so the exhaust is vented outside. If a truckmount is not available, then use a HEPA filter vacuum. After vacuuming, wet clean the top and sides of the mattress. Don’t over wet the fabric, as the customer will need to use the mattress that evening. At this point, a dust mite allergen neutralizer product should be sprayed on the surface.
However, an application of mitacide or pesticide is not recommended for allergy patients, as these materials are poisons and could cause discomfort. It would be best to use a plant-based treatment that doesn’t contain perfumes or VOCs to control the allergens in between hot water extraction cleaning.
Don’t forget the pillows! An old pillow can contain up to 20 percent of its weight in dust mites, their fecal matter and body parts. Every time your head hits the pillow, the pressure acts as a billow blowing the allergens into the bedroom. The pillows can be cleaned and treated with a dust mite-neutralizing product, but replacing the pillow every six months would be the best advice to give your customers.
Next, turn your attention to the carpet in the bedroom. Dust mites feed off the dead skin we shed and are towards the bottom of the food chain, breaking down organic matter.
Clean the carpets in the bedroom using the hot water extraction method. Because of chemical sensitivities, use cleaning agents that are free of perfumes, phosphates, builders, hydrocarbons and solvents for allergy suffers. Again, new products manufactured from plant-based alcohol ethoxylates meet these criteria. Apply an anti-allergen neutralizing product to control the allergens between cleanings.
The do-it-yourself market is much more tuned in to the needs of the allergy suffer than the professional cleaning industry. For example, Bissell sells a Multi-Allergen Removal™ extraction cleaner for their machine that they claim “removes up to 80 percent of embedded dust mite waste allergen.”
With this much interest by the consumer in anti-allergen cleaning, it’s curious the professional carpet cleaner has been so slow to market their services to this segment of the population. In addition to allergy suffers, it seems more of the population is concerned with health and safety issues. Many homeowners are now asking to see the MSDS of the products that will be used to clean their home. If they see hazardous materials listed on the MSDS, then they demand cleaning with hot water only.
Next time we will focus on how to market anti-allergen services to your customers.