ICS Magazine

Performance Insurance: The What, How and Why of Commercial Carpet Maintenance

March 15, 2001
“What do you think, Mark, will it last another year?” The question comes as I stand on five-year-old carpet that looks awful. The facilities manager is hopeful. I can truthfully answer, “I maintained the same kind of carpet that was 15 years old when I was in the cleaning and restoration business.” The difference is that my client then had taken out performance insurance.

My current client has the same attitude as many facility managers: They don’t think of the carpet after it’s been installed until its appearance becomes affected. Being aware of the “What, How and Why” of commercial carpet maintenance will be the insurance plan you need to have attractive, functional carpet for many years.

Assess The Facility

There are many questions that need to be answered before prescribing performance insurance.

  • What amount of traffic does the carpet receive in given areas?

  • What is the source/type of soil you will be cleaning from the carpet?

  • What color is the carpet?

What about soil prevention? “If an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, how much does a pound of cure cost?”

Soil accumulates within a building in two ways: it’s either brought into the building or generated from within. If a comprehensive maintenance plan is going to be successful, soil from both sources must be controlled by any reasonably means.

According to industry sources, up to 24 lbs. of dirt can be tracked into a building by as few as 1,000 people in 20 workdays. It costs in excess of $600 to remove each pound of dirt (24 lbs. x $600 per lb. = $14,400). With a cost like that, it’s obvious that soil must be stopped with proper entrance mats and matting.

Your goal is to give a boost to the maintenance plan you’re developing. Start by focusing on these areas:

Parking Lots: Soil is abundant here. Parking lots and garages must be swept regularly to remove the dust and dirt, and must be pressure washed to remove the grease and oil.

Walkway & Entry Aprons: If soils are allowed to accumulate here, they will eventually end up inside of the building. This area needs to be swept regularly and pressure washed periodically.

Exterior Mats, Surface/Recess: These mats are designed to dislodge and scrape off large dirt particles, including snow. Some even have heating elements in them so ice and snow won’t accumulate on them. When specified and maintained properly, these mats will last for years, and provide an excellent defensive against soil intrusion.

Interior Entry-Type Mats: These mats are designed to wipe off light soils, and absorb moisture and oily soils. Additional consideration should be given to placing mats in other areas of the building to control soil or spills (next to the photocopier or coffee maker, on a landing in the stairwell or any place where carpet adjoins a hard surface). Properly placed mats can reduce the time spent on spot and stain removal, and further reduce the spread of interior soils.

Dry Soil Removal (Vacuuming)

The most commonly overlooked preventative maintenance procedure for extending a carpet’s life and maintaining its appearance is regular vacuuming. It’s critical to be familiar with how effective different vacuums are. For example, a vacuum with a beater bar/brush won’t vibrate the concrete under a glue-direct carpet, so it won’t be as effective, while a canister backpack-type with a whip action cleaning head is only removing dust and litter, leaving heavier soils. As you determine which vacuums will be used, remember that at least 79% of all carpet soil can be removed by properly performed vacuuming.

So, how often should a carpet be vacuumed? It depends on where the carpet is installed. Entrance mats, the carpet that adjoins hard surfaces, elevators and the lobby/reception areas of some buildings may need to be vacuumed twice a day, whereas some offices and meeting rooms might only need to be vacuumed 2-3 times a week because they’re seldom used.

Finally, vacuuming is the first requirement of any cleaning process. No matter how wonderful your carpet-cleaning method is, pre-vacuuming must be accomplished with a good quality commercial upright vacuum cleaner and/or a power pile lifter. Your goal is the maximum removal of dry soil from carpeting.

Choosing the Right Carpet

Who makes the carpet-purchasing decision—the office manager, head of engineering or a purchasing agent? When does the head of housekeeping, environmental services or the contract cleaner get involved? When the carpet looks dismal and the lowest bid is again accepted?

Take it upon yourself to educate the person making these purchasing decisions about how color and style affect a given environment. A solid light tan color may work fine in some western or coastal states, but not necessarily in northern states, where it can become a dirt magnifier.

Insuring Your Carpet’s Performance

Once you have tackled the myriad of “what” considerations in the facility assessment category, you must determine how to maintain your facility’s carpet for long life and appearance. To most people, the “how” aspect probably means choosing bonnet, foam, shampoo, dry compound or steam cleaning processes. Each method is valuable in maintaining certain carpet under certain circumstances. What I’d like you to think about is “how” the maintenance program insures performance and appearance.

The extreme case is the carpet that has been vacuumed once a week. The professional can spot it right away, and the casual visitor gets an impression that things are soiled—even when the rest of the facility is strictly maintained. The color of the carpet is dark in the trafficked areas, perhaps matted down. Dark areas under the coffee machine or copier reveal spills that weren’t handled properly. The mats look as if you could pick them up and shake off enough soil to start seedlings.

That was the condition of the carpet I was looking at when the manager asked if the carpet would last another year. I was there to inspect for manufacturing defects of color change and matting and crushing. Yes, there was a color difference, and everything was definitely matted down, but there was no defect. With proper maintenance, this carpet could easily last for 15 years or more.

How Much Cleaning?

When carpet maintenance has been overlooked, an intensive cleaning is necessary. Ideally, you want to bring the carpet to a level where interim maintenance becomes achievable, as can be seen in the following comparison.

The results of intensive cleaning are:

  • Lower production rates

  • Higher moisture levels = slower drying

  • Higher levels of soil removal

  • A healthier environment.

The results of interim maintenance are:

  • Higher production rates

  • Lower moisture levels = rapid drying

  • Lower level of soil removal

  • A consistent appearance is maintained.

Some intensive cleaning methods may generate up to 500 square feet of clean carpet per hour, where others will give you up to 1,000. Some methods will leave the carpet wet for several hours, while others are dry and ready for foot traffic in less than 30 minutes.

All interim maintenance methods of cleaning give you high production rates, some as high as 3,000 square feet per hour or more.

When it comes to production rates like this, your staff needs to be motivated and given benchmarks on how long a specific area or building should take to clean. If they aren’t, then they will give you the same production rates as if the carpet were heavily soiled.

As you evaluate your facility, you may decide you need intensive cleaning a few times a year in certain areas. Interim maintenance may need to be performed once a month or more often in the rest of the facility.

Think About the Benefits

I heard a motivational speaker some time ago talk about employees and how truly important they are to a business. He made the statement, “Tear down the building, destroy all the office equipment and furniture, and burn all that’s left, but don’t lay a hand on my people.”

Business owners/managers know that the most expensive asset they have are their employees. Maintaining a clean environment means many things: less sickness (absenteeism); improved employee moral (productivity); and longer carpet life.