ICS Magazine

School IAQ and Low-Moisture Cleaning Systems

April 9, 2009
In order to have a clean and healthy school, a comprehensive plan must be put in place


It is important for the professional textile cleaner to recognize low-moisture carpet cleaning systems are an integral part of a comprehensive indoor air management program in a school setting.

Indoor air quality professionals understand the importance of managing IAQ in schools. There are scientific studies that identify a correlation between poor IAQ in schools to health problems such as allergies and asthma. Studies also show that poor IAQ in schools affects more than the health of students and teachers; it can be a contributor to a lack of performance during testing and learning. There are many schools that achieve awards for both exceptional academic performance and cleanliness. A common factor is the ability to evaluate and rectify IAQ concerns that can detract or hinder educational performance.

In order to have a clean and healthy school, a well-developed, comprehensive plan is essential and addresses the total indoor environment. Why is carpet a contributor to good IAQ? The carpet acts as an indoor environmental filter in the school building. The carpet helps to trap dirt and various particles, stopping them from circulating in the air. Dust is a good example. The carpet helps to keep dust and other particulates grounded, which translates to healthier air for everyone in the school. The carpet needs to be properly maintained to achieve the health benefits.

The professional textile cleaner must design a maintenance program that best suits the cleaning needs of the facility. Certification in commercial carpet cleaning through the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning, and Restoration Certification cannot be stressed enough. Professional textile cleaners must possess the technical training and knowledge necessary to maintain facilities like schools. Many schools require the use of green cleaning products as a first line of defense to foster good IAQ during maintenance.

Maintenance of carpet in schools must be performed according to guidelines set forth in the IICRC S100 Standard and Reference Guide for Carpet Cleaning. A maintenance program for schools must include both interim and restorative cleaning systems. The professional textile cleaner must have training and experience in low-moisture carpet cleaning systems, which will be used to maintain carpet in schools between hot-water extraction cleanings. HWE systems must be used in combination with low-moisture systems to deliver the cleanest, healthiest carpet for students and teachers. When developing a maintenance plan for schools, consider the amount of foot traffic, the number of occupants and the traffic soil rating for the area to be cleaned and maintained. Vacuuming carpet to remove particulates and soil is essential in an overall comprehensive maintenance plan. Cleaning and vacuuming frequency guidelines can be found in the IICRC S100 carpet cleaning standards.

Consult the commercial carpet cleaning frequency chart in S100. Buildings and schools vary in traffic, soiling rates and usage. The climate affecting the school and desired appearance level must be evaluated. These considerations must be addressed on a case-by-case basis in order to build an effective maintenance program.

IICRC cleaning guidelines recommend that HWE be performed more than two or three times a year, depending on the concentration of traffic and appearance desired. However, low-moisture cleaning will be utilized most often. To fully understand the difference between restorative and interim levels of cleaning, refer to the IICRC S100 guidelines.

Today’s environmentally friendly cleaning solutions, combined with advancements in equipment design for low-moisture cleaning systems, gives excellent results when it comes to soil removal. The results are further enhanced when the system is employed by a certified, trained professional.

To control soil levels inside schools, the outside areas of the school such as parking lots and sidewalks should be cleaned and maintained to help prevent grease and other contaminants from being transferred inside from people’s shoes. A good mat system will stop a large majority of soil before it can be carried inside. A mat system also helps to keep contaminants outside the learning environment.

In regard to mold in school buildings, the presence of moisture and certain environmental conditions can foster microbial-related issues that can contribute to poor IAQ. Synthetic carpet that is maintained often and dried quickly will not support mold growth. Water is the culprit or catalyst that starts mold issues in schools. Water intrusion from leaks or heavy volumes of water from flooding, combined with the right environmental conditions like high humidity, stagnant air, darkness and a food source, such as a heavy soil load in carpet, can lead to mold growth. Schools that have a maintenance program designed by a certified textile professional that keeps carpet clean and dry have already done much to prevent potential mold issues with carpet.

The school building must be looked at as a balanced environment. The cleaning systems and products, along with the HVAC system, which affects and regulates airflow, temperature and humidity, coupled with up to date environmentally sound construction techniques, must all be in balance for optimum indoor air quality. The entire structure of the school building (i.e., roof, windows, drainage, landscaping, etc.) must be properly maintained to prevent water intrusion. Water intrusion that does occur must be mitigated and rectified immediately.

An overall comprehensive maintenance plan must address cleaning and maintaining all environmental systems that affect clean and healthy air. A carpet maintenance program that follows industry standards and guidelines must be an integral part of that plan. Low-moisture cleaning systems are employed most frequently when it comes to commercial carpet. Low-moisture systems contribute to good IAQ by providing excellent soil removal and cleaning without over wetting the carpet. Over wetting the carpet can lead to slow drying conditions and must be avoided when maintaining textiles for health.

The textile cleaner must possess knowledge and experience using low-moisture carpet cleaning systems in order to implement and develop carpet maintenance plans that truly clean for health. The textile cleaning professional must choose the system or systems that best suit the cleaning situation. The education and experience of the technician cannot be emphasized enough to decide which low-moisture system to employ.

Absorbent Compound

This minimum-moisture method is used both in residential and commercial situations. Schools and large institutions employ this method for its fast drying and low chance of excessive moisture or over wetting. The system uses a granular carrier distributed through the carpet usually with brush agitation. Use the brush recommended by the carpet manufacturer; rotary or cylindrical or counter rotating. Once distributed by brush agitation, it dries quickly and is removed by high-production HEPA-filtration vacuum equipment. If the carpet is pile lifted with a pile-lifter vacuum, you will obtain greater results. Even though this system uses minimum moisture, chemical action is accomplished through the use of the granular product with or without preconditioning. Depending on whether the carpet was preconditioned before vacuuming, dry times are generally 30 to 60 minutes.

Dry Foam Cleaning

Dry foam is also a low-moisture method. The carpet is first vacuumed. The dry foam machine produces mechanical aeration and can be applied to the carpet, usually by a brush system. Soil and spent solution is drawn back into the machine by wet vacuum. The wet vacuum approach for soil extraction is most common. Some machines absorb the moisture and soil into certain pads or bonnets.

Bonnet Cleaning Methods

There are several variations of this method. What I will term general bonnet cleaning is also called absorbent pad cleaning. This is a minimum-moisture method used on many different types of carpets and fibers. Bonnet cleaning is most often used in a commercial environment on direct glue down applications for fast, effective cleaning in addition to ultra fast drying capabilities. Having carpet cleaned and dry quickly is of major concern; wet carpet in schools quickly becomes a safety issue where slips and falls are concerned, not to mention issues that relate to re-soiling of the carpet in addition to areas that cannot be accessed during the drying period. A detergent solution is applied to the carpet and extracted using an absorbent pad/bonnet attached to a drive block, usually on a low-speed 175-RPM floor machine.

Many professionals perform bonnet cleaning at higher speeds to achieve greater results in addition to faster production and use a 300-RPM machine. You must have experience and understand where to use and not use higher-RPM bonnet cleaning. Lubrication will be key in addition to bonnet selection to avoid creating texture changes or fiber damage during the cleaning process. Note: this is not only in high-speed bonnet cleaning; an untrained operator can damage carpet or improperly clean carpet with any system.

Oscillating Pad

OP is a version of bonnet cleaning where the carpet is also sprayed with detergent, and extraction is with a pad, usually cotton terrycloth towels, on an oscillating floor machine. The machine will not only rotate slowly, it will also oscillate. Many use the OP system as a standalone cleaning system for cleaning carpets, especially commercial; many who clean with extraction systems also use OP in conjunction with extraction to help eliminate slow drying, wicking problems and also to remove additional soil. In addition, on trashed carpet, many pre-agitate with an OP machine before extraction of the carpet and achieve great results.

Encapsulation Cleaning

A system quickly gaining ground and popularity in the commercial marketplace is encapsulation cleaning. There are many variations in equipment. Most machines use either cylindrical or rotary type brushes. The key principle here is agitating the solution into the carpet using polymer technology, with the ability to surround and crystallize soils. The polymer technology coats the fiber, so soils will not be attracted by any sticky residues. After drying, the crystallized soil is HEPA-vacuumed from the carpet. Encapsulation quickly gives carpet a good appearance, which is critical in a commercial environment. This system saves time, material and labor.

Wicking is a problem of the past with encapsulation cleaning. The polymer is great at stopping wicking. Fans of encapsulation systems will tell you the carpet will stay cleaner longer from the polymer coating. There are also encapsulation products that contain carpet protector.

Textile cleaning and maintenance is a science. The professional must be armed and ready to employ different systems. Low-moisture cleaning is essential for today’s professional who designs comprehensive textile maintenance cleaning systems that contribute and enhance the overall systematic approach to maintaining a school as an entire balanced safe and healthy environment. My goal is that, as a group of professionals who truly care and want to deliver the ultimate in a healthy textile cleaning experience for schools, cleaners remember education is the only way to keep growing professional and personally.

For me, my little girl receiving a quality education in a healthy, positive setting is of the utmost importance. Industry professionals have an obligation to educate our schools in the quest to provide our students and teachers with the cleanest environment possible. Today’s textile professionals must clean for health.

Unleash the power of education.