Residential IAQ

May 9, 2003
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Indoor air quality, or IAQ, impacts our lives on a daily basis. Consider IAQ and carpet cleaning. A carpet will contribute a certain amount of pollution to the air if it is not maintained.

Carpet is a catchall, and if it is not cleaned regularly the particles it emits may negatively affect the air quality. Residential carpets in general are prone to neglect due to economic delays, holidays and other scheduling conflicts or simply the “someday we’ll get to it” syndrome.

Air pollution can be greater inside the home than out. Gases, fumes from gas stoves and heaters, mold, dust particles and animal dander contribute to indoor air pollution. People exhale carbon dioxide and are responsible for other gases that add to the problem. Newer homes with minimal ventilation will contain chemical-release compounds in more concentrated forms, thereby exacerbating the allergies of people with sensitive chemical disorders. Oddly enough, it can be argued that older homes, being draftier, are healthier.

Maintaining IAQ requires an understanding of the factors involved in achieving a cleaner home environment. The cleaning chemicals being used to rectify the problem may in fact be contributing to it. Common pollutants will most likely first develop on the floor, eventually rising to higher regions in the room. Air conditioners, fans, refrigerators, curtains, drapes and air ducts all combine to create an unhealthy environment if the interior is not properly maintained.

Carpet cleaning is perceived far too often as a step in preparing for entertaining or holiday visitors. Once the public realizes that carpet cleaning is not simply an aesthetic option but a necessity for good health, it will be given the attention it deserves. Cleaning carpet strictly for visitors is the wrong approach; health comes first.

Wet rags and oil-soaked mops do their part in removing unhealthy contaminate residue, but the impact of hard-surface cleaning on IAQ is minimal. For carpet, dissolving and removing the residue is the most widely accepted approach.

There are several methods to accomplish this. I favor extraction; removing the harmful residue by suspending it with hot water and then extracting it into a waste tank. The diluted cleaning compounds, along with water pressure, suspend fats, grease and surface soils.

It is important to remember that the main focus should be on the removal of as much residue as possible through vacuuming to keep the amount returning to the air to a minimum. It would be nice if residue removal by hot-water extraction was l00 percent; that is not the case. It is closer to 97 percent, though everyone agrees a 3 percent residue-retention rate is nowhere near as bad as if the carpet were never cleaned at all.

Determine the type and condition of the carpet to be cleaned. It stands to reason that a heavily soiled carpet requires a higher pH than a lightly soiled carpet. By heavily soiled I mean heavy grease or oil-type soil of the type laid on by pets, heavy cooking or a mechanic’s shoes. Of course, age, carpet type, habits and pets will also determine the type of cleaner to use.

It would be wonderful to be able to use a single cleaner to save space and minimize inventory. It just does not work that way. If a carpet is lightly soiled, it is ludicrous to clean it with a high-power cleaner; this is an invitation to browning and possibly dye bleed, especially without the proper acid treatment. I suggest, using a truckmount, employing an acid treatment containing surfactants to deliver fiber penetration for light-surface carpet soils.

There are more than a few variables to consider when cleaning a carpet. The professional cleaning technician must consider pressure, heat, agitation, surface tension and, yes, dilution mathematics. And what about the role various carpet surface soils, microbial action and bacteria growth play, or the importance of proper protection, heat rise and moisture involvement?

A chemical cleaning agent has two features that stand out in cleaning a carpet. One is alkalinity, which helps to remove stubborn soil (easier penetration for soil removal would be another way to look at it). The second is the ability to lower surface tension, which makes the water “wetter.” This also promotes faster penetration, although it is more like adding additional penetration to the first feature. Without faster penetration, you lose the ability to complete the hot-water extraction cleaning cycle.

Cleaning is a science and must be recognized as such by those in the industry. There are three-day schools, lectures and books to satisfy the most inquisitive mind. Imagine how long it would take to clean a heavily soiled carpet with straight water; there are carpet cleaners who have tried and found to their dismay that it took longer than expected. When purchasing a new truckmount, make sure to request a cleaning class that goes with the purchase. The dealer should be happy to help, not only complete the sale, but to have the opportunity to introduce his products for your future cleaning use.

Someday, the public will understand that carpet cleaning benefits a home’s health, not just its appearance. As a population gets older it becomes more susceptible to airborne microorganisms. This will make awareness and the education of the link between clean carpeting and IAQ that much more important.

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