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There are important differences between keeping a carpet clean and maintaining it. Cleaning involves the removal of apparent soil, but soiling is a cumulative process which, if allowed to go too far, cannot easily be reversed, and can easily cause permanent damage to the carpet. Maintenance, in contrast to cleaning, is a scheduled and ongoing process of soil removal designed to maintain the carpet’s daily appearance at a consistent level of cleanliness.

Carpet cleaning and maintenance are simple – when you have a plan and follow the four key steps of carpet care and maintenance.

Step One: Make a Map

A good carpet maintenance plan requires a system-wide approach, meaning it should consider space and usage issues like building layout, traffic flow and daily & special activities as well as cleaning and maintenance techniques. Areas like entryways, main corridors, elevators and break rooms experience the heaviest foot traffic, while private offices and cubicles will normally be light traffic areas. Of course, traffic patterns will be extremely heavy in the very public spaces found in most retail locations. Once you identify the different traffic areas, it’s a good idea to map them out in a colour-coded chart to help organise the cleaning schedule. As a general rule, you can expect to focus 80% of your efforts maintaining the roughly 20% of your carpeted area that sees the heaviest use.

Step Two: Preventive Maintenance

Prevention is the foundation of every comprehensive carpet maintenance plan. Soil is the natural-born enemy of carpet, so it stands to reason that the best way to control dirt inside a facility is to keep it from entering in the first place. Dirt is everywhere – sand, grease and even red clay get tracked into a building, while soot, smoke and car exhaust deposit their own grime over surfaces everywhere. To stop dirt at the door, preventive maintenance begins outside, with sidewalks that are swept clean and parking lots that are kept relatively free from grease and oil buildup.

A system of walk off mats, either removable or built into a building’s entrance, is very effective at removing dry soil, water and other debris before they hit the interior space. Adequate length is important – mat systems designed to be six to 15 feet long will normally trap a full 80% or more of all soil and moisture – think of the cost savings of this simple preventative step. A mat system should include rugged outside mats to scrape off mud and dirt first, then inside mats with their relatively smoother texture to absorb water & other liquids and trap small particles of dirt. It is important to vacuum mats often to keep them from getting too saturated with dirt to work effectively.

The judicious use of mats throughout the interior of a building, at elevators, water coolers and stair thresholds, for example, will help control dirt, as well as increase safety. Limiting food consumption to specified areas is a good idea and checking the weather stripping at exits and exterior doors will stop grime and lower energy bills.

Finally, nothing cuts down on dust accumulating on surfaces and floors better than checking the filters in a facility’s heating and air-conditioning system and changing the filters according to schedule.

Step Three: Daily Maintenance

The “V for Victory” in any maintenance plan stands for “vacuum.” Vacuuming removes 80-85% of all the loose soil on a carpet’s surface and is the most important step in any cleaning and maintenance plan. To get the most out of this vital cleaning element, it is important to use the most efficient vacuums available. Vacuums that have passed CRI’s (Carpet and Rug Institute, USA) Seal of Approval testing earn Gold, Silver or Bronze-level ratings depending on their rates of soil removal and containment. Luckily, price is not always a predictor of performance – Seal of Approval testing reveals that moderately priced models often perform as well as their more expensive counterparts.

Using the colour-coded facility usage map you developed earlier as a guide, plan to vacuum heavy traffic areas such as main aisles and entrances at least once a day; medium use areas like corridors and conference areas every other day and light-use areas such as offices twice a week.

Another vital element of daily maintenance is spot removal. Most carpet spots, which are caused by a foreign substance being introduced onto the carpet surface, can be removed with proper care. Stains, however, happen when the carpet comes in contact with some agent that actually alters the colour of the carpet’s fibres. Stains are much harder to remove than spots, and often cannot be completely eradicated. The secret to good spot cleaning, then, is vigilance and quick action. CRI’s Seal of Approval programme offers multiple commercial and residential spot removers that have been tested to work without encouraging resoiling or changing a carpet’s colour or texture. Spots can be removed by hand, but to save time, larger facilities often purchase portable extractors for removing multiple spots quickly.

Step Four: Restorative Cleaning

It is absolutely necessary to perform periodic deep cleaning extractions on carpet to remove the oily, abrasive and embedded dirt that will, over time, damage fibres and lead to a dull appearance. If soil is not periodically removed through extraction, it will build up and lead to a situation known in the carpet industry as “uglying out”. The good news is, regular extraction cleaning will maintain carpet to such a high degree that you will likely want to change the style before you replace the carpet for any other reason.

Hot water extraction, sometimes called “steam cleaning”, mixes hot water with cleaning pre-spray to help suspend dirt particles in solution, where they can be extracted.

CRI Seal of Approval, which lists extractors and deep-cleaning systems according to the amount of soil they remove, recently added a new Platinum performance level to accommodate those machines and systems that remove 90% or more of soil from carpet.

Ensuring that carpet dries quickly after extracting is important so that business continues safely and without interruption and any possibility of mold or mildew growth is eliminated. The Carpet and Rug Institute suggests running HVAC systems set at 68-70oF for approximately 24 hours after hot water extraction. Air Movers – special fans designed for drying carpet – also boost drying times.

Once again, it’s a good idea to use your colour-coded chart to help determine the restorative cleaning schedule. A good rule of thumb – heavy traffic areas need monthly extraction, while moderate traffic areas should be cleaned at least once a quarter. Clean conference rooms and corridors every six months and private offices and other light traffic areas once or twice per year.

Werner Braun
President, Carpet and Rug Institute

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