Taking Proper Care of Carpeting and Flooring in School Facilities

“Carpeting, used in schools primarily for sound attenuation, is, in a manner, like having an air filter on the floor,” says Steve Showalter, coordinator of Custodial Services for Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) in Virginia. The best way to clean that carpet is by vacuuming it properly. By using the proper vacuum at the right time, mold and mildew spores, dust, dust mite remains and paint dust can be abated, leading to a clean, healthy indoor environment. Proper vacuuming also extends the life of carpet and hard flooring. In these times of strict budgetary concerns, the life span of flooring is a dollars-and-cents concern.

Cleaning in public school facilities presents its own set of challenges, with the heavy foot traffic and constant use. Challenges also include cleaning special-use areas, such as science labs, art classrooms, gymnasiums, and kitchen and cafeteria areas. Health code requirements are stringent.“The health and safety of our students and staff depend largely on the quality of cleaning performed by the custodial staff,” states James Daniel, training specialist for FCPS. And, yet another challenge is that day vacuuming is not possible, except for special cases.

Because of different types of flooring, FCPS uses six types of vacuum cleaners.

The upright vacuum is widely used, and when used effectively, can clean 3,000 sq. ft. per hour. The quality of upright vacuums has steadily increased as vacuuming became recognized as the fastest and most effective way to remove most contaminants from building environments. The suction power of uprights has increased, while the weight of the machines has decreased. Because of its relatively compact size and light weight, the upright became the standard for commercial use.

The backpack vacuum is lightweight and worn with the weight balanced on the hips via a padded waist belt. With few moving parts, maintenance is very low. And, 6,000 to 9,000 sq. ft. an hour can be cleaned with the backpack, because of the maneuverable wide cleaning head, the longer reach of the cleaning wand and the narrower tool orifice that increases suction.“Just like the upright vacuum supplanted the canister vacuum as the standard, the backpack is quickly taking over as the most effective general-use vacuum in the custodial cleaning arsenal,” says Showalter. Relatively new in design, the backpack is arguably the most effective and efficient vacuum for commercial use. Since the backpack is worn on the back, the custodian’s hands are free to use the longer, lighter wand, which more easily reaches into tight spaces. The backpack can also be used effectively to pick up dirt and dust from hard surface floors in hallways and gyms by using a 20-in-wide dusting head using a mopping-type motion.

The wide area vacuum cleaner was designed for large areas. Most have a cleaning head that is two ft. to four ft. wide. This relative newcomer to the school cleaning equipment arsenal has had a significant impact on the time required to properly clean a school building. “With its wide cleaning head, this vacuum picks up dirt four times as fast as a custodian using an upright and twice as fast as a backpack. Sixty to 70 percent of a custodian’s tasks consist of floor cleaning. Making that time as efficient as possible is a high priority,” says Daniel. Another feature of wide area vacuums is the addition of battery power. This increases the cleaning range by eliminating the need to be near an electrical outlet and decreases the risk of electric cords being damaged by being torn from electrical outlets.

An even bigger vacuum, the ride-on vacuum, has been developed. This marvel cleans a five-ft. swath. Little physical effort is required, no more than driving a golf cart. In the areas in which they are used, the ride-on vacuum has increased the cleaning efficiency of one custodian by 300 percent. This frees the other two custodians previously required for the task to complete other work. Another advantage observed in FCPS is that the custodians want to use the ride-on vacuum, so the large areas that were sometimes haphazardly cleaned are now being thoroughly cleaned.

FCPS still uses the canister vacuum with HEPA filtration as a specialized cleaner. The canister vacuum is still on the job when small particulate matter, such as mold and mildew or construction dust is a concern. Often, mildew begins on the undersides of bookshelves and desks in areas conducive to its growth. The mold and mildew can be kept in check by vacuuming these areas upon discovery and taking other remedial steps.

No school building cleaning equipment arsenal would be complete without a wet vacuum. These are essential for cleaning up large spills or minor flooding stemming from pipe or roof leaks.

The water extractor is a step up from the wet vacuum and is designed to vacuum liquid from either carpet or hard surface floors. The two prevailing designs consist of a wand-type extractor used primarily to remove up to 80 percent of the water and/or carpet cleaning solution, and the “pick-up” machine that is primarily used on hard surface floors during stripping and waxing operations. These machines are indispensable for moisture removal, especially during a flooding emergency. They remove approximately 15 gallons of liquid before needing to be emptied. One extractor, nicknamed “flood-sucker,” has an inlet hose to pick up liquid and an outlet hose to move the fluid to a drain or to the outside of a building.

Vacuum cleaners have become specialized cleaning tools for different needs. Now, more efficient than ever, they are indispensable tools in any cleaning program, but especially so in a schools’ custodial cleaning arsenals. All schools have a need for all of the vacuums, some more often than others, to maintain a clean and healthy indoor environment essential to the well-being of the inhabitants, especially the students. In these times of budgetary constraint, the lifetime of carpeting and hard flooring can be extended with proper vacuuming care.

In FCPS, all schools have the essential vacuums, and a centralized team with the specialized vacuums is deployed when the need arises. Clean and healthy indoor air, clean carpets and hard floors, and extended flooring lifetimes are all made possible by using the right vacuum at the right time.