Programmed Carpet Cleaning for Commercial Buildings

“As go the floors, so goes the building” is a truth universally accepted by building maintenance and cleaning professionals. In any commercial or institutional facility — especially schools — the most important consideration is the health and safety of the occupants. Cleaning challenges include particles and contaminants in the air that eventually make their way to the floor. Therefore, maintenance and cleaning of floor coverings plays a critical role in occupant health and safety, aesthetics, flooring performance, and investment protection.

The four areas of concern in commercial carpet cleaning are: soil prevention, routine housekeeping, interim cleaning, and restorative cleaning. Let’s look at each one.

Soil Prevention
Soil accumulates within a building from two sources: first, that which is brought in from outside by traffic or air currents; and second, that which is generated inside the building due to various work or other occupant activities. Most soils from outside sources must pass through an entry point. If a comprehensive maintenance program includes time spent removing soil from parking lots and entryways and stopping it at building entries, soil is denied the opportunity to become lodged farther within the building itself.

With a proper entry mat system to reduce the volume of soil coming in, maintaining the rest of the flooring throughout the building becomes far easier. Facility managers should also consider which areas are appropriate for broadloom carpet versus carpet tiles (often easier to replace), or even hard-surface flooring, which can help make a carpet cleaning program easier.

Routine Housekeeping
Entry Maintenance – Beyond controlling soil entry, carpet-cleaning methodology is divided into three general categories: routine cleaning (e.g., daily vacuuming, spotting), interim cleaning (using high-production, minimum-moisture methods designed primarily to improve appearance in high-traffic areas), and restorative cleaning (characterized by more moisture, slower production, and deeper cleaning). Since restorative cleaning involves more time and expense, routine vacuuming and periodic interim cleaning are critical to maintaining the appearance of carpet, while extending the interval between restorative cleanings.

Daily Vacuuming – Building managers and in-house or contract janitorial staff should be reminded often of the importance of collecting soil before it sifts downward or is ground deeply into the carpet pile by foot traffic. A coordinated effort must be made to maintain daily vacuuming schedules as part of a comprehensive carpet or flooring maintenance regimen.

Similarly, the HVAC's air filtration must be maintained as part of a comprehensive dust control program, combining positive pressurization and proper air filtration. Particle soils that are not trapped by the air filtration system eventually settle and accumulate on the building's floor. Both periodic and intensive cleaning schedules may be extended substantially with comprehensive and routine vacuum cleaning.

Daily vacuuming programs should include:
    Entry Mats – Entry mats, no matter how effective, can only hold so much soil. Maintenance personnel should consider once or even twice daily vacuuming of both entry mats and carpet at heavily trafficked entrances.
•    Entry Foyers – Most soils not stopped by entry mats eventually wind up in the carpet immediately inside the entrance to the building. Entry foyers, lobbies, elevators, or reception desks are common examples of where increased vacuum frequency is required.
•    Heavy-Use Areas – This includes any areas of a building in which the work effort generates quantities of dust or particle matter. Examples include: cafeterias and gyms, if carpeted; classrooms, copier rooms, frequently used supply rooms or office inventory areas; lounges, and special work or maintenance areas.
•    Halls/Corridors – Whether carpeted or not, traffic flow corridors must be maintained with daily vacuuming. Otherwise, accumulated soils will enter carpeted areas and become part of the soil burden there.
•    Reception or Welcome Areas – The cleanliness of the lobby or reception area has a direct impact on customer, visitor, student, and faculty impressions. They must be maintained with daily, and supplemented with more frequent, interim and intensive (restorative) cleaning.
•    Less Frequently Used Areas, such as offices or meeting rooms, may be vacuumed on a two- or three-times-per-week schedule.

Building maintenance personnel should concentrate on monthly soil removal in collection areas that upright vacuum units cannot reach. Canister vacuums (backpacks) may be used effectively in corners, along baseboards, and behind or under office furnishings, and especially, on hard-surface flooring.

Interim (Maintenance) Cleaning
Regular interim carpet cleaning is required in larger buildings, primarily at entrances, entry foyers, and in high-traffic corridors, to improve the carpet's appearance while extending the need for restorative cleaning.

The frequency of interim carpet cleaning depends on the size of the building, the amount of traffic, and the objectives of building managers. Carpet may need to be interim-cleaned as frequently as semi-annually to once every other week (two to 26 times annually). Interim cleaning for improved appearance is highly productive, cost effective, and quick drying. 
Interim cleaning, however, does not provide the deep cleaning required to protect the carpet investment. The uniform appearance of the carpet may make it look as if it has been restoratively cleaned, but don't be fooled into thinking that this will maintain carpet use-life, or prevent a slow degradation of appearance. Generally, interim cleaning (coupled with aggressive daily vacuuming) is recommended no more than three times between restorative cleanings. In some heavily soiled areas, such as specialized work areas, foodservice areas, and some entries, restorative cleaning may be required on a monthly basis.

Restorative (Intensive) Cleaning
The primary purpose of restorative or intensive carpet cleaning is to provide deep cleaning and maximum removal of soils that build up through time.
Restorative cleaning is required more frequently in entrances, entry foyers, foodservice areas, and in high-traffic corridors. Again, the purpose is to protect the carpet investment and extend its use life, while improving indoor environmental quality through the physical removal of contaminants. Because more sophisticated equipment and procedures are involved, specially trained and certified technicians are required to properly accomplish this important task.

The frequency of restorative cleaning also depends on the size of the building, the amount of traffic, and the objectives of building managers. Carpet may require restorative cleaning as frequently as two to six times annually. Heavy-use entries, foodservice areas, and special work areas may require monthly restorative cleaning.

Professionals have a variety of restorative cleaning options from which to choose. However, the most effective soil removal is accomplished with hot water extraction, or a combination of preconditioning chemical application followed by rotary or cylindrical brush agitation followed by hot water extraction.

To achieve the deeper level of cleaning, more complicated equipment, more moisture, and more complex procedures are required. This means a higher level of technician training and experience is needed. There are five cleaning principles that must be addressed in a restorative cleaning program if maximum soil removal is to be accomplished. They include:
1.    Dry Soil Removal – Up to 80 percent of the dirt in carpet is dry soil. Soil accumulates on horizontal surfaces, the largest of which is the floor covering. Vacuuming is an essential and highly effective means of removing particle soil prior to any form of wet cleaning. Waiting until soil is visible to vacuum carpet makes cleaning more difficult and expensive. But done routinely, housekeeping with vacuum equipment enables workers to remove major soil accumulation in easily accessible areas. However, special attention must be paid to entries and to edge and corner areas where soil accumulates in quantity.

Vacuum filtration is also important. Environmental Protection Agency studies show that properly filtered vacuums can reduce airborne particulates in a building by as much as 52 percent.

2.    Soil Suspension – Some soils won't respond to simple dry vacuuming. Either they are too small to be picked up by the vacuum, or oily, gummy, or sticky binders hold them in place. These soils must be suspended before effective removal may take place, using the four fundamentals of soil suspension:
a.    Chemical action – Water alone does not clean. Only when properly formulated and mixed with chemical solvents can clean water clean.
b.    Heat or temperature – As solution temperature increases, chemical activity increases.
c.    Agitation – Required for proper distribution of chemicals.
d.    Time – Ten to 15 minutes of dwell time to allow chemicals to work.

If one of these fundamentals of soil suspension decreases, others must increase to maintain cleaning quality and efficiency.

3.    Soil Removal or "Rinsing" – At this point, the fundamentals of soil suspension have been used to separate soil from fiber surfaces, but that soil is still physically located in the carpet and needs to be physically removed. Until it is removed, the cleaning job is not complete. According to industry testing, soil removal is accomplished most efficiently with hot water rinsing, which is associated with “hot water extraction” cleaning.

4.    Drying – Drying options include:
•    Building equipment – Using the HVAC unit to increase both circulation and dehumidification
•    Dry stroking when wet vacuuming or "steam" cleaning
•    Ventilation (windows, if available) – Check outside relative humidity
•    Auxiliary equipment – Air mover(s) and dehumidifier(s), as practical

To keep carpet — or any floor covering, for that matter — looking good and performing to manufacturer specifications, several areas must be addressed in the overall maintenance and cleaning program.

As with many large, high-traffic facilities, schools and universities present significant challenges to maintenance and cleaning managers, supervisors, and workers. However, those challenges can be met with an understanding of traffic, the nature of soil buildup, and spots and spills, along with a preventative program of soil prevention including entry mats, programmed vacuuming, and routine spotting, in addition to maintenance of other building systems and areas (e.g., HVAC, restrooms, foodservice). Preventative and maintenance cleaning must be coupled with a program incorporating interim cleaning of high-traffic areas, and periodic deep or restorative extraction cleaning that incorporates preconditioning thorough extraction and efficient drying.

Ruth Travis currently serves as president of the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification ( She is an industry leader with more than 20 years experience in the fabric and carpet cleaning industry. She currently owns RL Seminars, Inc, a fabric care consulting business. Previously, Travis co-owned the The Rug Exchange and Gallery, which fostered her love for rugs and earned her the nickname “The Rug Lady.”