Maintenance for Carpets and Floors

The technology for effectively cleaning carpets and rugs has been in place, or so it might be assumed, for many decades. However, in 2000, the Dalton, GA-based Carpet and Rug Institute, Inc., responding to customer complaints, made some startling discoveries.

The institute's president, Werner Braun, recalls, "We found that many vacuum cleaners got only 36 percent of soil removal. Also, there was a fairly high level of particle emissions, particles that got by the filters and were sent back into the environment. We were also startled to find that the most expensive vacuum cleaner put a year's worth of wear and tear on a carpet with just 10 passes — not good for the carpet, not good for the consumer."

Next, Braun relates, the institute tested 24 spot removers, all well-known brands. "Only four cleaned as good as water. The vast majority didn't get the spot out, and they created tremendous resoiling problems." Hot water extractors did a better job of getting the dirt out, Braun continues, but only 20 percent got the water out while the rest put 95 percent of the water back into the carpet. Thus, the carpet was wet not for three to four hours but two to three days. "Also, these extractors had a tremendously deleterious effect on the color fasteners."

What went wrong? Were manufacturers simply cutting corners? "It was worse than that," Braun replies. "They simply didn't know. There wasn't any real testing, or it was inadequate. One company well known for its spot remover, when we told them their product and failed and showed them the tests, they couldn't believe it. They were really naive. But they reformulated their product so it worked."

That's the good news. For now, Braun says, they rarely come across a spot remover that doesn't work. There have been similar vast improvements in vacuum cleaners, hot water extractors, and other cleaning equipment. This is a happy instance in which an oversight body set high standards and the industry responded in a positive manner. In fact, the institute has been tightening up their requirements. For instance, they've reduced the acceptable level of particles from 100 ug/m3 to 35. The institute has established three levels of rating — gold, silver, and bronze — and, about a year ago, started paying attention to cleaning chemicals that not only worked, but were also environmentally friendly. You can find out which products rate the institute's seal of approval at

William H. Doan, an independent consultant retired from Shaw Industries Group, Inc., says that Shaw is another resource, through a number of technical bulletins and technical information, available at 877/502-7429.

A point Doan makes is that it is best to start by trying to keep as much dirt outside as possible. There are, he explains, two types of mats for this purpose. The first brushes soil from shoes and can hold large amounts of dirt. These are used on the outside. On the inside are absorbent mats that prevent moisture from getting on the carpet. Doan says, "Twelve to 15 ft. of matting is ideal, but you must keep these mats clean.” He also recommends identifying and addressing all sources of soiling. These include parking lots/entrances, transition areas (hard surface to carpet), food service areas, and restrooms/water coolers. Tony Gladson, project manager for the Atlanta, GA-based Spectra Products, which actually goes out and cleans school rugs and floors, says that just as some manufacturers have been negligent in the past, some schools are negligent today. He says the city schools in his area tend to do a good job of maintenance, but the outlying county schools — not so good.

While basic chores, such as vacuuming, should be done every day, Gladson says that a thorough cleaning job needs to be in done in June or July. The average elementary school takes about a week, a high school a week-and-a-half. "One kid tracks in an average of five pounds of dirt per school year," Gladson says. "Many administrators are always looking to replace carpets. But, if properly maintained, carpets will last a long time. We have a carpet that's been in a high school for 20 years and still looks good."

The following are recommendations from The Carpet and Rug Institute’s booklet entitled, Carpet Maintenance for School Facilities. Topics are cleaning hard surface flooring, carpet adjoining hard surfaces, vacuuming, and carpet extraction.

Hard Surface Flooring — Daily maintenance of hard surface floorcovering presents a greater challenge to the average maintenance staff than carpeted surfaces. Hard surface flooring must receive constant care because of its inability to hide soil and the potential for damage to the finish by dry soil. Hard surfaces that have become wet due to spills, leaks, or even tracked-in moisture must be a constant concern to the maintenance staff, as well as the risk management staff. Daily maintenance of hard surface floors includes dry mopping, wet mopping, and spot mopping. Classification of maintenance by traffic level is also necessary for hard surfaces, but frequency must be increased in order to maintain an attractive appearance level.

With hard surfaces, some high traffic areas, such as corridors and entrances, may require dust mopping several times daily. Light and medium traffic areas should be cleaned a minimum of once per day or as needed.

Spot mopping should occur on a daily basis or more frequently to remove spills and to touch up high traffic areas. Perform wet mopping a minimum of three times a week. Wet mopping is critical to the maintenance of hard surface floor covering. Use disinfectants cautiously in presence of children and replenish the solution in water pails regularly to prevent the spread of dirt, bacteria, and fungi to infected areas.

Remove wet spills immediately to minimize falls and injuries. Store clean wet mops in cool, dry areas.

Hard surface floorcoverings should be stripped and refinished or recoated yearly to restore the original finish and to prepare the surface for another school year. Many hard surface manufacturers recommend a minimum of three to four coats of finish to properly protect the surface of the floorcoverings. If intervals between periodic cleaning or spray buffings are greater than those recommended, it may be necessary to increase the number of coats applied to properly protect the finish. Because of possible environmental impact of chemicals used in the stripping and recoating process, these procedures are best performed when school is out of session. Plenty of fresh air ventilation should be provided to allow any odors to disappear.

Carpet Adjoining Hard Surfaces — Transition areas where carpet and hard floors meet can be a challenge. To avoid problems, observe a few common-sense rules.
  • During treatment of hard floors, whether stripping, finishing, or maintaining, keep chemicals off the carpet. Many of the chemicals used to maintain hard floors can cause damage to carpet.
  • After damp maintenance of hard surfaces, dry completely before allowing traffic onto carpet to help prevent tracking of any residues of hard surface cleaning agents.
  • When using rotary equipment on hard surfaces next to carpet, be careful not to allow pads or brushes to come in contact with the carpet and, thus, abrade the carpet pile.
  • Do not set buckets or equipment used for the maintenance of hard floors on the carpet. Residues on the bucket may cause soiling or staining.

Vacuuming — Vacuuming is the single most effective and economical means of keeping the facility floorcoverings clean. It has been proven that 90 to 95 percent of all dry soil by weight can be removed from carpet, provided you choose good equipment and follow good procedures.

In choosing equipment, you have to look for long-term efficiency and durability, as opposed to simply cost. Consider efficient filtration. A vacuum that has an extremely high airflow (suction) has very little value if the dust and other contaminants pass through the vacuum bag and become airborne. Select a vacuum that offers high efficiency filtration: a high particulate air (HEPA) or near-HEPA filter. Use disposable vacuum bags, and replace them before the bag is full, avoiding reduced airflow and soil removal. Efficient vacuum cleaners offer high airflow and adjustable, rotating brush agitation for more effective soil removal.

Once equipment has been selected, set a schedule for frequency. Using the facility diagram, classify carpet areas into high traffic, moderate, and light areas. Vacuum high traffic areas daily or more frequently as the need arises. Vacuum moderate traffic areas two or three times a week, or as needed, and vacuum light traffic areas a minimum of once or twice weekly.

Carpet Extraction
— The purpose of extraction cleaning is to take up the soil that vacuuming does not remove and to improve the visible appearance of the carpet. Cleaning methods will vary. Follow manufacturer directions.

A facility-wide cleaning should take place at least twice a year, and this includes carpet extraction. Following are several common-sense procedures.
  • In high humidity conditions, clean the carpet just prior to school opening and completely dry the carpet. Indoor humidity greater than 60 percent is considered extremely high. Consider using air movers or drying fans with wet cleaning methods.
  • When properly performed, most cleaning methods should leave the carpet dry within six to eight hours. Under no circumstances should drying time exceed 24 hours.
  • Follow directions for mixing solutions carefully. Using a stronger concentration than recommended will not improve efficiency and may leave behind detergent residue that can lead to accelerated soiling.
  • Limit access to damp carpet until it is completely dry to avoid rapid re-soiling.