Carpets and Floors

Floor care is one of the most expensive tasks a school facility may have. Reducing the frequency of these tasks, while keeping the location healthy, can help lower cleaning costs and stretch budgets significantly. Here are some recommendations from several schools, carpet and flooring manufacturers and a manufacturer of the equipment to maintain these surfaces.

"A lot of us get away from following the manufacturer's recommendations and asking for training, but those are the main things we should always do," says Bill Elswick, executive director, office of school facilities for the West Virginia Department of Education, Charleston. "Then when you ask for training to use chemicals and other products in the most appropriate way, blend in your skill levels with your staffing as best as possible.

“You're going to have some people with more experience. Use them to bring up other staff to a higher level." Elswick adds that "you should utilize the best cleaning machines available to you, the most productive machines you can afford."

In discussing the difference between hard floors and carpets, Elswick says, "Dirt comes off directly from shoes onto vinyl, but is picked up a little easier than from carpets, which can entrap the dirt from the children's feet. Yet, in my opinion (and here I know there are other schools of thought), with hard floors you have an issue with indoor air quality and noise. For students under 10-years of age, I would recommend carpets to reduce the noise. But you have to make sure that you change the carpet when it reaches the end of its useful life, for it will become more difficult to clean, be worn and frayed and may become a tripping hazard — which means an increased liability for the school."

Alan Albers, executive director of Operations and Facilities, for Round Rock Independent School District, just north of Austin, Texas, reports that his district recently opened four new campuses, plus another four this past summer, to be followed by two more next summer and another one each in 2011 and 2012 — totaling 12.

"More and more of our schools want hard-surface flooring," Albers says. "Part of it has to do with cleanliness, and part is the plain reality that in those areas where we've done carpeting we can't always replace them when the manufacturer says we should. We do have some schools with vinyl-backed carpeting, which last longer than previous products. But the jury is still out on that."

There are still needs for carpets in certain areas, of course, Albers says. But it depends on the area. For instance, you definitely don't want carpets in the science labs or fine arts areas where paint­ing is done. But carpets may be important in areas that require better acoustics, such as the band room or library.

"Carpets are a good competitive industry," Albers says. "Most all the vendors provide a good product, and we don't have a favorite. We prefer carpet squares to rolled goods because they provide flex­ibility if you have stains or damage. Carpets also sit in the middle of the price range, whereas you can go from very inexpensive hard floors to the very expensive that will last much longer."

The district has a routine for cleaning the variety of rooms in a school, which can vary, but have a very prescribed routine on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly or longer schedule. Car­pets are vacuumed daily or weekly, shampooed twice a year and steam cleaned once a year by an outside contractor.

Although carpets are generally considered much better in terms of acoustics, Albers says, "Hard floors are improving in acoustical performance." And, although carpets tend to generally beat out hard floors in terms of aesthetics, Albers says that when people generally enter the Round Rock schools, they step onto a hard terrazzo tile floor, which is very expensive, but has a long life, and, "has a bright and shiny feel. Our community enjoys walking into a school and receiving this first visual impression. It reflects light, looks clean, feels clean and serves us well."

Adam Schaffer, sales manager for the Chicago, IL-based Tornado Industries, Inc., which manufactures both carpets and hard floors, adds that an issue with carpets is not only that the soil can go deep down, which they don't in hard floors, but they can harbor allergens, which can pose a health issue, especially with children who have a condition such as asthma. But carpets generally have the noise-level advantage, "and a lot of schools are moving toward battery-operated vacuums," which means they are safer than the electrical cord ones and are more maneuverable in areas some distance from a wall socket.

Also, Schaffer adds, hard floors are not necessarily maintenance free beyond cleaning their surfaces. "Hard floors should be stripped, waxed and refinished on a quarterly basis," he says. "Both hard floors and carpets should be cleaned on a daily basis for best results and, long-range, the amount of cleaning may even out in terms of labor and other costs."

Rob Godlewski is vice president of Marketing, of the Fort Worth, TX-based Powr-Flite, a marketer of carpet and hard floor cleaning and restoration equip­ment. He says the best floor care strategy is taking a proactive approach. "Start with providing entrance matting," he says. "That will get rid of much of the debris before it gets in." These mats should be used both at outside entrances as well as from the kitchen.

For vacuuming, Godlewski recommends daily use of a brush roll vacuum, preferably with a high filtration paper bag, or a backpack style vacuum cleaner, which is very effective around chairs and desks and can very easily reach above-the-floor clean­ing such as desks and shelves. On the next level, comes interim cleaning, such as spin-bonnetting, which uses a standard 175-rpm floor machine, and maintains a clean surface appearance. Beyond that, comes restorative work done with either cold water or hot water extraction machines. "We recommend hot water extraction for it cleans the carpet fibers better and also leads to a healthier environment," Godlewski says.

"All three levels contribute to a full-faceted program," he says. How often should each of these levels be implemented? "I would preface my answer by stating that it depends upon the traffic levels within the facility," he replies. "But, generally, vacuuming should be done daily, the interim spin-bonnetting weekly to monthly and extraction on a monthly to quarterly basis."

Godleski adds that because "school environments are ripe with spot occurrences — whether paint, bodily fluid or food — the lack of a good spot cleaning program can lead to both physical and appearance deterioration."

There are several types of hard flooring, but the most frequently used in schools is resiliant tile flooring, Godlewsk says, “including grouted tile floors, as well as sports or rubber flooring. Certainly, vinyl composite-type tile floors are common." He adds, "But if you use buckets and mops to clean, you have to be careful not to use the same mops in other areas in order to avoid cross-contamination."

When it comes to power equipment, he advises schools to use cylindrical brushes, which spin like a broom, rather than rotary brushes that spin on a flat plane. "What schools need to understand is that roughly 90 percent of floor maintenance costs are in labor, and only 10 percent is in the actual equipment and chemicals," Godlewski says. "So, schools should focus on reducing labor using productive equipment, rather than in the more manual time-consuming methods. Not only does the right equipment perform better, it also reduces the operating budget."

Steve Williams, vice president of U.S. Products in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and who previously worked for several years at Sheraton Hotels, says that he learned the amount of vacuuming required could vary greatly depending upon the traffic. For instance, the front desk might require vacuuming three times a day, an office hallway just once a night and some offices only once a week. The need for school cleaning should be ascertained the same way. "Entrances from the outside, cafeterias and kitchens should be done frequently, along with hallways, which are higher traffic areas than classrooms. I suggest using a school map with a frequency chart. It's fairly easy to do. You can walk around the school and figure out what's needed in a relatively short time."

For the next level of cleaning after routine daily vacuuming, Williams suggests using what is called a carpet rig, or a 175-rpm scrubber, that uses a brush rather than buffing pad. He explained that these machine use the appropriate chemicals, usually alkaline, as a prespray that works down into and agitates the carpet fibers. This loosens the debris and allows it to be more easily extracted. The next step, again, is the extraction method. One problem with this method is that these machines are very expensive.

When asked whether a school should contract out to professionals to keep their floors clean, or do it themselves, Williams responds, "It can be done either way. But it can be a lot less expensive if you do it yourself. Schools have so much buying power, it's not that difficult to get manufacturers to provide you with all the training you need. After all, a school doesn't have to learn how to maintain every carpet, just the ones it has. On the other hand, it might be viable for some districts to outsource their cleaning, at least for something like a truck-mount, full hot-water extraction, which can be done twice a year during the summer or Christmas holidays."

For standards on carpet care, Williams says the Carpet and Rug Institute is the strongest voice. Websites to check are, and, the site for the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning, and Restoration.