As I travel the country speaking at seminars on facilities carpet care, I am struck by a fundamental misconception that facilities cleaning personnel have about carpet: It is perceived to be a one-dimensional floor covering.
It’s not. As the illustration clearly shows, carpet is three-dimensional. It has a top, a middle and a bottom. It also is a complex textile: What you see is not what you get. It looks like a horizontal surface, but the fibers are mostly vertical. It hides soil incredibly well, using a camouflage of color, density and texture.
It is no wonder that we have so many problems with carpet maintenance. We attempt to clean carpet without fully understanding the characteristics of the textile we’re cleaning. Consequently, we utilize tools and cleaning techniques that are ill suited to the task at hand. We use tools — rotary-style floor machines with pads or brushes, self-contained extractors that spray, brush and extract all in a single step — that are adaptations of tools used to clean one-dimensional hard-surface floors. But as noted above, carpet isn’t one-dimensional. Carpet cleaning efforts that mimic hard-surface floor cleaning, using tools and techniques that only clean the surface of the carpet, fail because two dimensions of the carpet have not been cleaned.
Clean All Dimensions
An effective carpet cleaning process will clean all dimensions of the carpet:
- It will clean the surface, where the bound, sticky soils are found. These are the soils that are most noticed and those that one-dimensional cleaning focuses on exclusively. While it is imperative that these soils be removed in order for the carpet to “look” clean, they represent but a small fraction of the overall soil load in the carpet.
- It will clean the fibers below the surface, where particles and non-soluble soils build up. These soils are found tangled within the fibers and surface-cleaning processes are incapable of removing them. When surface-cleaning processes are used, these soils build up and cause abrasive damage to the fibers. They also wick to the surface in the traffic areas as the carpet dries after cleaning, leaving the traffic areas looking dull, dingy and dirty.
- It will clean down to the backing, and will flush out the liquid spills — such as coffee, soft drinks, fruit drinks — that migrate to the backing of the carpet. When surface-cleaning-only efforts are used to remove these spots, inevitably they come back as the spilled material that permeated the carpet all the way to the backing wicks to the surface as the carpet dries.
So how do we clean carpet three-dimensionally? Following is a three-step system that will achieve the objective.
Effective three-dimensional cleaning requires two distinct components: 1) soil suspension and 2) soil extraction. If you cut corners with either component the system will be ineffective. Drying is the third step. It is often overlooked but is an important part of an effective process.
Step 1: Soil Suspension
The primary role of soil suspension is to loosen the bond that holds soils to the tips of the fibers. These are the soils — usually spots or spills that are oily or sticky — that make the carpet look dirty, although they represent but a small fraction of the overall soil load. The soil suspension step requires chemical action, agitation and dwell time.
To begin, apply a traffic lane prespray to loosen the bound soils on the carpet surface. Wide variations in prespray performance (in terms of cleaning effectiveness and soil-attracting residues) has made clear that the use of a top-quality traffic lane prespray will pay dividends in the form of better results and labor savings.
Next, use mechanical action (agitation) to break loose the bound soils. Counter-rotating cylindrical brush machines are the preferred tools for this. They not only provide superior agitation, the brushing action pulls particle soils up to the surface where they can be more easily extracted.
Finally, allow your prespray 10-15 minutes of dwell time to maximize soil suspension.
Step 2: Soil Extraction
Once soils have been suspended, they must be removed. In order to do this effectively, a high-performance hot-water extraction system should be used. The options are truckmounts, portable truckmounts and high-flow extractors. Field studies have shown that high-flow extraction systems deliver superior extraction results. This is because high-flow systems remove substantially more soil by using four to six times as much of the media (water) that carries the soil out of the carpet, while leaving the carpet as dry or dryer than self-contained extractors. To better understand how this concept works, consider how vacuums remove dry soil. In vacuuming, air is the media that carries the soil from the carpet. Increased airflow results in increased soil removal. Likewise with water extraction cleaning, increased water flow results in increased soil removal.
When using a high-flow system for the extraction step, it is recommended that in the traffic areas you overlap your cleaning passes by half in order to maximize soil removal. The view window on the extractor allows the operator to see how much additional soil is being removed the second time over an area.
Step 3: Drying
Speed drying the carpet is prudent, easy and beneficial in several ways. Increasing air movement across the surface of the carpet using drying fans will result in thorough drying usually within a few hours. The benefits can be substantial, they include reduced wicking and resoiling, reduced down time, and elimination of concerns about wet carpet being a vehicle for mold or bacteria growth.
In the facilities world, one-dimensional carpet care has been ingrained for so long that the concepts described in this article may be difficult to accept at first. But consider this: We’ve been cleaning carpet in facilities one-dimensionally for years … and facilities carpet care has been a problem for years. In fact, many facilities cleaners would just as soon get rid of all the carpet and replace it with tile, because they are able to maintain tile successfully. (Of course, the cost to maintain tile is about double that of carpet.) If you are challenged by unacceptable carpet cleaning results, try something different. Try the techniques described in this article. You’ll be amazed at the difference. And if you aren’t, call me … on the carpet.
Kleen Kuip Supply Mart Inc.
New and Used Professional Carpet Cleaning and Restoration Equipment