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Taking Care of Carpets
By Mark Baxter, Engineer & Product Manager for U.S. Products
Published: 10/15/2012

Carpetcleaning b While correctional facilities tend to use hard surface flooring such as VCT tile or tile and grout extensively, many administrative and operational areas in these buildings have carpeted floors. For instance, one Michigan correctional facility recently solicited bids for carpet installation in areas including their accounting office, medical and mental health areas, administrative offices, the sergeant’s office, briefing rooms, and staff overnight housing areas.

While carpeting is selected in these areas for various reasons, the key benefits of carpeting typically include:
  • Noise reduction
  • Minimizing (or even eliminating) slip-and-fall accidents
  • Protecting indoor air and environmental quality
  • Cost effectiveness*
  • Comfort

While correctional facilities may budget for carpeting in certain areas, they sometimes fail to budget for the care, cleaning, and maintenance of the carpet once it is installed. Carpeting can cost thousands of dollars, and its care should be viewed as asset management rather than cleaning and maintenance.

Correctional facility administrators need to develop a written “carpet asset management and maintenance program” to protect their investment in their carpeting. This plan should be in writing to formalize it and to ensure that it is followed.

Carpet asset management and maintenance programs should include the following key items:
  • Identifying high soil areas. Before any type of maintenance program is developed, administrators first need to determine which areas are most likely to experience the most soiling. In most cases, these areas include the first 40 feet inside entries, as well as the areas outside elevators, stairwells, and restrooms. Additionally, administrators should pay close attention to spots known as transition areas--that is, places where hard surface flooring meets carpeting. These tend to be high soil areas as well. The installation of effective matting can help keep soiling to a minimum in all of these areas.

  • Spotting. Promptly removing spots (any substance in or on carpet fibers) and stains (discoloration of carpet fibers caused by spills or other foreign substances) is important for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, it is easier to remove spots and stains as soon as they are noticed; the longer they sit on the carpet, the more permanent they can become. Further, spots can attract other soils, making them all the more unsightly, and can even negatively impact indoor environmental quality.

  • Vacuuming. More than any single cleaning activity, vacuuming is key to keeping carpets looking their best and delaying the need for more extensive restorative cleaning. It can also extend the life of the carpeting. Cleaning professionals need to make sure that vacuum cleaners are working properly and that they have been properly adjusted to the carpet. For vacuum cleaners with adjustable height settings, technicians need to turn the machine on and lower its height until it either starts pulling forward or the pitch of the motor changes. These two signs indicate that the machine is making proper contact with the carpet and will work effectively.

Restorative Care

In addition to routine or daily maintenance, many carpet care experts also suggest maintaining carpets using interim carpet cleaning methods. These typically include such techniques as bonnet cleaning, shampooing, or various dry cleaning methods. The problem with these methods is that they can sometimes cause rapid re-soiling. This is because the chemicals used in some interim carpet cleaning methods can actually act like a magnet, attracting more soils to the carpet. In time, carpets may look even worse than before interim cleaning was performed.

For this reason, many administrators now use interim carpet cleaning methods sparingly, only in high traffic areas and on an “as needed” basis. Cleaning experts agree that it is more beneficial and effective to clean carpeting using hot-water extraction.

Hot-water extraction--in which the cleaning solution is heated to approximately 212ºF--deep cleans carpeting. In this method, cleaning agents are typically sprayed on the carpets before cleaning. After the chemicals are allowed a few minutes of “dwell time” to sit on the carpet, the extractor is used to flush out and remove soils and moisture. It is always advisable to vacuum carpeting before performing extraction. This improves the effectiveness of the extractor and reduces the amount of time necessary to clean the carpets.

The Need for Flexibility

Some carpet maintenance programs require that carpets be cleaned two to four times per year. While spotting and vacuuming should be done daily, some flexibility is called for when it comes to how often carpets are extracted. The reason is simple: if properly cared for on a daily basis, carpets may not need to be extracted as frequently. This can prove to be a cost savings to the facility. It is also less disruptive and reduces cleaning’s impact on the environment (since it reduces water consumption and chemical usage).

For these reasons, some subjective evaluation is called for when planning carpet extraction frequency. That being said, in most cases, carpets should be extracted at least twice a year. Mark Baxter has been involved with the professional carpet cleaning industry for more than a decade. He is now an engineer and product manager for U.S. Products, a leading manufacturer of portable carpet extractors.

* Studies by the Carpet and Rug Institute indicate that over time, carpeting can prove less expensive to purchase and maintain than some conventional hard surface flooring materials when upkeep costs, cleaning, refinishing, and general maintenance are taken into account.


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