Educators and administrators may differ over what kind of floor surfaces they prefer in their facilities — carpeting or hard flooring. Advocates on each side can make a case for their choices, depending on how a building is being used, the wishes of building occupants, or the budget they have available.
But no matter what kind of flooring a facility has, most people involved in maintaining schools would agree that an effective cleaning and maintenance program is critical for education institutions that want their floors to last. Poor or inconsistent cleaning and upkeep can result in surfaces that are dirty, unsafe and unhealthful.
The Carpet & Rug Institute says that an effective carpet maintenance program has five elements: soil containment; vacuuming; a spot and spill removal system; interim cleaning; and restorative cleaning.
Its “Carpet Maintenance Guidelines” recommend outside and inside mats, which minimize the dirt and debris that people track into a building. The institute says outside mats should have a coarse texture that enables people to brush soil from their shoes; the mats should be able to hold large amounts of soil. Inside mats should be waterproof to prevent moisture from soaking into the indoor carpet.
The institute says that an inside mat of 6 to 15 feet will collect 80 percent of the soil and moisture entering the building on peoples' shoes. Such protective mats also are beneficial around food stations, water coolers, elevators and stair thresholds.
Vacuuming is a fundamental part of carpet maintenance, and it's important to use your vacuuming resources efficiently.
“The most important features of your vacuuming maintenance program will be identifying high-, medium- and low-traffic areas by continually monitoring carpet performance and making any necessary adjustments to the schedule,” the institute's guide says.
The guide suggests categorizing areas of a building based on the amount of traffic they receive: high, moderate or light. High-traffic areas (entrances, hallways, break rooms, cafeterias, corridors, elevator lobbies, stairways, main aisles, waiting areas) should be vacuumed daily, or more often if necessary. Moderate-traffic areas (research areas, conference rooms, classrooms, atriums, secondary aisles) should be vacuumed at least two or three times a week. Light-traffic areas (offices, cubicles, storage rooms, executive areas) should be vacuumed at least once or twice a week.
On the spot
To prevent spots and stains from permanently marring a carpet's appearance, maintenance workers should act immediately to treat or remove a stain. “The longer the delay, the higher the probability a spill will become a permanent stain,” the institute's guide says.
Workers should use a rounded spoon and vacuum to scrape up solids or semi-solids that could cause stains. Liquid stains should be blotted with a dry, white absorbent cloth or paper towel. Do not scrub the area, the guide warns. If a stain is present, it should be treated first with water. When water does not remove a stain, the guide recommends consulting a spot-removal chart. (The institute's Spot Solver database is at www.carpet-rug.org/commercial-customers/cleaning-and-maintenance/spot-solver.cfm.)
The final element of a carpet maintenance program is restorative cleaning. This should be done before dirt is easily visible. The steps in restorative cleaning are dry soil removal, soil suspension (using chemical action, heat, agitation and time), soil extraction, pile setting (with a carpet brush or comb) and drying. The guide estimates that after restorative cleaning, a carpet will dry in six to eight hours. In humid conditions, the drying could take a few more hours. Good ventilation, commercial air movers and dehumidifiers can accelerate the drying.
For keeping hard floors clean, vacuums sometimes are used, but the more common tool for daily cleaning is a broom or dust mop. The Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS) Best Practices Manual Volume IV-Maintenance & Operations says that an effective maintenance program for resilient flooring should include a daily regimen of sweeping, dust mopping or vacuuming. Dust mops should be made of microfiber materials and properly treated to capture dust.
As with carpeted areas, walkoff mats should be used at entrances and other high-traffic areas to remove dirt on shoes before it reaches a building's hard floors.
In addition, hard floors should be cleaned with a wet mop at least once a week. Depending on the color of the floor, type of soil being tracked in, and the function of the area in question, a floor may have to be wet mopped more frequently. Maintenance workers should mop up any excess detergent and follow up with a clean water rinse to remove residues. Any excess water left behind could harm floor seals and adhesives, and cause a floor to deteriorate more quickly.
Buffing with a slow-speed buffer will remove scuff marks and light scratches. For harder-to-remove scuff marks, workers should use a nylon scouring pad, the manual says.
The furniture that presses down onto a floor can leave marks or gashes that shorten the life of a surface. The manual says that schools should use floor guards or casters to protect hard floors from chairs, desks, tables, and other furniture and equipment.
To restore shine to a hard floor, workers should apply floor finishes periodically. Before applying finish, the manual says, floors should be cleaned and dried; applying finish onto a dirty floor will trap the dirt under the finish.
The manual recommends that education institutions use a high-quality floor finish with a high solids content; it can be applied easily and provide good buffing results. “Apply finish to the floor by mopping in one direction to ensure a thin, even coat on the floor,” the guide says.
Workers should never use the same equipment, mops or buckets for applying finish as they have used for removing it. Even small traces of stripper will prevent the new finish from adhering properly. The guide suggests that the cleaning staff use a color-code system to mark its equipment to make sure the right implements are being used.
The CHPS recommends that schools choose more durable finishes to reduce the need for additional buffing, restoring and recoating. It also suggests finishes with non-metal polymer formulas, which can be removed with less hazardous floor strippers.
Kennedy is staff writer for AS&U.
Sidebar: Breathing easily
Focusing its attention on indoor air quality, the Asthma Regional Council of New England has put together a guide to help education institutions choose flooring for school facilities.
The guide, “Health Considerations When Choosing School Flooring,” recommends that administrators look beyond the most commonly selected materials, carpeting and vinyl.
“Carpeting, when not scrupulously maintained, may be associated with health problems,” says the guide. “A number of pollutants that are associated with respiratory illnesses, including dusts, mold and mildew, are captured and can grow in carpets and then get released into the air. Vinyl is also subject to mold and mildew when water pools below it.”
An alternative choice, the council contends, is vinyl composition tufted textile (VCTT). The dense low-tufted textile will gather less dirt than conventional carpet and has a backing that is impermeable to water. It is more thoroughly cleaned by vacuuming than broadloom carpet and retains the broadloom characteristics of noise and glare control, and seating comfort. Still, VCTT can lead to indoor air problems.
“Although VCTT is an improvement over broadloom, it is still carpet,” the guide says. “Its surface will retain some dirt, and when it gets wet (floods, leaks, spills) the surface can harbor mold and mildew within 24 hours.”
The council recommends different flooring for specific areas of a school facility:
Classrooms: Consider terrazzo, ceramic tile or concrete floors, with washable rugs, mats or cushions as needed for children to sit on.
Hallways and entries: Use durable non-porous, low-maintenance hard materials, such as terrazzo, ceramic tile and concrete, with textured surfaces, and walkoff mats. Second choice is linoleum with walkoff mats.
Cafeterias and restrooms: The floor should be durable, waterproof and as non-slip as possible. Textured terrazzo, concrete and ceramic tile are the best choices.
Kitchens: Either resilient flooring (linoleum, rubber) or hard flooring (terrazzo, concrete or tile). Resilient flooring is easier on the legs if workers will be standing on it for long periods. “With hard flooring, anti-fatigue mats may be needed to reduce the impact of the hardness on employees who stand for long periods,” the guide states.