Revitalizing Carpets

July 1, 2003
With properly specified fiber and a comprehensive maintenance program, carpet can retain its appearance longer.

A clean, attractive, comfortable and quiet interior environment can enhance students' learning conditions. And carpet can be a key element in creating such environments.

Education administrators and facilities managers need to understand carpet properties to make sure they choose the right product. Schools and universities also need to develop a flooring maintenance and vitalization program to help protect their investment and provide a comfortable and safe environment for students.

Maintaining carpet properly means it won't have to be replaced as often. That will yield the following benefits:

  • Less stress on landfill space.

  • Lower overall energy consumption (a reduced need to manufacture and install new carpet, and dispose of old carpet).

  • Long-term cost savings.

Choosing the right materials, establishing safeguards and practicing proper maintenance are all part of a comprehensive building maintenance program.

Carpet characteristics

The first step in a carpet maintenance program is specifying the desired product. Specification directly affects the maintenance needed and the cost of the program over the useful life of the carpet.

The choice of color, pattern and construction all play a significant role in a carpet's ability to release soil and stains and its ability to hide them. Although light colors show soil more readily, dark colors show light-colored soil and lint. Medium-value colors most effectively reduce the visible effects of soiling.

The pattern of a carpet also can be a factor in hiding soil. Solid colors show soil most easily, followed by heathers and tweeds. Regular patterns hide soil more effectively, and random patterns hide soil most successfully.

Construction plays a major role. Some backing systems offer moisture resistance and will prevent a stain from seeping into the backing. An action-back carpet is prone to produce “wick back.” This is when the stain seeps through the fibers and spreads into the backing. In addition, the stain will wick back or reappear during cleaning, which is difficult to fix.

Fiber selection is critical to a carpet's appearance and performance. The main performance factors in a fiber are polymer type and fiber shape. Fiber type affects everything from soil and stain resistance to matting and crushing. Nylon, for example, provides strong resistance to crushing, matting and abrasive wear.

Fiber shape affects how the fiber hides soil and resists crushing and matting. Trilobal is the conventional shape used for most commercial carpet yarns. Acting like a prism to refract light so soil is not as visible, this shape may collect dirt in crevices between the lobes. Trilobal shapes with long lobes also can crush and mat prematurely. Hollow filament fiber shapes have a smooth, uniform outer surface with rounded corners that eliminate crevices where soil can be trapped, and its voids scatter light to make soil less visible.

Proper installation

Installing carpet correctly is critical to its performance. The Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) advises using an installation contractor who adheres to the Standard for Installation of Commercial Carpet for all aspects of the installation. Checking the safety record of flooring contractors also is important.

A qualified installation team that follows this standard will make sure the floor-covering material gets to the job site on time, and will use the proper tools, materials, adhesives and sealers. CRI's standard specifies the proper temperature and humidity levels for ideal installation, storing and handling protocols, as well as planning, layout and installation techniques.

In addition, many advanced installation technologies are available, such as furniture-moving services that ensure a faster, less-disruptive renovation. These types of lift systems move school library shelving, for example, with minimal interruption and may save over the cost of conventional installation.

Dirt is the enemy

In a school environment, tiny particles of dirt, grit and sand attached to the soles of shoes continually attack the floor coverings. This constant shifting causes soil to be ground into the floor surface and can erode even the most durable nylon fibers if they are not maintained properly. This can cause the floor to look dark and dull. Over time, these simple soils can damage the floor covering.

To combat this, preventive maintenance must be a priority. Stopping soil from entering the environment is easier and less expensive than removing it from the carpet.

Here are five simple, but important steps in a preventive-maintenance program:

  • Keep outside areas clean

    Outside maintenance helps minimize sources of soil.

  • Use soil barriers

    Walk-off mats, grates and removable elevator carpets help collect soil before it can be tracked throughout the building.

  • Protect desk areas

    Chair pads under desk chairs prevent casters from crushing carpet and grinding in soil.

  • Specify eating, drinking and smoking areas

    Restrict activities that cause more troublesome soil problems to specific areas.

  • Maintain HVAC systems

    This will remove many airborne particles before they are re-circulated. Also, regularly replace or clean filters on air-handling equipment.

Routine maintenance, another facet of a comprehensive program, begins with vacuuming. Use only dual-motor vacuums — one motor to run the vacuum and one to run the brush. Liquid spills are inevitable, but they do not have to leave permanent stains. An aggressive spot- and stain-removal program, with immediate, or at least same-day treatment, can avoid or remove most stains.

In addition, if outside services are used, find a company that has an ongoing training program. Find out if it encourages certification and what safety procedures are in place for its technicians. If the vendor has the chemistry and equipment components in place, but provides poorly trained personnel to carry out the cleaning, maintenance programs will be ineffective.

Cleaning choices

Many carpet-cleaning methods are available:

  • Bonnet cleaning involves spraying a solution of detergent and water onto the carpet and then using a rotating absorbent pad to agitate carpet tufts. Alternately, the absorbent pad is soaked in a detergent solution and then applied to the floor. This is a fast-drying method of cleaning; however, if not used properly, it can damage the carpet fibers and backing system. Also, this method of cleaning will void many carpet manufacturers' warranties.

  • Dry-foam cleaning removes soil by applying the cleaning chemical to the carpet as foam works down into the carpeting. This is a fast-drying method that works deeper into the carpet to remove soiling. Dry-foam cleaning can cause rapid re-soiling because of cleaning chemistry.

  • Dry-compound cleaning calls for sprinkling a dry compound on the carpet to attract soil and absorb oil. This is a fast-drying method that uses very little or no water on the carpet. However, the cleaning compound can become airborne when it is sprinkled on the carpet. Also, inconsistent application can cause the carpet to appear clean in some areas and less clean in others.

  • Hot-water extraction uses machines that clean carpet by first spraying hot water and detergent onto the carpet pile under pressure, and then removing water, detergent and loosened soil with a powerful vacuum. This is the most frequently used method in the industry; it is very effective for deep cleaning. However, carpets will take longer to dry with this cleaning method, and if not used properly, it can oversaturate the carpet. In addition, detergent left behind in the carpet will attract more soil and cause a dingy appearance.

  • Low-moisture cleaning is effective for cleaning commercial carpet. It works by surrounding and neutralizing oily soil particles with a detergent that inhibits the attraction of other soils. This allows soil to be removed easily by routine vacuuming. This is a fast-drying method that is gentle to carpet. It is effective when used in conjunction with regular vacuuming.

Many adverse reactions and consequences can result from poor or improper maintenance. The appearance of the carpet will degrade and become severely soiled. If a program is put into place improperly, or a program is not carried out professionally, a carpet's appearance may be worse than if there is no program at all. That may cause investments to have a shortened life cycle. And if carpet product has to be replaced prematurely, this can swallow up scarce landfill space and run up an institution's budget for new carpet.

Woolford is education market segment manager for DuPont Antron, Wilmington, Del., and Hill is education market segment manager for The Invironmentalists, formerly DuPont Flooring Systems, Kennesaw, Ga.


Some of the carpet-cleaning methods available today:






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