Keeping Carpet Clean

Maintenance is a key concern for education facilities. With limited funds available for product replacement, facilities must protect their investment and take the appropriate measures for keeping carpet clean. For most facilities, this includes product selection, planning for performance and cleaning.

Product selection

The starting point of a successful maintenance program is selecting a product that meets an institution's specific performance requirements. No one factor dictates carpet performance; however, several factors contribute in this area:

  • Fiber type

    The most common carpet fibers include nylon, polypropelene, PET, polyester and wool. Although all are appropriate for certain applications, the performance characteristics of nylon make it the most common fiber type for commercial applications.

  • Fiber construction

    Variables of fiber construction as it relates to nylon include yarn-processing methods, tensile strength and denier (size of yarn). Typically, larger yarn and greater tensile strength yield better performance. A common misconception is that nylon type affects performance — the reality is that variations in the processing factors are used to magnify or minimize the differences, and each can perform with equal success.

  • Dye type

    Dye type refers to how color is added to the yarn. Solution-dyed products can be cleaned aggressively with harsh chemicals to remove stains without damage to color; yarn dyeing provides more varying colors to hide soiling.

  • Color and pattern

    The choice of color and pattern goes beyond aesthetic considerations and has a major impact on appearance retention. Darker colors and those similar to the soil common in the region, as well as multicolored or patterned carpet, will help hide soiling.

  • Backing type

    Backings provide a variety of performance attributes, including pattern-match abilities, protection against delamination and edge ravel, superior tuft bind strength, moisture protection, antimicrobial properties and cushion. Typically, performance backings with attributes appropriate to the facility use are going to be easier to maintain, provide long-term appearance retention and offer better warranties.

  • Installation

    Just as important as selecting the right carpet is choosing qualified installers who are trained in installation methods, adhesives, installation equipment, floor prep, backings and seaming methods for the specific product. Proper installation will enhance the performance of the carpet.

  • Maintenance

    Maintenance is critical in terms of performance. Preventive maintenance, adhering to a well-planned maintenance schedule and responding quickly to any unforeseen maintenance issues are crucial in protecting a school's carpet investment.

Overall, it is important to understand that the performance requirements of a carpet must reflect the performance needs of the space, and the investment should be protected with a comprehensive warranty.

A knowledgeable carpet sales representative can help guide in selecting the best product for the environment, and the manufacturer's warranty should account for the entire carpet system — from the engineering of the backing and fiber, to the actual carpet construction.

Planning for performance

In addition to product selection, a carpet maintenance program is an important part of the buying decision. Without proper maintenance, the carpet appearance will suffer, reducing its useful life and increasing long-term costs. Preventive maintenance and developing a maintenance schedule are the two primary ingredients of performance planning.

Preventive maintenance refers to the measures taken to avoid problems. Generally, this means preventing soil from entering and spreading throughout a building, which will prolong the life of the carpet and reduce overall maintenance needs. Studies show that removing 1 pound of soil can cost more than $500. However, with a little effort, schools can keep soil out before it enters the space.

First, keep outside areas clean. By maintaining a clean exterior, schools can minimize the amount of dirt coming into the building. Keep sidewalks and garages clear of dirt and debris. Second and even more important, use walkoff mats at exterior entrances, as well as in areas transitioning from hard surfaces to carpet. A coarse texture mat designed to brush soil from shoes should be used in conjunction with a water-absorbent mat designed to trap moisture.

Developing a maintenance schedule is another aspect of planning for performance. Carpet maintenance must be established as a scheduled program, rather than a random series of reactions to soiling conditions and infrequent cleanings. Tailor the design of the program to the amount of traffic and type of soiling, which will vary by area.

The initial step to take in developing a maintenance schedule is to assess the building layout, traffic flow and activities held within various areas in order to identify traffic patterns within a building. Generally, private offices will have light traffic; classrooms will have medium traffic; and entrances, main hallways and workrooms will have heavy traffic.

Making a plan

After identifying traffic patterns, establish a plan for the frequency and method of cleaning based on these guidelines:

  • Cleaning

    With an appropriate maintenance program in place, the next step is to use it.

    Vacuuming is the most significant element in the maintenance of carpet and overall appearance of the facility. Vacuums are designed to remove dry soil, which accounts for 85 percent of the soil tracked into a building. Frequent vacuuming captures dirt at the surface before it settles and becomes more difficult to remove. A high-quality vacuum is vital to prolonging the life of carpet. When selecting a vacuum, be sure it is certified by the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) Vacuum Cleaning Indoor Air Quality Program (

    In addition to vacuuming, interim cleaning can be conducted between extractions to reduce the total number of extractions and renew carpet appearance. The low-moisture method is a popular choice in education facilities. Through this method, a chemical is pre-sprayed on the carpet to encapsulate soil that can be vacuumed when dry. A brushing action is then applied via a hand brush or pile agitator to erect fibers and allow for maximum dispersion. Once dry, the residue can be vacuumed, improving the overall appearance of the carpet. Another interim cleaning method is pile lifting.

    While interim cleaning, like the low-moisture method, can reduce the total number of hot-water extractions, it should not replace them completely. Hot-water extraction cleans the oily materials that vacuums can't remove, which accounts for 15 percent of all soil. The frequency of hot-water extraction should be defined by the maintenance schedule, but when the color of the carpet begins to look dull, it is a sure indication that a hot-water extraction is necessary, if not significantly past due. Often, areas with a high content of oily soil nearby require more frequent hot-water extractions.

  • Spot and spill removal

    This is the maintenance reaction to an unplanned incident and always should involve immediate action. In general, any solids should be scooped up gently. Wet areas should be blotted with a white towel, working from the outer edge of the spill toward the center. When using a spot cleaner, take special care to remove stain material and detergent, as well as any remaining moisture.

West is vice president of marketing for the institutional division of Shaw Contract Group, Atlanta.

Making a smart choice

Although the conditions and traffic patterns vary from one school building to another, most experience high traffic, frequent exposure to soil and a high probability of spills. A high-performance carpet is necessary for this type of environment. Facility managers should look for products with these attributes:

  • Moisture barrier.
  • Lifetime warranty covering tuft bind, delamination and edge ravel.
  • Solution-dyed fiber if cleaning with harsh chemicals.
  • Multicolored or patterned carpet to hide soiling and stains.

The use of carpet tile is increasing in education facilities because of lower life-cycle costs and unique styling. Rather than purchasing new carpet for the entire space, individual tiles can be replaced if one is damaged. Whether tile or broadloom, carpet in education facilities can reduce glare, provide better acoustics, prevent slips and falls, increase comfort and improve aesthetics.


Amount of space carpeted in new K-12 education facilities projects completed in 2004.

Amount of space carpeted in new college facilities projects completed in 2004.

Source: American School & University's 31st Annual Official Education Construction Report, May 2005.

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