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Commercial Janitorial Service: Analyzing Carpet Soils

Written by  Robert Kravitz

Dirty Carpet

Clean carpet using the right methods and equipment

As more and more commercial janitorial service providers begin offering their clients commercial carpet cleaning services, a potentially lucrative add-on service, it is imperative that they have a good overall understanding of just what makes a carpet look dirty. In other words, they must have an understanding as to the sources and categories of types of soil that may develop on carpet. This understanding is key because, without this knowledge, it can be difficult to clean carpets effectively and can potentially even cause damage to the carpets in the cleaning process.

While most of the items we will discuss pertain to all types of carpet in most settings, we are focusing primarily commercial carpet cleaning locations such as an office building or school. The reason for this is that a residence may have different types of soil buildup—or more frequent soil buildup of a certain type—than those found in an office. For instance, it will likely be rare that an office building will want its carpets cleaned due to pet accidents on the carpet. On the other hand, in the residential carpet cleaning industry, addressing this cleaning challenge is invariably one of the most frequent reasons technicians are called in.

In addition to pet-related stains, a residential carpet may be more frequently soiled due to sand, grass, leaves, plant fibers, and similar soils making their way onto the carpet. In commercial carpet cleaning, however, soiling is more likely to come from food, coffee, and cola spills, or toner and copy machine particulates becoming embedded in carpet fibers, as well as airborne pollutants—especially if the commercial facility is near a major roadway—tar and grease can be a concern as it is tracked in from the nearby parking lot.

No matter what the soiling, how it got there, or where it came from, the following are three categories of soils that contractors should know and recommended carpet care for each type of soiling.

Water-soluble soils

Approximately twelve percent of the soiling on carpet falls under this category. These soils typically refer to substances that can be removed relatively easily from carpet because they dissolve in water. Water-soluble soils include sugar, starches, many types of beverages, and salts. For the most part, this is the easiest type of soil to remove from carpet.

Solvent-soluble soils

Representing about ten-percent of the carpet soiling that commercial janitorial service providers will encounter, this can be a much more difficult type of soil to remove from carpet fibers. Solvent-soluble soils include tar, grease, and oil, and these substances have a tendency to build up near the entrances of buildings. One of the most effective carpet cleaning solutions is to prevent entry way soiling from occurring in the first place with matting. If an effective matting system is not in place and these soils are on foot bottoms, the first floor carpet or floor area will receive the bulk of these soils–which can then collect on shoe bottoms and be tracked throughout a facility. Along with being more difficult, but certainly not impossible to remove, the longer the oily substance is allowed to remain on the carpet, the more problems it can produce. Some types of carpet fibers will harden or discolor over time due to this type of soiling.

Insoluble soils

This is the major factor as far as being the most common type of soil on commercial carpets. About fifty percent of all carpet soiling can be classified as insoluble. This includes dry particulates such as sand, clay, paper, hair, and clothing. This type of soil is referred to as insoluble because it does not dissolve with chemicals. These soils have to be removed from the carpet either with a commercial vacuum or by carpet extraction.

Soil walks in, some stays, and the rest walks out

About eighty percent of the soiling in carpet is essentially walked in on shoe bottoms. As referenced earlier, one of the best ways to prevent this is to have an effective matting system in place. Usually this involves installing about fifteen feet of matting at key building entries or even longer if the facility is located in an area that has, for instance, nearby parking lots that, with high heat, cause tar and oil to soften, allowing it to transfer from the walking surface to shoe bottoms.

The other twenty percent of carpet soiling is from airborne pollutants. Sometimes we notice this type of soiling when an HVAC vent is located near carpet. Directly surrounding the vent, the carpet may take on a darker look. This is caused by airborne pollutants being blown on the carpet on a frequent basis. With either type of soiling, once the soiling is on the carpet, two things happen. Some of it stays, getting embedded deeper and deeper into carpet fibers with foot traffic. However, and especially if the buildup in the carpet fibers reaches a saturation point, some of the soils are transferred onto shoe bottoms, where they are walked out and transported onto other surfaces in the facility. In one test, new pieces of clean carpet were installed next to older soiled carpet. In a matter of days, the new clean carpet darkened due to soil buildup and the original older soiled carpet lightened. Essentially, the soil was transferred from the old carpet to the new carpet.

Finally, and this is critical, now that you are aware of the different types and categories of soils that may accumulate in carpet, it is very important to use the proper carpet cleaning solutions designed to remove those soils. Be aware when choosing carpet cleaning solutions that some solutions used to remove particular types of soiling may need more dwell time to work effectively. However, with the right cleaning solutions and the right machine, most soiled carpets can be restored to their like-new appearance after cleaning.

Invest in the Right Tools

The good news is that all the types and categories of soil discussed here typically can be removed from carpet and removed very effectively. But we must reemphasize; the best way to keep carpets clean is to prevent soil buildup in the first place. Along with having an effective matting in place, frequent vacuuming with a high performance vacuum cleaner is critical. As stated earlier, fifty percent of the soiling in carpet is dry particulates. A vacuum cleaner is designed to remove this type of soiling. While some vacuums can prove to be cumbersome—and in day-cleaning scenarios— too noisy, there are innovations available that work better in an expansive commercial setting. Do your research and find the right tool for the job that will be effective at removing tough, ground in particulates at the entryway and throughout the building. Robert Emmel, of IPC Eagle, the makers of the SmartVac 464 says the technology developed by his company has the potential to revolutionize the way commercial janitorial service providers care for carpets. Because the SmartVac has a twenty-four-inch extra wide cleaning path, is battery operated, and can adjust to any floor surface, this equipment is a good choice for large companies with a diverse flooring landscape. Emmel says the SmartVac 464 is hearty enough to pick up large debris, much quieter and up to ten times more efficient than traditional upright vacuums, allowing crews to cut hours off their cleaning schedule. Emmel says, “Jobs that took hours now take minutes, increasing productivity, labor savings and fast ROI, which all lead to greater profitability for the commercial janitorial service company.

As to an even deeper cleaning modality, interim cleaning methods such as encapsulation or bonnet cleaning can help, especially if dealing with insoluble soil. Commercial janitorial service providers are advised to select portable carpet extractors because they are far less expensive than truck mounts and because they are so versatile. Imagine trying to clean carpets on the twentieth floor of a building with a truck mount. It's not possible, so a portable extractor is the only viable option.

As to choosing a portable, one of the considerations often overlooked is the wand. Some wands have advanced laminar airflow technology. Essentially this means that airflow through the wand is smoother and more even, improving its effectiveness. As to the extractor, some units are designed to heat the cleaning solution to 212 °F. When dealing with some types of soiling, a heated machine will improve the effectiveness of the cleaning solution, helping to remove deeply embedded soils. In other cases, using just cold water should prove effective.



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