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When cleaning professionals think about winter floorcare, the focus is usually on hard surfaces.
Without question, hard surface floors can take a real beating when winter comes. Rain, snow, ice, ice melt, sand and grit are all more likely to be tracked into a facility during the winter months than during warmer and milder times of the year.
To prepare for winter, those in charge of maintenance in buildings often arrange for extra coats of finish on hard surface floors. They increase cleaning frequencies and scrubbing, buffing and burnishing cycles. They also make sure high-performance entry mats, both inside and outside the facility, are installed.
However, cleaning professionals, homeowners and facility managers often neglect to incorporate added measures to help keep carpet clean and healthy during the winter months.
While the winter months may not have the same direct impact on carpet as they do on hard surface floors, carpet is also greatly affected during the coldest time of the year. And, because people spend so much more time indoors during the winter, if carpet is not kept clean and healthy, it can negatively affect the health of the entire facility.
Interestingly, there are similarities between how carpet and hard surface floors can be effectively cleaned and maintained during the winter. It all starts with taking a proactive instead of a reactive approach.
Reactive versus proactive
Among its other features and benefits, carpet is manufactured to help hide soil. Some reports indicate that cut-pile carpet can hide up to a pound of soil per square foot before it even begins to look dirty. That is a lot of soil buildup, and by the time commercial and residential customers notice their carpet is soiled and take a reactive approach by having the carpet professionally cleaned, irreparable damage may have already been done.
This is because the buildup of soil, dirt and grit begins to grind away at carpet fibers, causing them to look dull and worn. This process can move along at an even faster pace during the winter months because of the added soil load that most facilities must contend with during this time of the year.
To prevent this excessive wear and to protect carpet and its appearance as well as the health of the entire facility, a proactive carpet care approach is crucial. By deep cleaning, protecting, and maintaining carpet throughout the winter, technicians can help carpet look better and last longer, which can prove to be a significant cost savings as well.
First steps in winter carpet care
While a winter carpet care program is necessary for both residential and commercial locations, it can be all the more important in commercial locations — offices, schools, restaurants and more — because so many more people use these facilities. For that reason, much of our discussion will focus on commercial locations, but a great deal of this can also apply to homes and apartments.
One of the first steps in implementing a winter carpet care program is to identify and assess peak busy times and key traffic patterns in the facility. Knowing when the busiest times of the day are will help cleaning professionals determine when they can clean and attend to carpeted areas without causing major interruptions. Studying key traffic patterns can help determine where soiling is most likely to accumulate and where the most cleaning and attention is needed.
Also, the type of facility and how it is used can influence how carpet is cleaned. For instance, educational facilities, especially those where young children attend, typically have more and a wider variety of soils and moisture walked onto the carpet during winter months than many other types of locations. Increasing the frequency of deep or restorative cleaning (hot water extraction) and ensuring high-performance mats are installed at all entries are crucial for maintaining and protecting carpet.
While the carpet in a hospital or medical facility will likely not experience the same winter soil load as a school, the top concern year-round but especially in the winter for these facilities is the possible buildup of harmful pathogens in carpet that can impact indoor air quality. In such settings, vacuuming frequency should be increased along with hot water extraction.
To minimize disruption, some carpeted medical facilities use a combination of interim (dry compound cleaning, dry foam, encapsulation, etc) and restorative cleaning (usually hot water extraction), such as two or three cleanings using interim methods before the carpet is cleaned using hot water extraction. During the winter, this ratio should be reduced to one or two interim cleanings before extraction.
Implementing the full proactive program
Once the initial assessments have been completed, the full winter carpet care program can be put into action, and it starts with something that has already been referenced: Mats. Many matting experts suggest that as much as 15 feet of matting should be placed at all entries, which includes scraper mats outside the facility; wiper/scraper mats directly inside; and wiper mats — the last line of defense — in lobby areas.
Together, these mats can catch and store as much as 70 percent of the soil and moisture entering a facility.
It is important to note that mats must also be cleaned and cared for, and these cleaning frequencies should be increased during the winter months, too. If a facility rents mats through a matting service provider, they should be replaced more often during the months of cold and inclement weather. If purchased, the mats should be vacuumed and cleaned using hot water extraction on a regular basis.
The next step is to have the carpet thoroughly cleaned using hot water extraction. Heat reduces the surface tension of water and enables faster, more efficient cleaning than cold water. This initial cleaning is important because after this deep cleaning, the carpet is now free of stains, soiling and odors. Essentially, we are starting with a clean slate.
At this point, applying a protective, stain-resistant coating to carpet is often recommended. These coatings can help protect the carpet and make it easier to clean up spills and other soils. However, the performance of these products can diminish over time, especially after cleaning with hot-water extraction. Because of this, and to ensure protection, they should be reapplied after each carpet extraction.
While it is a good policy year-round, cleaning professionals should focus more attention on the lower floors of a multi-floor office building during the winter months because salt, ice melt chemicals and soils tend to accumulate even more on the lower levels of a facility. More frequent vacuuming of these areas as well as around elevators and escalators can help prevent these contaminants from traveling upstairs and throughout the building.
A proactive winter cleaning approach also involves increasing spotting frequencies. Also, have a plan in place to deal with the buildup of ice melt or salt in carpet. This is especially essential in icy and snowy climates where these products are used frequently to combat winter conditions.
Finally, key to the entire program is daily maintenance. This starts with using best-in-class vacuum cleaners and is enhanced by increasing vacuuming frequencies, especially in high-traffic areas. Further, consider grooming the carpet. Carpet groomers raise the nap of the carpet and help loosen embedded soils so that they can be more easily vacuumed up.
Cleaning professionals do far more than simply clean facilities and carpet. Today, they are advisers and consultants for homeowners and facility managers. As such, they should advise their customers of the importance of an effective winter carpet care program. Doing so keeps carpet cleaner, facilities healthier and increases the life span of the carpet as well.
R. Doyle Bloss has been a part of the cleaning and restoration industry for more than 30 years. He presently serves as the marketing and chemical brand manager for HydraMaster and U.S. Products in Mukilteo, WA. He has headed up the two largest training programs in the industry, assisted in developing complete chemical lines for three leading manufacturers and has been honored and awarded for his innovative programs that build bridges throughout the cleaning and restoration industry. He may be reached through his company website at www.USProducts.com.