Carpet Care – The First Two Steps
According to literature produced by The Mohawk Group, it has been estimated that it costs more than $500 to clean 1 pound of dirt tracked into a building. Up to 24 pounds of dirt can be tracked in by just 1,000 people coming through an entrance over a 20 day period.
The best way to keep your carpet clean is to keep the dirt out. The first line of defense for your buildings is composed of entrance mats.
I was recently called to a building by a property manager because the residents were complaining that the carpets appear dirty. She was concerned that the carpet maintenance program we have in place might not be working if they were getting complaints so soon after a maintenance clean. Upon inspection and conversation with the on site caretaker it was obvious that the carpets were not getting stained, there was a two fold problem that existed instead – no entrance mats, and an appearance problem related to vacuuming. The large strata tower had only one small entrance mat outside of the main lobby door. There was nothing inside the entrance lobby, or inside the parking area elevator lobbies. These points are critical in preventing soil from entering the building.
Dirt, lint, leaves, muck, dust – all of these things were being tracked onto the carpets, and overwhelming the caretaker’s vacuuming efforts. With the fall rain and an active construction site right next door butted up against the sidewalk, the lack of entrance mats had made a very obvious impact.
Once the dirt is inside the building, the next step is to vaccuum it up and out. Not only does it look unsightly, particulate becomes trapped in carpet fibres and grinds against them causing premature wear and damage if not removed. This is especially important with winter coming and salt and sand soon to be upon our outdoor surfaces, and on the bottoms of our shoes. However without using the right vacuum or vacuum approach, even the best efforts can yield less than satisfactory results.
That is why this article focuses on the first two parts of any carpet maintenance program for any building. It cannot be stressed enough the importance of the primary barrier created with: Step – entrance mats, and the first wave of attack using Step 2 – the proper vacuum cleaner and techniques.
Entrance Mats – Walk Off Mats – Welcome Mats
Every major carpet manufactuerer stresses the importance of using entrance mats to ensure the lifespan of your carpet, and to keep your warranty valid. This is due to the mechanics of soil transfer.
Simply put – dirt is transferred from dirty areas to clean areas. It leaves the surface of the sidewalk, the lawn, the parkade, etc., adheres to the sole of your shoe, and is removed by friction caused by carpet onto a cleaner surface, clinging to that surface instead. This process continues until the carpet is so dirty that when you enter an area, your shoes are cleaner than the carpet. It then adheres to the sole of your shoe again, until it reaches a cleaner area of the carpet and transferrs, spread out the soiled area. This is not a welcome scenario. It is also the reason for the entrance mats.
If people enter a building and walk across an entrance mat – a small removable section of carpet or matting specially designed to remove the soil from your shoes, the dirt will then adhere to it, instead of being tracked into the building. A very important point to remember however is this: clean the entrance mats! They should be shaken out, vacuumed, and cleaned as often as possible. Otherwise, once they have trapped enough dirt, they become a source of soiling due to the scenario described above.
The bigger the better. The more steps a person must take across the entrance mat before stepping off of it, the more effective it is. This results in more foot to mat contact and therefore more soil removal from the bottom of the shoes. Tiny 3’ x 4’ welcome mats, while often cute or visually appealing, are not enough. Most people will not stand in one place and wipe their feet sevearl times on a tiny mat before moving onto the carpet. Therefore, with a mat that size, one foot may step on the mat one time. The other shoe then steps onto your carpet having no soil removed at all. That is definitely not enough, especially in large multi-unit strata buildings.
According the The Mohawk Group, a 15’ long walk-off area can effictively remove about 80’ of soil and moisture before it reaches the carpet. Lees Carpet Manufacturers recommend at least 6’ minimum at the entrance to a building. They also point out that it will “reduce the potential of slip and fall accidents on hard surface flooring during wet weather.” Get the biggest entrance mat that you can, or line up and overlap a few to create an effective entrance area. Keep in mind you want people walking on them first before the carpet at any commonly used entrance point, so check your side exits and parkade lobbies as well, and make sure they are in place there too.
With winter approaching, make sure your entrance mats are up to the demands of Vancouver wet: the snow we do get, the rain, the slush. There are mats composed of more rubberized materials which are a good winter choice.
Once in place, maintain the entrance mats. Ensure that they are shaken out and vaccuumed as often as possible. That brings us to step two – the second most important step involved in extension of carpet appearance, lifespan, and maintenance: vacuum cleaning.
We all know vacuuming is an essential part of keeping your carpets clean and protected. It removes dry particulate, helps prevent abrasion from sand and salt in the winter time, and allows the deep cleaning done by professionals to yield the best results. But how do we vacuum? Who taught us what is best, what type is best, and is that information correct? I learned that I don’t use proper vacuuming technique at home, and so I’ll be adjusting my methods. But before we get to that, are we even using the right type of vacuum cleaner?
All vacuums are not created equal. Maybe you should be asking Santa for a new vacuum for your home, or better yet, playing Santa and bringing them to your stratas based on what is needed to ensure the carpets are cleaned as well as they can by the onsite staff. Here are some comparisons to see why.
Types of Vacuums
The following comparisons are taken from ConsumerReports.org All testing referred to in this article was done by their team. Visit their website for even more great information regarding vacuum cleaners.
This traditional design is still the most popular. Uprights tend to cost less than canister vacuums.
Pros: Uprights generally provide a wider cleaning swath than canisters, and they tend to be better at deep-cleaning carpets. Most are also easier to store.
Cons: You must drag the entire machine back and forth for most floor and carpet cleaning. The top performers we tested weigh 20 pounds or more, although many competent machines are much lighter. Uprights also tend to be noisier than canisters overall.
The best ones clean carpets just about as well as uprights. (Pet owners note: The uprights and canisters that did best at regular cleaning also tended to excel at picking up cat and dog fur.)
Pros: Canisters tend to be better than uprights for cleaning bare floors, drapes, upholstery, and under furniture, and they’re easier to handle on stairs. Most are quieter, and you mostly need to move only the hose and powerhead, not the entire machine.
Cons: The entire vacuum tends to be heavier and bulkier than an upright, and the hose and wand make a canister harder to store.
Although they’re convenient, central vacuums are pricey, and they typically require professional installation.
Pros: They’re even easier to use than a canister. You carry only the hose and powerhead, and there’s no vacuum body to pull along. Central vacuums tend to be relatively quiet, and they don’t need to be emptied frequently.
Cons: Their 30-foot hose can be cumbersome and takes up storage space. And there’s no place to store cleaning tools while you work.
These miniature electric models come with or without a power cord. They’re handy for small spills, getting into hard to reach places, and easy to store. They should never be used as the primary method of vacuum cleaning.
Pros: They’re handy for light, quick surface cleaning on short-pile carpets and bare floors.
Cons: They lack the power and capacity of full-sized models.
Think of these more as expensive novelties than practical appliances.
Pros: Do the grunge work while you relax. In uncluttered rooms, a robotic vacuum can fill in between regular vacuuming sessions.
Cons: They’re time-consuming to set up and run, and they tended to miss edges and corners in our tests. Some also tended to close doors behind them, locking themselves in a room.
Stick vacuums generally provide smaller capacities than upright models but they do weigh less. Like uprights, they have long bodies and handles, and foot nozzles. Many are battery powered. They are mainly for picking up surface litter and not a replacement for a good performing deep cleaning conventional vacuum.
Pros: They’re convenient when you need to quickly clean up a mess. Plus, they eliminate your having to bend to clean up a dirty floor.
Cons: Most don’t perform as well on carpet as handheld vacuums, the capacity of their dirt bin is typically small, and most are fairly noisy.
These last three types of vacuums are not feasible for use in strata buildings. They just don’t have the power to do the job. The best possible of the above choices is a powerful upright with the following most important features.
For strata building maintenance here are the most important features to ensure your vacuum works the way that it should!
Brush Agitator or Beater Bar
Also known as the roller brush, it is found underneath the machine. This roller has bristles attached to it and spans the width of the base. It spins when the machine is on and dislodges dirt, dust, and grit from the carpet so that the airflow can pick it up easily. Some models have a switch to turn the brush agitator off when cleaning bare floors; a rotating brush on a bare floor can move dirt and debris around before it can be sucked up. The switch also makes it less likely that throw rugs, bedspreads, and the like will inadvertently become tangled in the roller brush. And it eliminates any hazard should the vacuum tip over while you have the hose extended.
This feature adjusts the height of the machine to a carpet’s pile height to allow for easy movement and thorough cleaning. Adjustments are automatic on some models, but we prefer manual control
Models with this feature (including most uprights and some canisters) can pick up debris under the entire area of the cleaning head. That’s useful when cleaning wall-to-wall carpeting–the vacuum can clean right up to where the carpet meets the wall.
*This feature can be extremely important in reducing filtration marks. Often vacuuming right near the edge of hallways does not get done without a vacuum having this type of feature.
A growing number of vacuums are claimed to do a better-than-standard job of filtering out fine particles that may pass through the machine and escape into the air through the exhaust, either through the bag or a separate filter. Micron filters can provide a higher level of filtration than standard models, but possibly not as high as high-efficiency particulate-air (HEPA) filtration. HEPA filtration might benefit someone with asthma. It provides the highest level of vacuum-cleaner filtration. In our tests, models with a HEPA filter have been very effective at reducing emissions. However, some models that don’t have HEPA filters have performed just as well in our tests, and such vacuums may cost less than HEPA model.
We know the best type of vacuum to have on site will be a stand up. It should have cylinder brushes which contact the pile surfaces of the carpet. Adjustable height to ensure that this is happening is recommended, and the bristles on the beater bar should be inspected periodically for wear. If too worn down, the machine should be replaced. Twin motor machines – those with a separate motor for suction and carpet agitation – are the best. Top loading soil bags and HEPA filters are the best. When a vacuum bag is over 75% full, it looses much of its’ effectiveness. Therefore, staff should always have many vacuum bags on hand and change them often.
So now that we know we have the right type of machine being used in our buildings to vacuum up the dirt, it would be a good idea to ensure that is what is being used. The next thing to check would be: are people performing the vacuuming correctly? After all, it is not just what you use, but how you use it.