The “Greening” of Carpet Cleaning…article by Stephen Ashkin

 While green cleaning has now essentially become the “norm” when it comes to professional cleaning in much of the jansan industry, that has not necessarily been the case for professional carpet cleaners. While recently attending The Experience, I often heard technicians say they get few calls for green carpet cleaning from either residential or commercial clients. Instead, technicians say results (i.e. carpets are significantly cleaner after service) and price are their clients’ main concerns.

However, this may be changing faster than most people realize. For instance, a quick Google search for “green carpet cleaning” produced nearly 47 million results, with a large number of them coming from carpet cleaning companies that already offer this service. It is doubtful this number would be so staggeringly high were there not a growing demand for these services.

However, what may prove to have even greater impact – at least from a commercial standpoint – is the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) new LEED-EBOM (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance) rating system. Referred to as Version 4 (v4), this system is now finalized and approved, a process that took more than three years, six rounds of public meetings and a review procedure that involved over 23,000 comments from people all over the world.

Four of the most important things carpet cleaning technicians should know about v4 are:

  • Green cleaning, including the use of green-certified cleaning chemicals and related products and tools, are a prerequisite in order to achieve LEED-EBOM certification. This includes both carpet cleaning tasks and the chemicals used to perform those tasks.
  • The new v4 standards require that both carpet cleaning equipment and carpet extraction equipment be approved and certified by the Carpet and Rug Institute’s (CRI) Seal of Approval testing program. Most manufacturers already offer extraction equipment that bears this certification. However, older carpet cleaning machines and extractors likely do not have this seal, which could be an issue for technicians wanting to take advantage of the growing opportunity to service LEED-certified clients.
  • As the economy improves, more commercial facilities will be built and more buildings will be renovated. Many of these new and renovated buildings will be planned and designed to be LEED or LEED-EB certified.
  • Even if a facility does not seek LEED certification, many building owners/managers will use the v4 standard as a guide with the goal of making their facilities healthier and reducing their environmental impact

It is important to note that the new LEED standards also put more emphasis on energy and water conservation, a trend that is likely to continue. For those technicians in the market for new carpet cleaning equipment, the amount of energy and water a machine uses is an issue that should be considered.

Transitioning to Green: Equipment and Methods

There are a number of cleaning tools and equipment, as well as cleaning methods that make carpet cleaning greener:

Carpet extractors. Without question, extraction is the most effective way to clean carpets, however, some systems are definitely greener than others. While there is considerable debate about whether to use hot- or cold-water carpet extractors, cold water is definitely the preferred option when it comes to green carpet cleaning.*

Technicians should also select low-moisture machines, which use considerably less water and chemical than conventional machines, allowing carpets to dry more quickly and minimizing the possibility of mold and mildew developing in the drying carpet. Another consideration is the selection of machines that recycle cleaning solution. These machines have proven to be effective while significantly reducing water consumption.

Some manufacturers are now offering extractors with an upright design instead of the traditional box-style design. While the goal of this change was to improve these machines’ maneuverability, this new design also helps to prevent constrictions in the interior hoses, which can hamper airflow. This is significant because reduced airflow can negatively impact moisture removal and cause a machine to demand more energy in order to work effectively.

Encapsulation. Given the new generation of detergents now available, encapsulation has become another green carpet cleaning option. With this interim method, a detergent formula breaks down and surrounds – or encapsulates – soils in carpet fibers. Then both detergent and soils are removed with follow-up vacuuming.

The benefit of this system (as well as many other “dry” carpet cleaning methods) is that it is essentially a no-moisture process. Since no water is necessary in the cleaning process, there are no concerns about mildew or mold developing. Further, this method may also use less energy. However, encapsulation does need to be followed-up with occasional carpet extraction to keep carpets thoroughly clean and healthy.

Shampoo and bonnet. While these interim systems do differ, they are similar enough to be discussed together for our purposes. The key green benefit of these methods is that they are low-moisture, allowing carpets to dry relatively quickly. When used along with green detergents, they can be excellent carpet cleaning methods to help remove surface soiling on key walkways, for instance.

However, along with other dry carpet cleaning methods, carpet extraction will still be necessary from time to time if the shampoo or bonnet method is used. Also, in some cases, carpet manufacturers’ warranties may be violated if these systems are used, since some manufacturers believe they can potentially damage carpet fibers.

Transitioning to Green: Chemicals

When selecting carpet cleaning chemicals, the key thing to look for is whether the product has been certified by UL/Environment, DfE (the EPA’s Design for the Environment program), Green Seal, CRI or a similar organization.

These products should also have significantly fewer volatile organic compounds (VOCs) than conventional products. Once airborne, VOCs can prove very unhealthy for cleaning technicians (who may be subjected to high levels of VOCs on a daily basis), as well as building users and residents. Certification means a chemical is not only safer for humans and the environment, but that it also releases far fewer VOCs into the atmosphere.

Another consideration is how chemicals are applied. Fortunately, most technicians using carpet extractors now prespray carpets instead of mixing detergents directly into the machine’s tank. The benefits, both green and otherwise, of this method are many. For one, prespraying allows the chemical time to loosen and dissolve soils so that they are easier to remove using the extraction method. Prespraying also uses less chemical, which reduces cleaning’s impact on the environment. These chemicals can provide possible cost savings as well, a welcome development for carpet cleaning technicians, whose chemical purchases are generally a much larger investment than among cleaning professionals maintaining facilities.

When to Clean

Many carpet cleaning technicians and their clients (notably the commercial ones) like to put carpet cleaning and spotting on set schedules. Often their bid is based on this scheduling. This is fine as long as the schedule is based on need and not simply the passage of time. Green carpet cleaning programs essentially eliminate set carpet cleaning schedules.

For example, consider a business located in a four-story building. All of the building’s floors are carpeted. The first floor gets the most foot traffic, the second floor has a large office space but also houses the building’s mailroom, access to a warehouse and cafeteria. The third floor is used mostly by management and clerical personnel. The fourth floor is sparsely populated with executive offices and conference rooms. How often will these carpets need to be cleaned?

In this case, the carpets on the first and second floors are likely to become the most soiled over time. The third floor considerably less so. The top floor, which houses executive offices and conference rooms, is likely to be the least soiled.

A green carpet cleaning program for this building would be based on need. For example, the fourth floor may only need to be extracted once per year and the interim methods discussed earlier would most likely suffice on an as-needed basis the rest of the time. The first and second floors would likely need carpet extraction two or three times per year, and the third floor once or twice per year.** You can draw the same types of parallels regarding residential cleaning as well, as areas of the home that are high in traffic are likely to need cleaning more frequently than those that are not.

As mentioned earlier, the goal of green cleaning is to reduce carpet cleaning’s impact on the environment. Setting up a cleaning schedule based on need meets this goal by reducing carpet cleaning frequencies.

*Both hot- and cold-water carpet extractors are available that have earned the CRI Seal of Approval.

**Very often carpet cleaning schedules put greater emphasis on executive areas, which are typically the areas that least need to be cleaned.