Floor Mats: Their Tie to Green Cleaning

Floor mats play a crucial role in Green cleaning. So important that they are required for LEED certification.

Why is matting so important in Green cleaning? The answer is simple: source control. A major source of soiling in facilities comes from dust and dirt, and high-performance matting keeps the dirt out. Studies show that as much as 80 percent of the dust and dirt entering a facility is tracked in on the shoes of building occupants and visitors. Not adequately controlling the amount of soils entering a facility adds to the time, cost, cleaning chemicals, and equipment necessary to keep the facility clean.

By limiting the amount of dirt entering a facility, buildings stay cleaner, which means fewer cleaning chemicals and products are necessary to maintain the facility. And since the goal of Green cleaning is to clean without harming human health or the environment, any steps, procedures, or products that can help achieve these aims—including matting—become part of a Green cleaning program.

Definitions and Clarifications

When incorporating matting as part of a Green program it should be understood that the mats need to be high-performance mats. These are much higher-quality mats than those usually provided by linen and rental services. One very simple way to distinguish between a conventional mat and a high-performance mat is the product’s warranty. A rental-style mat may have a warranty of about 90 to 180 days, whereas a high-performance system will likely have a warranty lasting one to as long as six years. Higher-quality matting systems are much more durable than conventional mats and are made to last for years, which usually make them a very cost effective option.

High-performance mats are also much more effective than lower-quality mats because they are designed specifically to trap, capture, and hold dust, soils, and contaminants. One way they do this is through their rubber-reinforced, permanent bi-level construction. With this type of construction, soils drop beneath the top level of the mat so that they cannot be “walked” into the facility. The soil remains there until the mat is vacuumed or cleaned.

High-performance matting is also designed to be part of a three-stage system. As an example of this system, an office building, school, or medical facility would have a scraper mat as the first line of defense directly outdoors to scrape off large debris and soils. This would be followed by a wiper/scraper mat, often found in the vestibule area of an entry or directly inside the facility. Finally, a wiper mat would be placed inside the building entry.

The length of all three mats also contributes to the effectiveness of the matting system. Often called the “Rule of 15,” each mat in the three-stage matting system should be at least 5 feet long, for a minimum total of 15 feet. This ensures that each person walking into a facility takes 10 to 12 steps on the mats before walking onto hard surface floors or carpets. In most situations, hardly any dust, soil, or moisture will be left on the person’s footwear beyond the last mat.

However, some experts, such as Stephen Ashkin, a longtime advocate for Green cleaning and president of The Ashkin Group and the Green Cleaning Network, believes even more matting should be installed. “Studies have indicated that as many as 30 feet of a high-quality, well-placed entry matting system [is recommended],” he says. “This helps ensure that nearly 100 percent of dirt, sand, and moisture has been removed from the footwear of people walking into a facility, making matting systems not only a key component of Green cleaning but one of the best pollution prevention strategies that can be employed.”

Mats Need You

Although the benefits of matting systems are many, without proper cleaning and attention from building service contractors (BSCs) and other cleaning professionals they will eventually lose their effectiveness and thus cease to contribute to the goals of a Green cleaning program. How much and what type of cleaning are necessary varies considerably and are usually very dependent on the amount of foot traffic entering a facility, weather conditions, climate, type of facility, and other variables.

Before installing a high-performance mat, it is a wise idea to unroll the mat and allow it to flatten for a day or two. This will get rid of curled edges and raised areas and thus help prevent any trips or falls. Also check the bottom of the mat. Some new mats will have an oily or sticky film on the backing. This is not a defect but a releasing agent that is part of the manufacturing process. If this film is present, simply hand-wash, rinse, and allow the area to thoroughly dry.

Once installed, new mats have a tendency to shed, or “fuzz.” This is normal, and a little extra vacuuming will take care of the problem within a few days. After this initial period, vacuuming the mats once or twice per day may be all that is required in most facilities. (In a large, multi-tenant office building, mats may need to be vacuumed several times throughout the day.) During winter months, especially if ice melt products have been applied to outdoor walk areas, this frequency should be increased.

Additionally, because high-performance mats last for several years and are not replaced on a set schedule, they will eventually need to be cleaned with a hot-water extractor. Some enterprising BSCs and carpet cleaning technicians have even started mat cleaning services to meet this need, many of which have proven to be quite lucrative.

The bottom line is that keeping mats clean is important to keeping them Green. Clean, high-performance matting systems help reduce a facility’s cleaning needs, improve the quality of our indoor environment, and protect the health of building occupants.

Stephen P. Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group, a consulting firm specializing in Greening the cleaning industry, and CEO of Sustainability Dashboard Tools, which offers a cloud-based dashboard that allows organizations to measure, report and improve their sustainability efforts. He is also coauthor of both The Business of Green Cleaning and Green Cleaning for Dummies