By Steve Ashkin
A facility housing the headquarters of a major California corporation began accepting bids for the cleaning and maintenance of its five-story office building. The building managers were thinking Green in that the specs required that only environmentally preferable cleaning chemicals be used. However, deep within the specifications was this section regarding carpet cleaning:
“Carpets throughout the facility are to be cleaned three times per year. However, carpets on the executive floor are to be cleaned monthly. This is to include all offices, conference rooms, and work areas in the executive area.”
Although it might not have helped a bidder win the contract, a Green building service contractor would have tried to explain to the managers of the facility that cleaning the carpets in the executive area every month was most likely unnecessary and certainly not environmentally friendly. This is because virtually all cleaning—no matter what products or procedures are used—can have some negative impact on the environment. For this reason, avoiding or delaying certain cleaning tasks (such as cleaning the carpets in the executive areas) when feasible can reduce cleaning’s overall impact on the environment, which is one of the key goals of Green Cleaning.
In this example, just as in scores of other buildings throughout the United States, company managers want to pamper their executives, and one way they attempt to do this is by having the executive area carpets looking their best, even if it means cleaning them 12 times per year whether soiled or not. However, in most cases, the executive offices are actually the least soiled areas of the facility. Not only is monthly carpet cleaning unnecessary in these locations, it is also costly and, as mentioned, can have adverse implications for the environment.
This is why one of the first tenets of Green carpet care is cleaning carpets only two or three times per year or as needed. For the facility in our example, depending on building use and density (the number of people using the facility), cleaning the carpet three times per year would probably be more than adequate as well as far more cost effective and certainly Greener.
The Evolution of Green Carpet Cleaning
Looking back on how Green Cleaning established itself in both the jansan and professional carpet cleaning industries, it’s easy to see that much of its evolution began with chemicals. The goal was to encourage chemical manufacturers to develop products using ingredients that have a reduced impact on the environment while remaining effective. End customers now also want the ingredients to be more sustainable, which generally means being derived from renewable resources instead of being petroleum based, as are many conventional cleaning chemicals.
However, Green Cleaning soon expanded beyond chemicals. Vacuum cleaners with advanced air filtration systems, chemical-free cleaning systems, low-moisture floor machines, certain spray-and-vac cleaning systems, and even chemical-dilution systems have all become key parts of many Green Cleaning strategies.
And carpet cleaning is another part of this evolution. Carpet cleaning is becoming Greener and healthier with the aid of new technologies and cleaning and maintenance strategies. One of them has already been addressed: cleaning carpets based more on need than on set frequency schedules. But there are many more ways to make carpet cleaning Greener.
Steps Toward Greening Carpet Cleaning
Carpet cleaning contractors and in-house cleaning professionals have numerous ways to make carpet cleaning Greener. And this can be accomplished while still keeping carpets clean and healthy and maintaining—if not enhancing—the carpeting’s appearance. Among them are the following:
- Choose the right chemicals. One of the key issues regarding some conventional carpet cleaning chemicals is that they have the potential to release significant amounts of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) into the air. Once airborne, many VOCs can be harmful to human health and the environment. Selecting chemicals that are Green certified ensures that they are not only made with safer and more sustainable ingredients but that they release far fewer—if any—VOCs into the atmosphere.
- Properly apply chemicals. At one time, most cleaning professionals/carpet cleaning technicians mixed chemical and water right in their extractors’ tanks. This technique has now been rejected by most technicians in favor of prespraying carpeting with chemical. Usually, far less chemical is used via this method, and technicians can apply more chemical where it is most needed, such as in heavily trafficked or soiled areas.
- Consider interim cleaning methods. View the use of carpet extractors as a restorative carpet cleaning method only. While it is true that using extractors is typically the most effective way to clean carpets, the amount of soiling present does not always necessitate the use of such a heavy-duty technique. Other so-called interim methods can be effective when soiling is not extensive, and they also can have a reduced impact on the environment. For instance, one large hospital cleans the carpets using what are recognized as interim methods—encapsulation, shampooing, and bonnet cleaning—two or three times before using extractors. These interim methods typically use less chemical and water, making them more sustainable and environmentally friendly, and they allow carpets to dry relatively quickly, helping to prevent the growth of mold and mildew.
- Use cold water. Many of the newer Green cleaning chemicals allow carpets to be cleaned effectively using cold water in most situations. Because hot-water extractors consume large amounts of energy, choosing cold-water cleaning techniques whenever possible to minimize energy consumption reduces carpet cleaning’s impact on the environment. Using hot-water cleaning methods also means heating cleaning chemicals, and that increases the risk of releasing potentially harmful fumes into the air.
- Reduce drying times. As referenced earlier, the faster carpets dry, the less likely it is that mold, mildew, or potentially harmful microorganisms will develop. One of the most effective ways to speed up drying times is the use of air movers placed strategically around carpets that have been recently extracted. Air movers should always be located so that they blow over carpets rather than directly onto them. (See sidebar: “Drying Times.”)
The Green Equipment Factor
When it comes to restorative carpet cleaning, choosing the right type of extractor is critical for keeping a cleaning project as Green as possible. Fortunately, new technologies are making carpet cleaning more environmentally friendly. But there are also relatively simple things that cleaning professionals can do to make carpet cleaning Greener. For instance, carpet extractors must be properly maintained. This keeps machines up and running longer—meaning fewer discarded models clogging landfills—and also ensures that machines work more effectively and use chemical, water, and energy more efficiently as well.
In addition, older or outdated machines should be replaced. Extractors that are more than five to seven years old are unlikely to work as effectively as newer machines and probably use more energy and water as well. These machines should be replaced with extractors that have earned the Seal of Approval from the Carpet and Rug Institute. This ensures that the machine has been independently tested to measure soil and moisture removal and to ensure that the carpet’s appearance is maintained.
When selecting a new carpet extractor, some of the technology to consider includes:
- Recycling extractors: These systems recycle water and chemical several times before it is replaced. This has the potential to considerably reduce water and chemical consumption, making these machines sustainable and environmentally preferable.
- Low-flow systems: Some older extractors use as much as two gallons of water per minute. Low-flow or low-moisture systems, on the other hand, use less than a gallon. Further, to be recognized as a low-moisture extractor by the Low Moisture Carpet Cleaning Association, carpets cleaned with these machines must be proved to dry within two hours or less at 65 percent relative humidity and hat 70 degrees (F).*
- Upright design: Many portable extractors have a box-style design. However, some newer systems now offer an upright dolly design instead. This innovation was originally intended to improve extractor maneuverability; it also helps to eliminate hose constrictions within the machine, which can hamper airflow and moisture recovery.
- Quieter equipment: Extractors, both portable and truckmount, can be noisy machines. Some manufacturers are now taking steps to develop quieter equipment. Using a portable system is often a quieter option, and these models can also help minimize worker stress and fatigue.
Additionally, new technologies have made wands far more effective at moisture removal than systems available years ago. Further, many of these wands are easier to use, reducing the stress and strain often associated with carpet cleaning.
The Big Picture
Making carpet cleaning Greener, more sustainable, and more environmentally friendly goes far beyond choosing Green cleaning chemicals. In fact, to truly Green carpet cleaning as an industry will necessitate a group effort involving chemical and equipment manufacturers as well as end users. But regardless of who gets involved, the goal is the same: quality carpet care that protects the environment and the health of users and building occupants.
*The Low Moisture Carpet Cleaners Association is a nonprofit organization that promotes, among other things, a variety of carpet cleaning methodologies that ensure that carpet fibers dry within two hours after cleaning.
Article originally appeared in Housekeeping Solutions.