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Carpet Cleaning

Most carpet care products are relatively safe to use, and have only a small impact on the environment. However, some of these products do contain toxic chemicals that are harmful both to the janitor who uses them and to people who occupy the building. It is best to select the mildest products you can find that work effectively.

Also, carpets that are cleaned less often require more and stronger chemicals that do carpets that are regularly maintained. It is a good strategy to set up a maintenance program that takes care of carpet needs throughout their useful life.

Using the wrong products or excess amounts of chemicals can easily damage carpets. Therefore, a successful maintenance program will feature the products suited to the work, and will thoroughly train janitors in proper cleaning methods.

A successful carpet care program begins before installation, and then continues with routine vacuuming, maintenance cleaning, and periodic restoration efforts.

Carpet Design & Installation

Carpets are both functional and visually appealing. However, the wrong kind of carpet, or one that is poorly installed will require extra maintenance.

Generally you should match the carpet type, texture, and underlayment to its working environment. It is also important to keep carpets away from situations where water, chemicals, or other hard-to-clean materials are used. For example, locker rooms, kitchens, and copy centers are not good places to install carpet.

In addition, it’s essential to consider how nearby, non-carpeted floors or walls will be cleaned. Chemicals used for that kind of maintenance can easily spill over and damage carpets.

Dust Prevention

Preventing soil from entering a building in the first place means carpet cleaning can be less frequent, thereby reducing the amounts of chemicals used.

Large, frequently cleaned walk-on mats should be placed at each high-traffic building entrance. These mats should be large enough to capture several footsteps. Experiment with different sizes and textures to see what works best at each doorway. Every few days these mats will become “full” of soil. Therefore, it’s important to vacuum all doorway mats frequently so that they will continue to capture soil before it is carried into the building.

Some modern buildings are totally enclosed. If possible, the heating, ventilating, and air conditioning system in such a building should be operated so that the air pressure just inside each doorway is higher than that of the natural air outdoors. Doing so will push airborne dust back outside.


Daily vacuuming with strong suction, tight filter, rotating brush machines removes up to half or more of the soil that falls onto carpets. How much effort does it take to attain this level of cleaning? Routine vacuuming, with up to four back and forth strokes of the wand across the carpet, is sufficient for low traffic areas. Up to ten wand strokes may be needed at outside doorways and other high traffic areas. Supplemental vacuuming will be needed along walls and carpet edges where soil tends to accumulate.

Other Prevention Techniques

Some building managers prohibit colored soft drinks, coffee, and other items that will easily stain carpets. Such a tight policy makeS building occupants unhappy at best. A compromise is to either to have hard floors instead of carpets in food service rooms, or to place sacrificial carpet mats in those areas.

It helps to think of carpets as large, flat air filters. Most light particles and airborne soil will eventually end up attaching to carpets. Unless something is done, significant amounts of carpet soil will come from kitchen fumes and other forms of building use. Properly maintained vents that exhaust outdoors can capture most materials that will otherwise fall out onto the carpets.

Carpet Spotters

Another form of prevention comes from reacting immediately to spills and spots before they have time to become semi-permanent stains. However, thorough training in spill clean-up is very important because using the wrong techniques or chemicals can smear the spilled substance or set the spot permanently. It is usually best to start with clear, cold water and blotting cloths, and then move on to try stronger chemicals only if needed.

A special word of caution - carpet spot removal products contain some of the most dangerous chemicals found in carpet care products. Use these products sparingly, and only when wearing gloves and goggles. Provide extra ventilation, and if possible do the work when building occupants are elsewhere. In any case, avoid products that have highly dangerous ingredients such as hydrofluoric acid (rust remover), or tetrachloroethylene (Type 4 spot remover).

Maintenance Cleaners

Rotary bonnet cleaners and carpet shampoos usually are fairly mild products. However, it’s easy to misuse or over-apply these maintenance cleaners. Such improper use may make it necessary to do hot water extraction more often or more extensively. Either way, the use of excess chemicals or the wrong ones leads to more effort and expense.

The toxic ingredients that are in maintenance cleaners pose their greatest risks through inhalation (e.g., isopropanol) or skin contact (e.g., butoxyethanol or ethanolamine). Therefore, providing good ventilation and wearing gloves are very important to protect the janitor doing the work. It is also important to keep building occupants away from wet, freshly cleaned carpets so as to reduce their exposure to these chemicals.


With some exceptions, presprays used with hot water extraction systems are also fairly mild products. Careful application, thorough agitation, sufficient contact time, and extraction before drying help these products do their job, and reduce the amounts of chemicals that would otherwise have to be used in reworking the carpet. Training and experience are needed to prepare the janitor for using these products effectively.

Hazardous ingredients used in hot water extraction products include acid rinses (e.g., hydroxyacetic acid) and solvents (e.g., butoxyethanolå). The best strategy is to choose products without these problem ingredients. If that is not possible, than it is essential that the janitor wear gloves and goggles, and that building occupants are kept away from the area until the work is complete.

Mildewcides & Disinfectants

A few restoration products contain tributyl tin, formaldehyde, and other ingredients that are meant to kill microorganisms, but at the same time are highly toxic to humans. Some of these ingredients, such as tributyl tin, are banned from use in the San Francisco Bay Area because of their potential to cause harm in the environment.

Proper care of your floor prevents damage, extends its life and keeps it looking new for years. How do you properly care for your flooring?

If you enjoy going barefoot, or even if you don't, kick your shoes off at the door. Why remove your shoes? If you have a rough board that needs smoothing, you grab a sheet of sandpaper for the job. Guess what's on the bottom of your shoes? Sand and dirt grind away at the fibers in your carpet, leading to an early death.

Take a closer look at the bottoms of those shoes and you'll find oil, dirt and heaven only knows how many bits of leftover dog deposits. Small wonder why your carpet stubbornly refuses to come clean. Do wear slippers or socks inside. The oil from the bottom of your feet also dirties the carpet.

Vacuum your carpet regularly, and do not use liquid carpet shampoos to clean them. Ever wash your hair and forget to rinse out all the shampoo? The same thing happens to your carpet. The shampoo can't be completely rinsed out, leaving a sticky residue. That residue acts like a big magnet pulling the dirt from the bottom of your shoes. Now you have clean shoes and even dirtier carpets. Use dry carpet cleaners instead. Stores selling vacuum cleaners carry dry carpet cleaners.

Getting out old shampoo becomes the trick. Rent a shampoo machine that cleans with water. Mix 1 cup vinegar per 2 ½ gallons of water and clean according to directions. Go back over the carpet with warm water only. The vinegar pulls out the old shampoo, cleaning the carpet as well. It may take a time or two, but your carpets will be soft and free from grime. The hot water reactivates the shampoo already in the carpet, providing the needed cleansing action.

Stains in carpet can be a hassle to remove. Never rub a stain, just blot. Rubbing breaks down the fibers and spreads the stain. Remove most food stains with shaving cream. Spray on and resist the temptation to rub it in, then let it set for 15 minutes. Rinse with a vinegar and water solution.

Club soda generally removes red wine stains. Remove red dye stains (found in drink mixes, Popsicles, dog and cat food) with a 30/70 solution of peroxide to water. Remember, peroxide is bleach, so test an inconspicuous spot first for color fastness. Apply the mixture, wait 30 minutes, then remove as much moisture as possible and rinse with a vinegar/water solution. If the stain remains, add a bit more peroxide to the mixture and retreat.

Brake cleaner also does a good quick job of removing most food stains. Dab a little on a clean cloth and gently blot the stain. Rinse with soap and water. Brake cleaner contains the same chemical professional dry cleaners use to clean stains in clothing. Do not pour brake cleaner directly into the carpet. It could dissolve the adhesive holding the fibers in the carpet.

Oops, the dog had an accident and the stain and smell refuse all attempts at removal. First try an enzyme product. Pour on enough to saturate to the pad and treat an area twice as large as the stain. Urine hits the pad and spreads. Let it set a couple of hours. You'll find enzyme products at pet stores, RV or marine stores. They are used in the holding tanks to dissolve solid material.

Should that not remove all the stain or odor, baking soda and peroxide remain your best hope. Mix a 30/70 solution of peroxide to water adding 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda per cup of mixture. Yes, it bubbles and fizzles, but not before removing the stain and smell. Always test a spot first for colorfastness. Peroxide is bleach and may discolor the carpet. Blot up what you can with an old towel and rinse well with 1/3 cup vinegar per quart of water.

If you see red spots on your carpet where your pet just lost its lunch, switch food to a neutral colored food. The red dye in pet food is the culprit behind those spots. Dogs and cats are colorblind, so they can't tell the difference. Again, use the 30/70 peroxide and water combination for removal.

Oil, grease, magic marker and ink can be the dickens to remove. Most janitorial companies or department stores carry a product called DeSolvit. WD40 or Orange Clean also work wonders at removing these stubborn stains. Rubbing alcohol removes ink. Blot on, allow to set 30 minutes and blot to remove. Rinse with sudsy water. Magic marker is generally permanent and you may not be able to remove it.

Gum - Freeze gum with ice cubes and chip off what you can with the blunt side of a kitchen knife. DeSolveit removes the rest.

Wax - Freeze with ice and chip off what you can with the blunt side of a knife. Wax needs heat for removal. Some of the newer carpets are quite sensitive to heat and scorch easily, so test an out of the way spot first. You can also use a hair dryer set to the hottest setting.

Set your iron to a low to medium heat. The less heat you use, the less chance of scorching your carpet. Take a white paper towel or paper bag with no writing on it (the dye will transfer to the carpet) Put the towel down on top of the wax and iron the towel for no longer than two seconds. Move the towel and redo if necessary. Generally once is enough.

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