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Construction cleaning: What's underfoot isn't always pretty

September 19, 2010
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Cleaning a freshly installed carpet doesn’t make much sense… unless that carpet is part of a new construction project.

Construction cleanup is big business.

One of the challenges involved in construction cleaning is what lies underfoot — the carpet.

A special skill
Cleaning hard surfaces (hard floors, countertops, doors, walls, windows) during a construction cleaning project is important and a typical part of a cleaning crew’s job.

Most cleaning services have the tools, equipment and personnel to handle almost any hard surface cleaning.

But carpets are another matter.

Many construction cleanup crews contract out carpet cleaning.

The types of soils found in carpets at a new construction site can contain tar, paint and many other challenging mixes.

Then you have two different parts of the construction industry: Residential and commercial.

Residential carpets, especially in upscale homes, can have carpet warranties that should give you concern. Additionally, you will find more fiber types and weaves.

Commercial carpet is typically a tighter weave, and fiber content is going to be olefin and/or nylon, with the occasional wool, in a loop pile.

The challenge: Builders’ opinions
Walk into a new home or commercial building when it’s time to bid construction cleaning, and you often find a builder or property manager with his own opinions on how easy the cleaning should be.

Remember: The carpet was supposed to be installed at the very end of the construction phase. But it was probably installed a few weeks earlier than it should have been.

You will no doubt find paint on the carpet — probably even “paint footprints” — and the builder will say: “That will clean right up with your carpet machine. No problem.”

He’s thinking, “Easier to do, less to pay.”

He knows that once you submit the bid — if you listen to his prophecy about how easy the job will be — he’s got a great deal.

However, anyone that has cleaned paint off of carpet knows that’s not the easiest task.

Once the paint has dried, hard work follows.

Most construction cleaning firms aren’t going to have a truckmount with 250 degree Fahrenheit heating systems.

They are going to have portable extractors, typically with no heating system.

That means more “elbow grease” and more chemistry.

You got the job? Get to work!
Since the carpet is new — but dirty — a thorough prevacuuming will no doubt restore much of the carpet.

In fact, if you have the right type of vacuum cleaner, you can probably vacuum the carpet and do some spotting, and it will look fine.

But if you bid a complete cleaning, you must perform what you are being paid for.

After vacuuming, look for spots or stains that are the toughest to remove: Tar, paint, varnish or lacquers, glues, etc.

You will probably have a two-man crew cleaning the carpet. Have one begin the routine cleaning, and have another do the specialized spotting — as those items mentioned above will not be removed with a typical extraction cleaning.

For paint, varnish or lacquers, glues, etc., you will need a dry solvent cleaner.

If you choose a liquid solvent cleaner, apply that solvent to a white towel and work into the spot.

If you choose instead to apply the dry solvent spotter to the spot directly, don’t apply too much. Open your spotting bottle only halfway to control the flow.

If the solvent gets into the carpet’s backing, it will begin dissolving the latex and cause delamination.

And, you won’t get paid to return with a syringe and supply of latex to fix the bubbles you created.

A safer solvent is a gel. You can apply a gel solvent to these spots, work it in with a spatula, and rinse. The gel stays on the fibers and doesn’t go into the backing — unless you push it there.

Beyond spots/stains
Although spots and stains are the toughest to fix, the general cleaning of carpets is important.

Remember: The carpet is new. The builder and purchaser of the home or building are going to expect brand-new carpet appearance.

It doesn’t matter what the construction crew did to the carpet during final stages of construction. They want you to be the miracle worker.

During the cleaning, use an adequate preconditioner and work it into the pile. Use an acid rinse agent to leave the carpet soft and in an acceptable pH condition.

The carpet probably is soil and stain resistant. If you use the wrong chemistry, you will remove or harm that protection.

To be sure you have the right chemistry, ask your supplier if the carpet cleaning chemistry is approved for stain-resistant nylon carpets.

As you clean each room or area, use an airmover for at least 15 minutes. One airmover should be sufficient for most jobs, as it can follow you from room to room.

You need a carpet rake. With cut-pile carpets, be sure to groom the wand marks out of the carpet. There’s no need to groom loop pile carpet.

Setting the nap makes the carpet look better and also allows you to inspect your cleaning as you go.

Final moments
Hopefully, you were the absolute last worker in the home or building.

If not, more soils are going to be brought into the home and possibly more tough spots or stains.

Communicate with the builder and coordinate your efforts so your cleaning results aren’t damaged.

After you are done, the next people into the home or building should be real estate agents or the occupants.

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