Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online

Carpet Plays A Significant Role In Air Quality

September 19, 2010

The Latin phrase primum non nocere is translated to "first, do no harm."

Physicians and paramedics understand this means that in the process of treatment, first make sure not to harm the patient.

Professional cleaners are not doctors or paramedics, but in a manner of speaking, we are in the business of health care.

Indoor air quality (IAQ) plays a significant role in the health of building occupants and carpet has a significant impact on IAQ — whether it is good or bad depends on how the carpet is maintained.

Cleaning is defined as removing soil or unwanted matter from a surface or environment.

Some of the unwanted matter that we remove from carpets is pollutants, which can cause negative health consequences.

Many of these pollutants are found in the dust that settles on carpeting.

Dust found in buildings consists of organic materials like pollen, synthetic materials like carpet and clothing fibers and metals and minerals — most of which are harmless — but some like lead and cadmium that are toxins.

Carbon and other by-products of combustion from engine exhaust, cigarette smoke, furnaces, smokestacks and chimneys also contribute to what we simply call dust.

Approximately 60 percent of the dust in buildings comes from outside, much of it riding on air currents; we also carry it in on shoes and clothing.

The other 40 percent comes from within the building.

Depending on the facility, dust can contain a wide variety of pollutants and irritants, which can be removed by vacuuming.

However, most building maintenance technicians vacuum too quickly, removal of visible particles being their primary concern.

Thorough, proper, efficient vacuuming is perhaps the most important part of cleaning carpet and should never be rushed.

First, Do No Harm

Some vacuum cleaners blow a lot of the dust they remove from the carpet right back into the air.

The smallest particles — mold spores, dust mite waste, pet dander and tobacco residue — cause the biggest health issues.

Therefore, one of the best things that you can do to improve IAQ is to pre-vacuum using a Green Label vacuum cleaner approved by the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI).

These machines filter and retain the smallest particles, preventing them from being blown back into the air.

This is not only good for the occupants of the building, but for you as well.

Dust is not "just dust." Rather, it contains things that you should not breathe.

Keep vacuum cleaners maintained and change filter bags before they reach half full.

Bonded soils and contaminants cannot be removed by vacuuming and some are organic materials that are bonded to the carpet with oily or sticky residues.

If the carpet contains a significant amount of these contaminants they can become a food source for bacteria and mold.

An increase in humidity or a small leak would be enough to activate dormant mold and bacteria spores.

The resulting microbial colonies would begin feeding on the bonded organic soils and produce waste by-products in the form of microbiological volatile organic compounds (MVOCs).

MVOCs are a source of odors and cause allergies, asthma and sickness in sensitive individuals.

The bonded soils themselves may also contain compounds that contribute to unhealthy air.

Chemical and petroleum residues tracked in from outside or warehouse and production areas, cleaning agents and other chemicals continue to produce volatile organic compounds (VOCs) long after being deposited onto carpet.

These residues are removed with a thorough, restorative cleaning.

Most professionals would agree that they would like to do the best possible job every time; however, the realities of this business require a balance between efficiency and effectiveness.

On one hand, the building owner wants a clean, attractive and healthy environment for the workers and visitors in the building.

On the other hand, the cost of providing this environment must not exceed the financial benefits of maintaining furnishings and surfaces.

This reality requires two types of cleaning methods — maintenance and restorative.

The Dichotomy Of Cleaning

Maintenance methods are quick and relatively easy; they improve carpet appearance and dry fast.

Their goal is to increase the time between expensive and time-consuming restorative cleanings.

The most popular maintenance methods require the application of a cleaning agent, mechanical agitation and absorption while damp and/or post-vacuuming when dry.

Some of the cleaning agents used in these maintenance methods leave behind a beneficial polymer residue that encapsulates soils and dries brittle.

Once dried, the residue is vacuumed away along with the encapsulated soils.

Done regularly, and before the carpet reaches a heavily soiled condition, maintenance cleaning provides improvements to IAQ.

Eventually, though, there comes a time when maintenance methods are not enough.

Restorative methods involve some form of rinsing the carpet to remove soils and residual cleaning agents that are usually left behind from spot cleaning and maintenance methods.

Restorative in this context simply means that the carpet is restored to its cleanest state by thoroughly flushing and rinsing the fibers with the hot water extraction method.

This can be done with a truckmount carpet cleaning machine or a portable extractor.

By getting the carpet clean and dry, you create a health benefit for everyone in the building.

This alone will dramatically improve the quality of your cleaning without negatively impacting IAQ.

Use quality cleaning agents, equipment and methods that are designed for the type of carpet and soil that you are cleaning.

Like doctors and paramedics, carpet cleaners should take special training.

The Commercial Carpet Maintenance Technician (CCMT) courses approved by the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC) are designed specifically to teach you how to properly maintain carpet in commercial facilities.

What you learn can help you to live up to the health care credo, "first, do no harm."

Bruce DeLoatch is an instructor approved by the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC). He is an IICRC-certified Master Textile Cleaner and Master Restoration Technician. Bruce is co-founder of The Cleaner''s Coach, a marketing and consulting firm, as well as marketing director for Truckmounts and Cleaning Solutions in Norcross, Georgia. His e-mail address is