Clearing the air on carpet care

Although carpet cleaning has not received as much attention as other aspects of cleaning during COVID-19’s focus on hyper hygiene, it is a crucial element that can contribute significantly to healthier buildings and superior indoor air quality when it is done properly.

On the back of growing demand for carpet-cleaning machines during the pandemic, industry veteran Tony Antonious says customers are demanding two key things.

“It’s all about speed and efficiency,” says Antonious, the owner and managing director of Polivac International, a manufacturer and distributor of commercial and industrial cleaning equipment.

The emphasis in the wake of COVID-19 has been on targeting dirt and debris in the carpet pile with powerful carpet extraction machines and vacuums.

“People are asking for stronger pumps,” Antonious says.

“They want to clean the carpet quicker, so they need a small, powerful machine that they can fit into the back of station wagon and move quickly. They’re easier than the bigger truck-mounted machines.”

A new pandemic-led focus on indoor air quality has also led to cleaners and facility managers opting for more frequent cleaning of carpet, according to Antonious.

Any commitment to more regular carpet care should be welcomed in the quest for cleaner and more hygienic workspaces as far as Hako Australia managing director Frank Cupido is concerned.

“At the end of the day the key is the frequency of the cleaning and the quality of the equipment,” he says.

While acknowledging that scientists believe carpet is crucial because it acts as an indoor air filter by collecting and trapping volatile organic compounds that can harm people’s health, Cupido says that is only part of the story. An effective combination of quality vacuums and appropriate HEPA filtration is essential.

“HEPA filtration is important because it’s what captures and emits the cleaner air out of the machine, so it’s a barrier,” Cupido says.

“But it doesn’t matter how good the HEPA filter is if the machine has a terrible vacuum motor without the appropriate amount of power. You need a certain amount of air-flow capacity in order to draw dust into that filter and exhaust the clean air out of it.”

Forgot me not

In all the discussions around the importance of cleaning and hygiene during the pandemic, carpet cleaning has often slipped off the radar.

“I don’t know if people have been thinking a lot about carpet care throughout COVID-19, says Lisa Michalson, co-founder of Cleanstar, a wholesale distributor of commercial and domestic vacuum cleaners and accessories.

“Rather, they have focused on things like fogging disinfectants and spraying. But people have to be educated about the importance of clean carpets and the impact it can have on the air around us as well.”

Michalson believes that, in combination with indoor air purifiers, clean carpets can be a smart way to improve air quality and create a healthier living and working environment.

She is encouraged that more customers are wising up to the importance of using high-quality HEPA 13 and HEPA 14 filters in their vacuums.

Cupido admits his business’s emphasis has evolved more on hard floors and outdoor environments, rather than carpets, as the former becomes ever more popular.

However, carpet will always have its place and will require attention to maintain healthy indoor environments.

“Many moons ago, you’d walk through a hospital, for example, and there’d be carpet tiles, but such facilities are increasingly switching to low-maintenance vinyl flooring,” Cupido says. “Schools still tend to have carpeted areas, but there’s less of it. There has certainly been a shift.”

He agrees with Antonious that the need for increased speed and efficiency of carpet cleaning is important.

“Good cleaning and quick-drying results equate to speed and efficiency. This has been the driver of equipment development by manufacturers to meet that demand.”

The evolution of better carpet extractors and ride-on extractors for large, open carpeted spaces has also made a difference.

While using the right carpet extractors and vacs is important, Cupido urges facility managers to pay greater attention to measures that prevent carpet damage in the first place, including making smart choices with matting solutions for use in high-traffic locations such as public buildings and commercial offices.

“You’ve got to get the right matting in place, especially near building entrances so that you can clean the grit off the soles of shoes. That really is the key to protecting the carpet because it’s the grit in the deep fibres of the carpet that does the damage.”

Antonious agrees that many facilities are switching from carpet to vinyl floors, but he adds that the need to keep patients and residents warm in sites such as hospitals and retirement homes means that carpet will always be required.

“It goes in cycles – sometimes facilities put carpet down and then they switch and put vinyl down, and vice versa,” Antonious says. “But there are still a lot of areas that need carpet cleaning.”

Education more important than ever

In addition to using high-quality HEPA filters, Michalson says commercial carpet cleaners need to pay attention to tool selection.

For instance, air-driven or power-driven roller brushes that agitate the carpet pile and pick up dust are important.

Such knowledge should be part of an education process that concentrates on the right products and the best possible advice, not just price, Michalson says.

“We need education across the board so that people are more aware of what’s needed to do the job.”

She is also an advocate for commercial vacuum cleaners having bags, rather than going bagless as is the trend in some quarters.

“The bags capture and contain all the dirt, which increases the longevity of the machine, and less dirt is then exhausted back into the environment,” Michalson says.

“A lot of cleaners want to go bagless to reduce costs, but the key is to have good products with multiple layers of filtration.”

She also thinks indoor air purifiers have an important role to play in keeping homes and commercial spaces safe, in conjunction with better carpet care. Again, the purifiers should be fitted with quality HEPA filters.

In Cupido’s view, there is a clear distinction between domestic bagless vacuums and the limited commercially rated bagless vacuums.

Domestic bagless vacuums do not hold up to the rigours of commercial cleaning, he says, while commercial bagless vacuums have a place in the contract-cleaning segment.

However, Cupido says bagged vacuums currently meet the broader needs better and are a lot more forgiving to the user in the commercial cleaning environment.

Regardless of which products cleaners and facility managers rely on for cleaning carpets, it is crucial to adopt a rigorous maintenance regime.

Carpet-cleaning machines need to be regularly serviced, filters need to be cleaned or replaced, and vacuum bags need to routinely changed to ensure any excess dirt is not blown back into the environment.

While this all takes some work and planning, Michalson says it pays off in terms of the longevity of the machines and the quality of the cleaning work.

Choose the right products

Antonious, Michalson, and Cupido agree that demand for autonomous robot solutions has not really ramped up yet for carpet-cleaning jobs.

While basic robot vacuums have become a common feature in homes, such machines do not always suit rooms in hospitals or retirement homes where there is the risk of slip-and-fall accidents.

“When you go into smaller, defined areas where there could be patients and water and furniture, it’s a complete different environment,” Antonious says.

Cupido adds that most robot vacuums act as a ‘surface clean’ carpet-cleaning process only.  They lack the necessary performance of 240v-powered vacuums that have the vacuum power to clean deeper into the carpet fibres. Battery capability places limitations on robot vacuums, he says.

“There’s a trade-off with everything you do. Some people will disagree, but I don’t think they’re a deep-cleaning unit. Battery power is what limits robot vacuums with their runtime and capacity.”

Michalson says that while batteries are improving, the technology is “still not there” for a lot of commercial cleaning work and that higher levels of suction from electricity-powered machines can better feed air through multiple layers of filtration.

“They do not work as well as electricity-powered machines and manual labour, but companies are trying to cut costs.”

Michalson concludes that there is a fairly simply formula for carpet care – use good products, vacuum carpets more frequently, insist on high-quality HEPA filters and incorporate indoor air purifiers to complement the cleaning regime.

“Do this and you’ll get the cleanest carpets and air possible, whether it’s in houses, commercial environments, and anywhere else.”

This article first appeared in the July/August issue of INCLEAN magazine. Read the original article here

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