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National Training Director of Chem-Dry, Jotham Hatch, says regular and thorough carpet cleaning is vital to carpet longevity.

Photo courtesy of Chem-Dry

Environmental services managers need to make careful considerations when deciding which flooring to use in their facilities. While there is a wide variety of surfaces to choose from, each with their pros and cons, carpet remains one of the best and most popular choices.

It’s commonly known that carpeting is one of the most affordable and economical types of flooring on the market. What is less well-known are its various health benefits. Carpets play the role of an indoor air filter, trapping dust and other allergens as well as airborne pathogens in its fibers, preventing these elements from circulating in the air and spreading into unwanted areas. In fact, one square foot of carpeting can trap as much as a pound of dirt and dust. At the same time, with patients, medical residents and nurses walking over your flooring every day, it’s imperative to implement a consistent cleaning and maintenance regimen that combines regular vacuuming with periodic professional deep cleanings to ensure that carpeting is able to perform its role of supporting cleaner, healthier air.

Below are several tips on how to choose the best carpet for your facility and the most effective ways to maintain and clean it:

Carpet selection 101

Choosing the right carpet material can make waiting lounges, meeting rooms and other areas with high traffic more comfortable, healthier and even safer. The best type of carpet for a health care facility is a commercial grade, low-nap nylon carpet. This type of material has great stain-resistance and resiliency, lowers the risk of spills wicking back to the surface and is easier to maintain compared with other fiber types.

Additionally, it’s good to know that the majority of dirt brought in from the outdoors gets trapped in the carpet within the first 30 feet of the entry way. According to a University of Arizona study, nine different types of pathogens or bacteria can thrive on shoes alone and can be transferred into a home or other indoor space. Because of the role that carpets and rugs can play in trapping allergens and bacteria and preventing them from circulating in the air, placing walk-off mats at every entry point can prevent soil and other unhealthy elements from penetrating further into the facility. This approach also helps your carpets to stay cleaner and helps to maintain the longevity of your flooring.

Best and safest ways to clean carpeting

In high-traffic hospitals and health care facilities, it is important to make sure carpets are cleaned in the most effective and safest ways possible. Extraction cleaning — processes that pull up and physically remove from the facility what comes up from the carpets, typically using hoses and extraction tanks — is always recommended as the safest way to rid the fibers of dirt, allergens and excess cleaning solutions. Avoid providers that use soaps, detergents or surfactants in their process because these are not as healthy and can leave a sticky, dirt-attracting residue that often results in carpets getting dirtier faster. Instead, look for services that use nontoxic cleaners, sanitizers and carpet-protecting products for maximum safety and to help carpets stay cleaner longer.  

Plan the cleaning during the slowest part of the day to minimize inconvenience and disruption to daily routines and activities. Additionally, for safety purposes, be sure to let residents and patients know that cleaning is in progress by using wet-floor signs, especially near any transition areas. Use hose ramps or guards to help people using wheel chairs and crutches to safely step over any hoses or other equipment laying on the ground.

Be sure to select a method that offers dry times within a few hours to avoid added health and safety risks. Processes like traditional steam cleaning that use excessive amounts of water often take days for carpets to dry, which not only creates additional slip-fall hazards, but also can wet through to the carpet backing and create a breeding ground for mold, mildew and bacteria. Shorter dry times don’t carry these same risks. For any cleaning method, dry times can be reduced by using fans.

How often should the carpets in health care facilities be cleaned?

Benjamin Franklin’s famous adage “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” holds true for carpet maintenance as well. Carpets can trap pounds of dust and other unwanted allergens, but they need to be cleaned regularly to avoid wear and tear and to keep them fresh so they can serve their valuable role as air filters. As a rule of thumb, if you begin to see soil collecting in the traffic lanes, you’ve waited too long. Using the correct steps to prevent carpet damage is not only the safe thing to do for residents and patients, but also is more economical. Regular carpet cleaning will be far less expensive than carpet replacement.

At minimum, carpets should be professionally deep cleaned and sanitized every six months, and plenty of facilities do this quarterly if not monthly. All carpet should be on a regular maintenance schedule. Additionally, areas with heavier traffic, such as entryways and hallways, should be cleaned more frequently.

Minimizing damage and extending carpet life

The most important maintenance step for carpet longevity is frequent cleaning. This involves three steps:

  • Regular and thorough vacuuming. Use a commercial grade vacuum with an adjustable beater bar/brush and a microfiltration system. Good vacuums are well worth the investment. Depending on traffic levels, vacuuming should be done several times a week, especially in high-traffic areas. Typically, bag-style vacuums work best and the bags should be disposed of when they are two-thirds full.
  • Professional extraction cleanings once a quarter for high-traffic areas and at least every six months otherwise. Be sure to select a company that uses safe, nontoxic cleaning products and offers sanitizers and carpet protecting products as well. Dry times should be within a few hours and ideally one to two hours to avoid mold and bacteria growth and to cut down on inconveniences for patients and residents.
  • Spot cleaning/surface cleaning: Spills and spots are bound to happen. Typically, the sooner you treat the spot, the easier it is to remove. When spots occur, clean them up quickly using appropriate spotting products. Many cleaning companies offer regular spot-cleaning services as part of an ongoing maintenance program. Spot cleaning can be a little tricky, so avoid any spotting products that have a lot of surfactants or soaps in them that tend to leave a dirt-attracting residue. The best initial treatment is simply to blot up a new spill or spot with a clean, white cloth to remove excess fluids and prevent them from penetrating deeper into the carpet fibers.

Making sure your medical facility has safe and clean floors is essential to providing the best customer service and creating a healthier living and working environment. With these techniques, not only will you ensure that your medical residence is as clean as can be, but you will also be protecting your flooring investment and providing your residents and patients with a safer, healthier, more pleasant experience.   

Jotham Hatch is the national training director for Chem-Dry.