Warning – Very Mundane Topic Ahead!
In my Library Director days, the custodial staff did an fairly good job keeping up with making sure that the floors were cleaned. We were mostly low-pile commercial carpet and ceramic tile. When the carpet got overly soiled, we would bring in the name-brand vendor - to haul in their hoses and ‘steam’ clean the carpet.
Although I thought the carpet *must* be clean since ‘steam’ meant that allergens would be neutralized, I was never satisfied with the results. There were always traffic lane stains, fading and we would have to effectively be shut down while hoses were dragged through the building. Then, the floors might take several hours to dry, the surface stains that were removed would leech back to the surface, and people walking on the wet floors would leave an even worse cattle trail. If the carpet did not dry fast enough, there would be a stench. And, if they used a deodorizer – which they charged extra for – it had a overpowering smell.
I own a floor care company now specializing in commercial carpet, hardwood floors, and ceramic tile. My research into the methods used by the big floor care vendors showed the most customers are not satisfied for the same reasons I articulated above. The technology being used is based on those companies investing in truck-mounted systems that shoot hot water into the carpet and vacuum it back up again. They carry around hundreds of gallons of clean and dirty water, heating it on-board and rely on doing the work as quickly as possible to recover their investments. It *was* state-of-the-art 20 years ago.
But, technology has changed and there is a much better, greener way for you to maintain your floors, keep them clean, neutralize allergens, restore the pile, and allow you to go much, much longer before you ever need to think about replacing your commercial carpet. The problem is, the big vendors do not promote it because of their on-going investments and it does not seem to offer the same benefits.
Commercial carpet is low-pile and usually stretched then glued down to a floor. The idea that you would actually ‘steam’ clean effectively is both misleading and a misapplication. If the water coming through the hoses that are ‘steam’ cleaned was hot enough to qualify as steam, it would melt the glue and cause the carpet to buckle. In fact, the carpet is not ‘steam’ cleaned, it is simply spray cleaned with what *may* be some fairly hot water and then vacuumed up again.
The appropriate method for cleaning commercial carpet is *low moisture encapsulation* or VLM. Low moisture encapsulation is done with a random orbital machine with fiber pads followed by a microfiber or terrycloth bonnet. A sulfactant is applied with the fiber pad along with a polymer. The sulfactant releases the soil and stains and when the solution dries any remaining soil is bonded to the polymer which becomes brittle and vacuums away – eliminating allergens and other debris from the carpet. In the process I use, the only chemical that requires listing is a small amount of isopropyl alcohol which evaporates away in the process. It is an excellent, cost effective and green alternative to traditional carpet cleaning.
The result is carpet that is usually completely dry within an hour, can be walked on immediately, stains are gone and do not leech back to the surface, and the pile is raised again – leaving a fresh, clean scent of tea-tree oil. The carpet actually repels soil and can be maintained at about 92% of its original condition.
If any of you are thinking about replacing your carpets, I highly advise that you first seek out a local vendor that is proficient in VLM (very low moisture). The cost of cleaning commercial carpet this way is usually 10-15% less than the steam cleaners and the results are extraordinary. It will save you money and make your library environment much healthier.
The VLM process we use does work and it works very well. It is simple applied physics and chemistry. We usually do a free demo to show people how well it works. And, it becomes one of the weirdest spectator sports. Old stains disappear that no one thinks will go away! We won an award for our application to this twenty-year old carpet in an automobile display area. They did not believe we could restore it:
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