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Carpet selection and care.

Selecting the right carpet involves more than simply finding the right color, texture, or pattern. Because many factors determine how a carpet will ultimately perform, property managers must carefully determine requirements imposed by the anticipated level of wear and tear before selecting carpeting. And, once installed, carpet must be effectively maintained in order to prolong its life and appearance.

Most commercial carpet applications endure heavy traffic, so carpets in commercial installations should feature such performance characteristics as superior abrasion resistance, texture retention, and resistance to soiling and staining. Some settings may demand more stringent specifications, such as enhanced colorfastness, antimicrobial protection, resistance to snags and pulled tufts, and resilience under rolling loads.

Residential carpet is not usually subjected to the same punishment, but managers must base their purchasing decision on the type of tenant they are serving and the leasing restrictions they plan to impose. Carpet should be durable and stain resistant, but units with high turnover rates--and those with pets or small children--require carpet with the capability of being cleaned and renewed satisfactorily.

Selecting and installing

Although warranties can give some indication of a carpet's expected longevity and appearance retention, many warranties are not as solid as they might first appear. Compensation is often prorated, beginning on a minimal level and dropping quickly. It is important to determine the full extent of the warranty coverage and to understand the manufacturer's reimbursement policy before deciding to buy.

Warranties for commercial carpets cover an array of potential problem areas, and protection may be ensured for resistance, color fastness (resistance to fading from sunlight and atmospheric contaminants), tuft bind, static protection, seam/edge integrity (resistance to raveling), and backing strength (resistance to delamination). Important residential warranties include texture retention (resistance to matting and crushing), stain resistance, and manufacturing defects.

Managers also must ensure that the carpet is professionally installed, a move that will add to the overall life and performance of a carpet. Ask the company or individual responsible for the installation to comply with the manufacturer's installation instructions or to follow the minimum guidelines set forth by the Carpet and Rug Institute.

A fundamental part of any installation is the selection of a quality carpet cushion, or pad. Managers are advised against trying to cut corners by purchasing an inexpensive pad, as the cushion acts to prolong carpet life.

Cushion is available in many densities, thicknesses, and weights, and some commercial and residential products are sold with attached backings. Follow the manufacturer's cushion requirements. As with substandard installations, some warranties may be voided by the use of an improper cushion. Generally speaking, a thinner, denser pad yields better longevity and overall carpet performance than a thicker, softer one.


Adequate care must be given to prolong any carpet's effective life. Although not always initially apparent, underbudgeting for carpet maintenance may make the purchase far more expensive in the long term.

A basic carpet maintenance program consists of four steps: reduction of soil entering the home or building, regular vacuuming, removal of spots and spills, and periodic overall cleaning.

The amount of soil tracked into a facility can be reduced significantly by the use of walk-off mats placed in doorways and other entry areas. The mats fall into two categories: those designed to remove and trap gritty soil and those intended to absorb water.

Good soil-removal mats remove soil from shoes and can accumulate and retain large amounts of it, but must be cleaned frequently in order to function properly. Water-absorbent mats can be used alone in wet weather or in conjunction with the soil-removal type. These mats are designed to prevent excessive moisture from entering a facility, as wet carpet soils rapidly. When the mats are used together, they should always be placed so that traffic passes over the soil-removal type first, as the absorbent types have very little soil-holding ability.

The most important step in caring for carpet is vacuuming. Research shows that 90 percent of soil tracked into a building is dry--the kind that can be controlled by vacuuming.

Maintenance staffs should vacuum thoroughly and often, particularly in high-traffic areas, as frequent vacuuming prevents dirt from being worked deep into the carpet, where it becomes difficult to remove.

In commercial settings, heavily trafficked areas such as entrances and major corridors should be vacuumed daily. Other areas where there is less traffic should be vacuumed every day to every other day, depending on the conditions.

For residential areas, vacuum the traffic lanes twice weekly and the entire area once weekly. Areas with heavier traffic should be vacuumed daily, and the entire area twice weekly. Up to three passes of the machine will suffice for light soiling, but five to seven passes are necessary for heavily soiled areas.

For most carpet installations, the most effective machines are vacuums with a rotating brush or beater/brush bar, which agitates the carpet pile and mechanically loosens soil. For carpet tiles and carpets that are glued directly to the floor without cushion, a vacuum with a rotating brush bar, rather than a beater bar, should be used to avoid damage to the pile. A strong suction vacuum without a beater/brush bar is recommended for loop pile wool and wool-blend carpets. On carpets with a thick, loop pile construction, brushing, rubbing, or scraping of the pile surface may cause fuzzing and pile distortion.

Vacuums with top-loading bags are preferable, as they ensure that the vacuum does not lose effectiveness as the bag fills. Replaceable paper bags do a better job of trapping extremely small particles; cloth bags often allow these particles to pass through the bag and back into the air. Bags should be checked frequently and replaced when one-half to two-thirds full.

Stain removal

Maintenance staffs should keep spot- and stain removal items on hand in case of emergencies. As cleaning agents vary considerably, managers should obtain specific care instructions for all carpet. This information is published and distributed by the major fiber companies and most manufacturers and is readily available through retailers and other carpet dealers.

Always absorb as much liquid as possible using a blotting action, never a scrubbing motion, to prevent damaging the carpet surface. Remove as much of food or other solid spills as possible by gently scraping with a spoon or dull knife. Always follow up with water to remove detergent residue that may become sticky and cause rapid resoiling.


While vacuuming is sufficient to remove most dry soil, the oily soil that comes from cooking vapors, air pollution, and tracked-in dirt presents a different type of problem. Oily soil deposited on carpet fibers can cause gradual dulling of the carpet's color, usually noticed first in traffic lanes. If this soil is allowed to accumulate, it literally glues the pile fibers together and begins to attract and hold dry soil.

It is a myth that cleaning the carpet before it is absolutely necessary will cause it to get dirty faster; recent studies suggest carpet should be cleaned at least once a year. However, some systems may leave residues that promote resoiling and defeat the whole purpose of cleaning.

Several leading carpet manufacturers recommend a hot water extraction system, often called "steam cleaning," which research indicates provides the best cleaning. The process consists of spraying a solution of water and detergent into the pile and recovering the water and soil with a powerful vacuum into a holding tank. This can be done from a truck-mounted unit outside the facility via a hose and wand or with a portable, self-contained system brought into the home or building.

The self-contained, walk-behind machines are another type of hot water extraction commonly used. They apply the cleaning solution at a rate which is balanced with the recovery capability of the machine, resulting in a carpet that is only damp after cleaning--a feature that prevents over-wetting the carpet. This type of machine must be of a similar quality as those used by professionals, however, as many rental units do not adequately clean and may actually damage the carpet.

When using a self-contained system, remember to avoid using excessive detergent, which only makes the removal process more difficult. Because a detergent attaches to and holds soil and oil particles, excess detergent left in a carpet after drying causes accelerated resoiling. In addition, use cleaning solutions approved for carpet, which will have the proper pH balance and are less likely to damage the carpet or damage any stain-resist treatment.

Editor's note: Copies of the "Commercial Installation Standard, CRI 104" or "Residential Installation Standard, CRI 105" are available from the Carpet and Rug Institute, P.O. Box 2048, Dalton, GA 30722-2048; (706) 278-3176.

Carey Mitchell is director of technical services for Shaw industries, Inc., a manufacturer of tufted broadloom carpeting based in Dalton, Georgia. The company conducts testing on virtually every aspect and physical property of carpet and its components, and is accredited through the National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (formerly the National Bureau of Standards).
COPYRIGHT 1992 National Association of Realtors
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Operating Techniques & Products Bulletin 417
Author:Mitchell, Carey
Publication:Journal of Property Management
Date:Nov 1, 1992
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