Carpet Maintenance and Indoor Air Quality

by By Stephen Lewis — There is no doubt that facility managers wear many hats. Whether putting out fires, managing budgets, developing new programs, meeting with vendors or reading up on the latest sustainable practices, the schedule of a facility manager is a full one.

With that in mind, it’s easy to overlook the impact that something as simple as the choice of a textile and carpet cleaning system can have. The most immediate, and sometimes rewarding, result is a visibly clean environment. With a little forethought, carpet maintenance can provide benefits in many other ways—all of which can benefit the busy facility manager. If your facility is looking to improve indoor air quality and employee health, incorporate sustainable cleaning practices, earn LEED©-EB (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design—Existing Building) certification, or save money and valuable resources, the answer could be right under your feet.

Go green and save green

As sustainability becomes a greater industry priority, facility managers continue to look for ways to achieve and maintain workspaces that are more environmentally friendly and bottom-line friendly in a time of constricting facility management budgets. Sustainability offers a long list of financial and social benefits for businesses. Recent studies have shown that the costs of going and staying green are outweighed by lowering standard operating costs in a relatively short period of time.

Water efficiency

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), efficient water use can have major environmental, public health and economic benefits by helping to improve water quality, maintain aquatic ecosystems and protect drinking water resources. Incorporating water-efficient practices will also provide more immediate financial returns in the form of reduced utility bills. Using a dry polymer-based cleaning system can assist in reducing a company’s water usage.

Assuming optimal productivity rates of the cleaning equipment used, the average hot water extraction carpet cleaning system requires 50 gallons of water for every 10,000 square feet of carpet cleaned. Since typical work environments can be thoroughly cleaned with dry polymer-based cleaning methods as opposed to hot water systems, the greater the space, the greater the potential for water conservation. Building operators could also incorporate other practices—using low-flush toilet systems, collecting rainwater and using sensors rather than taps for sinks in bathrooms—to increase water efficiency efforts and save money.

Materials and resources

Sustainable methods such as using resources that are reused or contain recycled content can help reduce the demand for raw resources. The most significant way to reduce this demand is to extend the lifecycle of existing products. Detergents used in many carpet cleaning systems create residue that can have a damaging effect on the carpet—causing rapid resoiling that leads to poor appearance and a shortened life. Implementing a preventive maintenance program for textiles and carpet using a dry polymer system will extend the useful life of carpet and textiles, thus reducing the amount of materials going into landfills.

Employing other practices such as using local materials to minimize transportation resources and costs and using high-recycle content of building materials and finishes also plays a significant role in helping buildings achieve sustainable goals.

“LEED”-ing the industry

Not all facility managers introduce sustainable practices solely for the environmental and cost saving benefits. Many are working toward achieving LEED-EB status—the U.S. Green Building Council developed-standard that allows building managers to earn points towards certification by operating existing buildings in a more sustainable manner.

While facility managers will need to take a variety of other steps to achieve LEED-EB certification, using dry polymer-based systems for textile and carpet cleaning can make many contributions to LEED-EB points. Incorporating methods to increase water efficiency, sustain materials and resources, and improve indoor air quality are all components that contribute to earning LEED-EB points.

Whether facility managers are working toward qualifying for LEED-EB certification or want to maintain resources and lower building operating costs, all cleaning systems are not created equal when it comes to implementing sustainable practices in facility management. Using the dry polymer method can enable facility managers to clean their textiles and carpet while creating interior environments that result in happier occupants, more productive employees and a healthier bottom line.

The invisible connection—your IAQ, carpet and health

The EPA calls indoor air quality (IAQ) one of the top five health risks of modern times. Carpet in a building can collect pollutants from the air. The maintenance of that carpet can impact everything from sick days and allergies to energy savings and sustainability.

A facility management program that incorporates sustainable practices for the care of its carpets, upholstery, window treatments and fabric-covered cubicle panels will help buildings go green and save green.

Getting to know your carpet

Carpets and other textile materials act as filters. They trap benign airborne particles but are also home to a more unnerving group including allergens—dead skin, dust mites, bacteria and the detergent residue from other carpet cleaning methods. Dust, dirt and pollutants that enter the air fall to rest on carpet and textiles. Contaminants from outside are also carried in on the feet of the facility’s visitors.

Deep cleaning can remove contaminants and allergens from a facility’s carpet and other soft materials. With the right cleaners, the process can actually improve indoor air quality. A year-long field study conducted in the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center, affiliated with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, found that an intensive carpet cleaning schedule can reduce categories of airborne allergens by 40 to 80 percent (Franke et al., 1997). Other laboratory studies with advanced cleaners show that the effective deep cleaning of carpet—when combined with a properly functioning heating, ventilation and air conditioning system—can reduce indoor allergens by up to 99 percent (Milliken & Company).

The use of non-toxic, dry powder cleaning compounds rather than traditional hot water extraction systems is one of the most effective practices to jointly improve a building’s IAQ and remove allergens, bacteria and chemical residues from carpets and textiles. Moreover, dry-based cleaning practices create a work environment that does not lend itself to the appearance of mold and mildew—which can be an issue with wet carpet cleaning systems. According to the Carpet and Rug Institute, carpet that is maintained in a clean, dry condition does not support or cause mold growth.

Having a plan in place

With the potential to improve employee retention and decrease illness-based absenteeism, plus the value of a healthier work environment, a regular carpet maintenance plan can be the key to improving productivity.

Tips for Implementing an Indoor Air Quality-Improving Carpet Cleaning Program

  1. Choose low-emitting maintenance chemicals to reduce VOCs — Volatile organic chemicals in some traditional cleaners can contribute to indoor air quality issues. As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency continues its studies of indoor air quality and overall health, careful selection of cleaners can help reduce the risks.
  2. Place quality walk-off mats at all entrances — The best way to reduce contamination is to stop it at the door. Carpets, textiles and surfaces can stay cleaner when dirt, allergens and the like are successfully trapped in walk-off mats.
  3. Vacuum carpet regularly — Perhaps the most important aspect of a preventative maintenance system, regular vacuuming can significantly reduce indoor allergens. In general, weekly cleanings work for most surfaces, while high traffic areas may require more frequent vacuuming.
  4. Deep clean carpet on a regular schedule — Vacuuming removes the bulk of contaminants, but periodic deep cleaning is also important. One alternative for carpet maintenance, dry polymer cleaning, can also remove up to 99 percent of allergens from the air when used with a quality, properly maintained heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system.
  5. Don’t forget textiles — Carpet, upholstery, fabric panels and window treatments act as filters—collecting airborne contaminants. Make sure to include these materials in any preventative maintenance regimen.
  6. Safeguard against mold — In addition to being unsightly, mold can negatively impact the health of those exposed. Prevent mold growth and avoid the problem by choosing carpet cleaning and maintenance techniques that remove the bulk of moisture used in the process, and insuring that HVAC systems are in proper working order.
  7. Maintain today, sustain tomorrow — In addition to reducing indoor allergens and contaminants on a regular basis, proper, scheduled maintenance can also prolong the life of carpet, upholstery and other soft materials in your facility. Dirt trapped in fibers can be abrasive, wearing materials prematurely.
  8. Consider investing in an expert — Companies or consultants specializing in green maintenance can be valuable partners, and can take the guesswork out of when and how to clean. Choose a company with a proven track record and/or outside certifications, such as GreenSeal or the Carpet & Rug Institute’s Seal of Approval, to ensure you get the best advice.

About the author

Stephen Lewis is technical director for MilliCare. He is responsible for the company’s research and development efforts, provides technical training to its network of more than 80 franchise partners, and is the company’s key point of contact with the textile and carpet maintenance community. For more information, contact Lewis at

FMJ, the official magazine of the International Facility Management Association (IFMA), is written by and for workplace professionals and is published six times a year. FMJ is the only magazine that draws on the collective knowledge of IFMA’s global network of thought leaders to provide insights on current and upcoming FM trends. For more information on FMJ, visit

Articles in FMJ are the exclusive property of IFMA and are subject to all applicable copyright provisions. To view abstracts and articles not shown here, subscribe or order individual issues at Direct questions on contributing, as well as on permission to reprint, reproduce or use FMJ materials, to Editor-in-Chief Bobby Vasquez at

IFMA, founded in 1980, is the world’s largest and most widely recognized association for facility management professionals, supporting 24,000 members in more than 100 countries. IFMA advances collective knowledge, value and growth for Facility Management professionals. IFMA certifies professionals in facility management, conducts research, provides educational programs, content and resources, and produces World Workplace, the largest series of facility management conferences and expositions. To join and follow IFMA’s social media outlets online, visit the association’s LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter pages. For more information, visit