The Greening of Carpet Cleaning
February 9, 2006
Without question, carpet is a preferred and widely used floor covering.
There are almost 200 billion square feet of carpet currently installed in
more than 100 million buildings in the U.S. In 2004, 21 billion square
feet of carpet was manufactured and delivered to homes, offices, schools,
health centers, and office buildings, according to statistics published by
the Carpet and Rug Institute in Dalton, Ga.
Not only is carpet widely used, it is also safe, according to Dr.
Michael Berry, a research professor at the University of North Carolina at
Chapel Hill. Berry has researched carpet manufacturing, cleaning, and
maintenance extensively and has published several reports and studies for
Berry says studies going back more than 30 years consistently find
carpet to be a healthy product as long as it is maintained properly. “[In
fact,] with so much carpet installed around the world and given the large
population exposed to carpet,” he writes, “it is remarkable that there are
no studies presenting evidence that exposure to carpet in any environment
causes an adverse human health response.”
However, as the industry has become increasingly aware of the potential
harmful effects some traditional cleaning chemicals and products have on
cleaning professionals, building occupants, and the environment, concerns
about how these billions of square feet of carpeting are cleaned and
maintained have increased as well. To better understand the situation and
the “greening” of carpet cleaning, we asked three industry experts for
Stephen Ashkin: Making a Carpet
Maintenance Program Green
Our first priority in any carpet maintenance program is to keep carpets
clean. Dirty or improperly maintained carpets may become contaminated with
mold, pesticides, lead dust, dust mites, and other allergens. These can
cause serious health problems especially for the young in schools, the
elderly, or those with weakened immune systems. A side benefit of keeping
carpets clean is that proper maintenance prolongs the life of the carpet,
which in turn reduces the environmental impacts associated with the
manufacture and ultimate disposal of carpets.
Consequently, an efficient carpet cleaning strategy begins with daily
and interim cleaning processes. For this, it is essential to select a
vacuum cleaner that not only removes dust and other contaminants that may
be found in carpets but also captures the contaminants, preventing them
from becoming airborne.
Spot cleaning is also crucial to an effective carpet care system. The
strategy here is to clean up spills as soon as possible and minimize the
chance for a stain to “set” into the carpet. This reduces the need for
powerful cleaning chemicals and spot removers, which can be harmful to the
user and the environment.
Interim cleaning also requires the use of a low-moisture or dry-powder
system to minimize the chance for mold growth and to maintain the
appearance of the carpets. Periodic deep cleaning with a low-moisture,
hot-water extractor is also required, based on traffic patterns and carpet
The goal of a green carpet care program is to incorporate all of these
steps but to reduce the associated environmental impacts of some of the
chemicals and products used. Thus, systems that use safer cleaning
chemicals, reduce water consumption, minimizes the use of chemicals and
energy, and other measures are what make a carpet care program “green.”
However, there are other elements as well, including:
Installing pollution-prevention and source-control strategies such as
effective entry matting systems. Minimizing the amount of soils and
contaminants entering a facility in the first place is the best way to
reduce the environmental impacts associated with carpet maintenance.
Reducing carpet cleaning’s impact on people and the environment by
employing cleaning chemicals that have been derived from bio-based
ingredients and have been certified by such independent testing
organizations as Green Seal or the Environmental Choice Program.
Using spot removers made from hydrogen peroxide or biological/
Selecting carpet extractors that further reduce water, chemical, and
energy consumption, as well as those that are quieter with enhanced
Educating building occupants that cleaning, including carpet cleaning,
is a “shared responsibility” and that they must do their part by reducing
spills, covering liquids, and knowing how to best respond when a spill
Mike Sawchuk: Carpet Cleaning
As we see in this discussion, Green carpet cleaning has several
components, including instituting an effective and healthier carpet
cleaning program, using vacuum cleaners that trap dust and contaminants,
and using low-moisture extractors that speed drying times and use less
chemicals. The types of chemicals used in carpet care are critically
important as well because some of these are the most powerful—and
potentially harmful—chemicals used in the professional cleaning industry.
Many are highly alkaline, and some have high VOCs and aggressive odor
eliminators and disinfectants. For instance, a standard carpet cleaning or
spotting formula may contain ingredients such as trisodium
nitrilotriacetate, n-methyl-2-pyrrolidone, isopropyl alcohol, cocamide
diethanolamine, diethanolamine, diethylene glycol monobutyl ether,
propylene glycol monomethyl ether, d’limonene, sodium metasilicate,
2-butoxyethanol, 2-propanol 1-butoxy, sodium phosphate, and sodium
The bottom line is that these chemical ingredients, especially if used
improperly, can cause damage to the central nervous system, kidneys,
liver, and blood. They can trigger asthma attacks and seizures in children
and adults. And, if the wastewater is improperly disposed of, they can
eventually enter waterways, harming other living things and making their
way into the food chain.
Certified-green carpet cleaning chemicals are available that are proven
safer for cleaning professionals, building occupants, and the environment.
And, these products are effective, which has been a big concern for many
carpet cleaning professionals. In fact, if they have been certified, they
are not only effective, but cost-competitive as well.
More specifically, carpet-cleaning chemicals certified by Green Seal or
the Environmental Choice Program must meet these criteria:
Performance comparable to traditional cleaning products as to
efficacy, lack of resoiling, and effect on carpet color.
Limited toxicity for aquatic and other organisms.
Few or no ingredients that are considered likely to contribute to have
environmental impacts such as indoor air quality, ground-level ozone
formation, and depletion of stratospheric ozone.
Limited waste and resource use.
Protecting the Indoor
In one of the studies he conducted for the CRI, Dr. Berry concludes that
effective carpet cleaning could result in “improved environmental quality
and a reduction of health complaints, especially in sensitive
At the time Berry conducted his research in the late 1980s, the
benefits of environmentally preferable cleaning tools, equipment,
chemicals, and products were not as well understood as they are today. Now
we do have cases and studies that document the benefits of green cleaning,
including green carpet cleaning. Proper carpet maintenance along with
green carpet cleaning can result is even more improved environmental
quality, reduced health complaints, as it further protects the health of
cleaning professionals, building occupants, and the environment.
Bios for the article:
Stephen Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group and a vocal proponent
for green cleaning. Reach him at (812) 332-7950.
Stephen Williams is senior vice president of research and development
for U.S. Products, the manufacturers of a wide range of professional
carpet cleaning and remediation equipment. Reach him at (208) 772-0573.
Mike Sawchuk is vice president and general manager of Enviro-Solutions,
a leading manufacturer of green cleaning chemicals and products. Reach him
at (705) 745-3070
Robert Kravitz is a 30-year veteran of the
cleaning industry, the author of four books on the industry, and a jan/san