When it comes to high-rise building carpets – or any carpet in a multi-tenant office building – certain pathways receive most of the foot traffic (and the wear and tear, as well as soiling, that go along with it). As a result, these pathways start to darken over time. This darkening is referred to as “pathway soiling,” which develops as a result of moisture, dirt, and dust being walked in on shoe bottoms. Over time, this soiling can lead to significant wear and tear.

carpetAll of these soil types can begin to degrade carpet fibers, but it is actually the dry soiling that proves most damaging. You can view dry soil (dust, bits of gravel, street and sidewalk particulates, etc.) as tiny daggers. With foot traffic, they are pounded into carpet fibers and begin to cut and tear.

Pathway soiling is not only damaging to carpets, but can also result in a negative impression of the facility. Fortunately, there are ways to help prevent and eliminate pathway soiling that not only keep the carpet looking its best, but reduce wear and tear and increase the carpet’s longevity.

Let’s Get to the Bottoms of Shoes

Before discussing ways to reduce and eradicate pathway soiling and prevent damage to the carpet, we must first explore the most common way contaminants get there: from the bottoms of people’s shoes. A few years ago, Dr. Charles Gerba, a University of Arizona microbiologist, conducted an experiment. He gave 10 people brand-new pairs of shoes and asked them to go through their daily routines for two weeks.

After the two weeks, the bottoms of their shoes were swabbed and analyzed. Dr. Gerba found approximately 421,000 units of bacteria including coliform and E. coli. Graywater, food, sand, oil, tar, and clay were also found in varying degrees on the shoes.

These contaminants can all be transferred from shoe bottoms to carpets and then pounded into the carpet with foot traffic. For a while, the soils may remain hidden in the carpet fibers. But, once the carpet reaches its threshold for the amount of soil it can hold, this soiling becomes noticeable on the surfac. It’s also at this point that wear and tear to the carpet is most likely.

Pathway Soil Prevention

The first step to take in solving the problem of pathway soiling is prevention. This can be accomplished by increasing vacuuming frequency over high-traffic areas using effective vacuum cleaners. Also, high-performance matting systems – which are designed to capture, trap, and hold soils and moisture before they can be walked onto carpets – should be installed.

Just placing a mat at the doors to a high-rise property, however, will not do. You should provide five feet of scraper matting outside the building. Scraper mats are designed to scrape off debris from shoe bottoms. You should also place five feet of wiper/scraper matting directly inside the doors and five feet of wiper matting in the lobby. A high-performance matting system requires three different types of mats – each five feet long – that all work together.

Proper Carpet Cleaning

Some building managers clean carpets with shampoo, bonnet cleaning, or a dry carpet cleaning system. These systems are relatively easy to use, the equipment is usually not costly, and the carpets dry very fast; however, they are not effective when it comes to removing carpet soiling and minimizing wear and tear.

To thoroughly remove pathway soiling, use of a hot-water extractor is required. The “hot” part is important. Heat (about 212 degrees F.) improves the effectiveness of the cleaning chemicals, helping to loosen and dissolve soils.

But not all hot-water extraction systems are the same – nor will they produce the same cleaning results. Along with a machine that heats the water/solution, managers should select machines with a high PSI (PSI refers to the pressure per square inch generated by the machine). A portable unit that delivers 500 psi is much more able to remove embedded pathway soiling than a machine that generates only 150 psi. Additionally, a machine with adjustable psi allows the technician to use a higher psi setting to clean carpets and a lower setting to safely clean upholstery, for example.

All of these steps can minimize pathway soiling and help reduce wear and tear on carpets. Commercial carpets are designed to last five to seven years, but they can last even longer with proper care.

Bob Abrams

Bob Abrams is the carpet care product manager for Nilfisk-Advance commercial business, maker of U.S. Products brand professional carpet extractors. He may be reached at www.usproducts.com.