The goal in floor and carpet maintenance is obvious: Keep the dirt off...and the paint, the gum, the chocolate, the grape juice, the mustard, the coffee, and the countless other substances that can mar the best efforts of cleaning crews in schools and colleges.
But identifying a goal and achieving it are two different matters. School maintenance officials say the keys to successful cleaning and maintenance of floors and carpets are using the right equipment and establishing a regular cleaning schedule.
Carpets have become more popular in schools in recent years, says Chuck Volz, maintenance manager of the Redmond School District in central Oregon.
"It covers up tile that is too old and is no longer attractive," says Volz. "It quiets the building, especially the hallways. They do have a higher wear-out factor than tile, so there is a trade-off."
But schools still have plenty of tile or other hard-surface floors that need regular attention to keep them clean.
Ask Jim Brewer, executive housekeeper with the University of Texas at Arlington, what changes in recent years have made floor maintenance easier, and one answer immediately leaps to mind.
"Our biggest time saver is being able to use propane-powered machines instead of electric," says Brewer. "It has turned an overwhelming job into just a big job."
The propane machines have been around for many years, but early versions weren't always safe for indoor use because of the carbon monoxide exhaust that could build up. But safety problems have been resolved, allowing cleaners to take advantage of the machines' greater power.
"An electric machine might be able to go up to 2,200 rpms, but when it's down on the floor, it slows down to 800 or 1,000," says Brewer. "The propane buffer doesn't slow down at all. It doesn't even know you're down on the floor. It goes about as fast as you can walk."
The extra power translates to faster and deeper cleaning. Brewer says an electric buffer applies about 12 to 15 pounds of pressure to a floor, while a propane machine can apply as much as 40 pounds.
"Instead of three guys working most of an evening stripping, two guys can do it in an hour," says Brewer. "Instead of 60 electric buffers, we now have just four propane buffers."
As an added benefit, floors cleaned with propane machines have a better, skid-resistant finish.
"The floors are shinier," says Brewer. "When the floor is shiny, people have the feeling that the campus is clean."
For carpets, the most important piece of equipment is a vacuum cleaner.
"You need a good vacuum cleaner and you clean every day," says Redmond's Volz.
The Carpet and Rug Institute, Dalton, Ga., says a heavy-duty vacuum cleaner should have powerful suction and an enclosed, high-efficiency particulate filtration bag. It also should come with adjustable cylindrical brushes to bring embedded dirt to the surface.