Ask the Building Maintenance Experts
Solutions for Your Toughest Problems

ICAN  Q & A  Home

Thursday, November 26, 2015


What is actually cleaner, carpet or tile? We think the tile is, and I am asking because the District wants to put carpet on the new tile just put in the summer of 2009. The carpet is going down this April, 2010.


Answer #1:
As far as cleanliness is concerned, you can totally disinfect a tile floor but you can not disinfect a carpet.
ICAN representative

Answer #2:
It all depends on whom you ask and believe. Personally, I prefer hard surfaces and believe that they are easier and less expensive to maintain than carpet/soft floor coverings. This opinion isn't based on scientific research, marketing studies, or who sent me a check; it's based on my experience of having to maintain both surfaces on a day to day basis in all types of facilities for over 30 some years.
However, other consultants, experts, and groups see it differently. The carpet industry has, over the years, bought a lot of press and commissioned what I consider to be biased and flawed marketing studies to support their position that carpeting is less expensive to purchase, install, and maintain.
The current trend today is away from carpeting (sales off 20% to 40%) and
even from hard surfaces that require regular burnishing, stripping, and refinishing, in favor of low maintenance surfaces such terrazzo, polished and densified concrete, or a resilient surface such as rubber or solid vinyl.
Cost tends to be a driving factor, with reductions often quoted at 40% to 50% over maintaining carpeting or finished floors.
The reality is that there are many great locations for carpeting and just as many bad ones, and the same holds true for all surfaces. The key lies in choosing the best covering for each intended use and budget.
Other considerations are:
- Budget (purchase and maintenance)
- Cleanability, how clean does it have to be?
- Life cycle costs and length of useful life of the surface
- Use and application (food, water, or high traffic areas?)
- Sustainability issues such as:
Carbon footprint
Resource use and conservation
And the list goes on. Normally, I would tell you to do research and talk costs. For anyone to know what's really best in your situation, the District should have done a test and tracked the costs and other factors over a period of time, say one year. Then, they could have based the decision on facts, not marketing hype, opinion, or who talks the loudest or has the highest paying position or title on the committee.
Since you will now have to live with this decision, do your best to keep it clean every day.

Bill Griffin, President
Cleaning Consultant Services, Inc.

Answer #3:
The one factor that truly is of concern, whether we are talking about maintaining carpet or tile, is the soil accretion rate the covering will experience. A woven fabric hanging on a wall with no abrasive foot traffic and little but dust (and moths) to contend with, may last for centuries. Then again, I have seen an olefin carpet put down in the waiting room of an auto repair shop. Guess how long that lasted before it was loaded with oil and grit. Obviously, it was a bad choice of material in a really bad location.
The primary reason for wanting carpet in a school setting is likely noise reduction in classrooms and hallways. If all it is experiencing is daily traffic with dust and pencil erasure residues, it will vacuum easily, and backpacks or wide area vacs can do a fast job of daily cleaning.
If there is a lax policy against having chewing gum, soft drinks, fast food, finger paint, dissected frogs, and the like in the carpeted areas, you will face a daunting task of maintenance because of the increased exposure to things which are serious soiling substances. Such a policy needs to be in place and enforced.
Stopping grit and moisture at the entries will become a priority, as well. If soils donít come into the building very far, the carpet will see less exposure and be easier to keep looking good. Once carpet at entries becomes loaded, it then contributes to the distribution of soils further into the facility, adding to the deterioration of the appearance and the need for more intense cleaning.
One thing that usually comes up in a discussion of this sort is the impossibility of disinfecting carpet (see Answer #1). Rather than letting this become a serious reason for mental opposition to placement of carpet, which is not good for your morale since the decision evidently has been made, keep things in balance.
There are only a few places where carpet will become a disaster to maintain. One would be in rest rooms with constant exposure to moisture from various sources. Most people, even school boards, are smart enough to avoid that waste.
Another location in which to avoid placing carpet is in food service areas, but again, most people sense the senselessness of doing this, so you are probably safe there as well.
Rather than agonizing about the difficulty of disinfecting carpet, start evaluating the necessity for doing so. Has the cost of carpet installation set the District back so much that all the desks have been sold and students are now forced to sit on the carpet in the classrooms? No? Then, what is the concern?
Hard floors, stepped on by thousands of dirty soles every day, are seldom in a disinfected state for any more than a few hours. And since they are used for walking on, not eating or sleeping (beyond kindergarten, where it is still a poor practice), the need for disinfection is questionable.
By the time kids get to school age, they should understand the value of hand cleansing and it should be their first defense against cross infection. That, and a donít-eat- off-the-floor policy, should make this transition to carpet much easier to bear.
As to the sense of covering a newly laid tile floor with carpet, when the fabric covering could have been installed in the first place for a savings to the taxpayer, what can I tell you?

Lynn E. Krafft, ICAN/ATEX Editor