It’s my guess that many retailers probably don’t spend a lot of time pondering floor covering maintenance. I suspect many facilities managers, on the other hand, spend a lot more time contemplating the subject in a never-ending quest to get their floors as fresh and good-looking as possible. 

Several years ago, I was a witness to flooring conversion that took place in an elementary school that was carpeted throughout with carpet that was absolutely squalid—the result of years of seat-of-the-pants maintenance. 

The guy that personally oversaw this elementary school remake was Fritz Rench, chairman of Host-Racine Industries, a man that has also championed the dry side of the wet versus dry flooring maintenance debate over the years. I personally have not kept up to date with the latest on this debate, which is why I sat down with Fritz for this conversation. You can listen to this conversation in its entirety in our podcasts section. Here are excerpts of that conversation.

TF: We talked about wet versus dry cleaning methods several years ago, which was controversial. Refresh our memories on this and how it has played out over the ensuing years.

Rench: It appears that the IICRC American National Standards Institute standard at absorbent compound has finally come of age. Examples of success stories, particularly involving carpet that has been trashed, have been recognized. It’s been a long haul. So, instead of wet versus dry, let’s say dry and wet. For example, when we look at modern polyesters in multi-family housing, where they have unattractive, concentrated traffic lanes and little maintenance from the apartment renter, dry is clearly the best way to go — maybe the only way to go — to get it clean to the point where it will not have to be replaced before the next renter moves in. 

TF: So then is it fair to say that it’s taken a long time for the dry cleaning method to establish a meaningful grip in this industry? 

Rench: Yes. It’s been a culture shock. When you see someone begin the cleaning process by broadcasting Host sponges on the carpet instead of spray or suds, it’s hard to imagine how it’s going to work, although the extraction capability of the dry process is finally being recognized. It’s a still a culture shock, but, clearly, it belongs in the first string of cleaning options. 

TF: I guess we’re all used to water being the primary cleaning agent, and people need to be convinced about the use of something different.

Rench: Yes. The interesting thing is water is the main liquid in a compound cleaner like Host. Its little sponges simply control the water and are just enough to wet the fibers without losing control of the loose soil and causing it to run deeper into the carpet. It’s the same concept as when you take a moist sponge with a little detergent and swipe black finger marks around a light switch. One swipe, and it’s clean and the soil is in the sponge. Moreover, nothing has run farther down the wall because you’ve controlled the soil instead of loosening it so fast, with so much moisture, that it runs deeper. In this analogy, the dirt would run deeper into the carpet like it would run down the wall. That’s how simple it really is. 

Toward the end of that job in Dalton you mentioned, where we did the entire school, the CRI [The Carpet and Rug Institute] brought in a truck mount and tried to clean half of a hallway, which we had left for them to try. After three separate cleanings on three separate days with the truck mount, they couldn’t match the brightness and cleanliness of the Host restoration. There was a shock. 

TF: So, is it fair to say, then, that Host has made inroads for the dry cleaning method into hard surface cleaning since we last talked? 

Rench: Actually, we’ve been doing hard surface for a long time, probably 10 years, but we have never made a big issue of it. Shame on us, but it’s beginning to be mentioned. 

TF: Talk about the Host system and the steps that are taken with the system to clean a dirty floor.

Rench: In the case of a severely neglected floor, we would give it a little bit of pre-spray to break the surface tension of the soil. Then, we apply Host cleaning compound. I call them sponges. It’s an environmentally preferred, Green Seal-Certified material made from 100% plant-based resources. Then, we use a Host ExtractorVac to brush the compound across the surface and below the surface into all of the indentations. Because it doesn’t wet-out the surface, the moisture and the detergent in the sponge is not discharged onto the surface to be cleaned but rather remains in the sponge, and the soil is loosened, absorbed and held in the sponge and is taken away by the ExtractorVac, and the floor is clean. Nothing has dripped or run back into any part of the floor. The difference is quite dramatic and it stuns most people. We’re seeing great success in other prominent school districts in Georgia. 

TF: Talk about the ExtractorVac. What is it, and how does it work?

Rench: It’s something we invented. It has dual horizontal rotating brushes for cleaning carpet and hard surface. It has a super-strong, built-in vacuum and it becomes the removal device, moving air at 135 cubic feet per minute. Whether it’s carpet or hard surface, you a flip a switch, and the machine continues to brush. It becomes that removal device and it’s stunningly effective. 

TF: The last time we talked, which was several years ago, the dry cleaning method versus the wet cleaning approach had some controversy surrounding it. What’s happened in the ensuing years?

Rench: The controversy, I suppose, arose with dual warranties. The decision was made to feature wet extraction, thinking that was the most prominent service available. They didn’t pay any real attention to dry extraction. The controversy arose when, during the testing for the Seal of Approval, the results of wet cleaning were somewhat shocking. Some of the sampling during the testing, according to the CRI and lab report, looked worse after cleaning than before because of the wick-back, which was measured by machine. Same thing with the oil-based element. They took that element out of the test soil. 

There is also the question of texture retention. Some textures — with any kind of brushing, by machine or just foot traffic — can walk out, and traffic lanes are visible. So, that is another factor, and we’ve just kept quiet about testing in the last few years because it’s a controversy that we feel will eventually be solved. So, we have just decided get on with it. However, it has hurt us a great deal. 

TF: One of the things I noticed at this elementary school in Dalton was the abysmal state of the carpet before you started the cleaning process. Evidently, the contractor that was responsible for the school’s maintenance went through the motions of cleaning twice a year, but were not actually removing dirt. They were not cleaning the carpet. 

Rench: They appeared to have given up on it. I think they have a hard surface mentality and use these big wet scrubbers that they use on soft surface carpet. If it’s done once every five years or so, almost any method will do. But when the need is to clean the carpet frequently, with wet cleaning, they just cause a buildup of residual soil. The soil that’s down there after being washed down there just causes faster re-soiling as a result of detergent residues. It’s just not pretty. 

TF: The maintenance contractor was responsible for cleaning everything—emptying the waste baskets, washing the windows, cleaning the bathrooms. Carpet was just one of the items that they spent their time on. My observation was basically that they were going through the motions but were not actually removing dirt from the carpet. I’m wondering if that’s typical among cleaning and maintenance contractors?

Rench: That has been the case in schools, anyway, where there is constant traffic and soil pressure. You framed it just the way it is and as a result, school carpet might last five years looking halfway decent. The CRI says the life cycle is 10 years. Typical school carpet is engineered to last 30 years. And, of course, that’s one of the areas where the absorbent compound and dry extraction revival is making a big difference because instead of having the carpet ugly-out in five years, we have seen 30-year-old carpet look pristine. So, it’s possible to multiply the life cycle by years, and you can do the arithmetic and imagine the savings.