Professional carpet cleaning is the best way to maintain your carpet’s looks over time. However, calling in a pro for every day-to-day spill is simply not practical. Learning a little about the different types of household stains you are most likely to encounter can help you head off any long-term carpet damage with ordinary household products. Before blotting, though, familiarize yourself with best practice methods to use when cleaning carpet stains.

Water-Soluble Stains

Substances that are water based are usually the least complicated to clean, particularly if the spill is addressed when it is fresh. After removing any solids, plain water can be used to clean up the stain, blotting gently from the edge of the stain and moving inward with a clean white towel or white paper towel. If the stain is a little more set, a mixture of eight ounces of water and about one-quarter teaspoon of clear dishwashing liquid will usually bring up the stain.

Examples of water-soluble stains: soda, alcoholic beverages, latex paint, jelly, fruit

Some stains, though water soluble, are protein based, which makes them more difficult to treat. The enzymes in these stains will become darker if exposed to heat or anything acidic and will grab on to the carpet fibers more stubbornly. Blood or vomit on carpet should be flushed with cold water immediately after any solids are removed. If plain water fails to remove the stain, it should then be treated with only mild solutions—water and clear dishwashing liquid for wool or wool-blends, and a tablespoon of ammonia mixed in one cup of water for other types of carpet. Hydrogen peroxide can be used on white fabrics only.

Examples of protein-based stains: blood, dairy products, bodily fluids, meat juices

Fat- and Oil-Based Stains

Fat- and oil-based stains pose a problem because they naturally stick to other oils, such as the petroleum used to make synthetic carpet. In recognition of this, some carpet manufacturers add special treatments and coatings to their synthetic fibers to create some stain resistance. For carpets with these coatings, water with mild soap is still the best place to begin in cleaning the stain. For carpets that are untreated, use a CRI-certified dry carpet cleaner. Blot the stain until it is removed, and then blot the area again with water to pick up any leftover cleaning product. Allow the area to dry completely, and then vacuum.

Examples of fat- and oil-based stains: cooking grease, lipstick, salad dressing, petroleum jelly

Wax and Gum

Particularly in carpet with a medium to deep pile, wax and gum must not be ground into the carpet or allowed to set, as they will bind the fibers together. Even attempting to peel them up can damage the carpet. The trick to removal is patience and ice. Cover the wax or gum with ice, and allow it to freeze—this will take at least 20 minutes. Starting at the edges, you can then gently pick away the hardened substance without tugging at the carpet strands. For any wax residue, cover the area with brown paper and paper towels, and use an iron on medium heat to pick up the wax. For gum residue, blot the area with a dry carpet cleaner, and then use a damp cloth to soak up the cleaning residue. Always vacuum the area after the carpet has thoroughly dried.

While various stains can be hard on carpet, the worst damage results from rough cleaning by the homeowner. Scrubbing, using stiff brushes, or vigorous rubbing in a circular motion may clean the spot, but it will definitely untwist and rough up the carpet’s fibers, giving it an uneven appearance and hastening wear. For stain removal and spot cleaning, the method should always be blotting from the outside of the stain to its center to prevent spreading. The most important part of spot carpet cleaning is to be persistent but very, very gentle.

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Sources: Apartment Therapy; Carpet and Rug Institute; EBSCOhost Home Improvement Reference Center: Fabulous Floors; The New York Times; This Old House; Shaw Industries.

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