Carpet Stains and How to Remove Them

Help your carpet look better and last longer with these helpful stain-removal tips.
Basic Carpet Care
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Time is of the essence when something stains your carpet. The longer you wait, the more likely it is that an innocent spill will turn into a permanent stain. For liquids, blot -- never rub -- as much moisture from the carpet as you can. Use a white towel or plain white paper towels to blot, working from the outside edge of the stain toward the center. This method prevents stains from spreading. For solid spills, use a spoon or dull knife to remove any material that hasn't soaked into the carpet. Citrus-base oxygen cleaners, mixed according to label directions, remove organic stains from carpets. When cleaning, take care not to overwet your carpet, because excess moisture damages the backing.

To be most effective at stain treating and not damaging your carpet in the process, first test the carpet for colorfastness and then treat the stain according to its type.

Testing for Colorfastness

Prepare for future spills by doing a pretest for colorfastness. Colorfast carpet will not bleed, fade, or change when you are cleaning it or removing stains. Whether or not it is colorfast may change the products you decide to use for stain removal. Here's how to pretest your carpet to find out if it is colorfast.

  • First find a carpet scrap or an inconspicuous spot, such as carpet inside a closet. Vacuum the carpet.
  • Dampen a cloth with the cleaner or stain remover you want to use.
  • Lay the cloth on the carpet for an hour, and then blot the damp area with a dry white cloth.
  • If the cloth is stained with carpet dyes, test another cleaning product until you find one that does not make the carpet sample bleed.

Stain-Removal Formula

General stain-removal formula: Commercial spot carpet cleaners sold at grocery stores and home centers will remove many carpet stains. You can also make your own all-purpose cleaner with this basic formula: Stir 1 teaspoon of mild dishwashing liquid into 1 quart of warm water. Add 1/4 teaspoon of white vinegar. Let this solution sit on the stain for 10 minutes before blotting with a clean, dry white cloth. Repeat until the spill no longer transfers to the cloth. Be patient; it may take several repetitions.

After the spill is completely removed, rinse the area with cold water and blot with a clean, dry cloth until all the moisture is gone. Sometimes it helps to cover the damp area with a 1/2-inch-thick layer of white paper towels weighted down by a heavy object. Continue to change paper towels until the area is completely dry.

Removing Specific Stains

These tips will help you remove spills before they become a permanent part of your carpet. Always test the carpet for colorfastness before treating.

Alcohol and soft drinks: Apply the detergent stain-removing formula detailed above. Rinse, then blot or wet-vac dry.

Blood: Treat blood stains immediately. Apply cold water or club soda, and then blot with a clean cloth. Repeat until the stain is gone.

Coffee or tea: Apply the detergent solution. Rinse and blot. If any stain remains, apply a spot carpet cleaner. Blot or wet-vac dry.

Dirt or mud: Allow dirt to completely dry before treating. Scrape off as much as possible, then vacuum. Apply a detergent solution. Let solution sit on stain for 10 minutes before blotting with a clean white cloth or paper towel.

Fat-base stains (butter, margarine, or gravy): Use a dry-solvent spot carpet cleaner according to the label instructions.

Grease or oil: Sprinkle with baking soda. Let sit for at least six hours, then vacuum. Apply spot cleaner. Rinse, then blot or wet-vac dry.

Gum: Peel away as much gum as you can. Harden the remaining gum by placing a resealable plastic bag of ice cubes over it. Then chip gum away with a spoon or dull knife. Vacuum. Spot-clean with a dry-solvent spot carpet cleaner.

Paint: Dry paint is hard to remove. For acrylic and latex paint, while wet, spot-clean with detergent solution. If color remains, dab with rubbing alcohol. For oil-base paint, while wet, sponge with odorless mineral spirits, being careful not to soak carpet backing.

Pet stains: Apply an enzymatic cleaner, purchased from a pet supply store that discourages repeat visits.

Rust: Treat fresh spots with a solution of 1 part white vinegar to 2 parts water. Blot or wet-vac until dry. If the spot is already dry, have it professionally treated and cleaned.

Tar: Use a dry-solvent spot cleaner.

Tomato sauce: Sponge carpet with cool water, then dab with detergent solution or citrus-oxygen cleaner. Rinse with a solution of 1 part white vinegar to 2 parts water. Blot or wet-vac until dry.

Urine, feces, or vomit: Apply the detergent solution listed above or a citrus-oxygen cleaner. Rinse and blot or wet-vac until dry.

Wax (melted): Harden, shatter, and remove as for gum. Dampen a clean white cloth or cotton ball with rubbing alcohol and blot to remove remaining wax.

Wine or juice: Spritz with club soda. Blot with a clean cloth. Repeat until the stain is gone.