What Not to Do When Treating Stains (and What to Do Instead)

Put down the spray bottle. Before you treat another stain, discover the eight ways you could be making matters worse—plus the right ways to make them better.


DON'T wait.

The longer you let the stain set, the harder your job will be. Act quickly to save time later and improve your chances at total removal.

DON'T rub upholstery, carpet, and fabrics.

You'll not only drive the stain further in, you could wear away the material and possibly even create enough heat to chemically bond the stain to the surface, says Matthew Ricketts, president of Better Life Maids. Instead, blot. Always blot.

DON'T vigorously scrub hard surfaces.

"At least once a week I have a new client show me damage that a previous house cleaner did because they used steel wool, hard brushes, or sponges that weren't nonscratch," says Amanda Thomas, Moxie Girl Household Assistants founder and Domestic CEO podcast host. Surfaces like stainless steel, marble, wood, and most stove tops are delicate, she says. "If the stain doesn't come off with a towel or nonscratch sponge and light rubbing, try loosening it by soaking it with cleaner—or even water—and letting it set."

DON'T start at the center.

You'll risk spreading the stain. Always wipe or blot from the outside of the stain, and work your way in.

DON'T skip straight to the harsh stuff.

You'll risk damaging the very material you're treating, not to mention potentially introducing harsh chemicals into your home. A mild detergent, combined with water and a clean towel, will remove the bulk of stains, especially if treated immediately.

DON'T default to heat.

Hot water could change the stain's structure in a way that bonds it to the surface. This is especially true for protein and food-related stains on soft surfaces, such as fabric or carpet, Thomas says. Acids such as vinegar work to "cook" proteins, too. Use cool or lukewarm water and an enzymatic stain remover instead.

DON'T skip directions.

It's not always as simple as spraying, then wiping or washing. You could be wasting good cleaner and prime stain-cleaning time doing something ineffective, or, worst-case scenario, causing further damage. Head off such headaches by simply taking a few moments to scan for special treatments or cautions.

DON'T forget to test your cleaner.

You risk damaging the surface, such as dulling finishes or fading carpet, upholstery, and other fabric dyes. "You'd be surprised. Many cleaning products can make stains look worse," Thomas says. Always take the time to test it in an inconspicuous place first, she says. If you like what you see, proceed to the stain with caution.

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