This quick guide shows how to clean the 33 most common stains on carpets.
We’ll dive deeper into the different types of stains and how each affects the carpet. We’ll also learn about the do’s and don’ts from cleaning professionals. Lastly, we’ll look at the importance of developing a cleaning schedule for prevention and restorative efforts.
Is the stain water or solvent soluble? Or not soluble at all?
Soiling is the deposition of unwanted foreign substances on or within carpet or rugs causing the appearance to change. There are 3 main types of soiling. Understanding the type of soil will help you choose the suitable type of cleaning solution.
Water soluble: Non-oily food or drink spills are some of the more common examples. This type of soil can be treated with more common types of cleaning solution.
Solvent soluble: Grease, oil and tar soil are tougher to remove. They require a solvent solution to dissolve them before the residues can be lifted from the carpet fibers. Common solvent solutions include acetone, turpentine, and alcohol.
Insoluble: This includes particles like dirt, sand, grass or hair. This type of soil needs to be removed from the carpet mechanically, commonly using a vacuum cleaner.
The soiling on your carpet can be some combination of the different types of soil. That’s why you’ll need a multi-step cleaning procedure.
Stain mechanism: How does stain affect Your carpet?
Closely related to this is the concept of staining. A stain is a result of any of the above 3 types of soiling. Here some of the staining mechanisms you can use to guide your understanding of how to best remove the stain.
Adhesion: Examples include chewing gum, glue and adhesive. Be careful how you’re removing this type of stain. Any heat treatment can worsen the situation. Heat can increase the stickiness and widen the affected area.
Deposition: Examples include mud and sand. The removal will involve scooping up as much of the particles as possible before attempting to remove the stain. This type of stain is usually dry in nature.
Reaction: Example includes rust. This is when the soil has chemically interacted with the carpet. Sometimes the damage is irreversible, and may be best to consult a professional.
Dyeing: Examples include clothing dyes, artificially colored drinks and fruits.This type of stain damage can sometimes be irreversible, especially if left untreated for a long period of time. Lighter colored carpets are more susceptible to this type of damage.
Bleaching: Examples include household cleaning bleach or hair bleaching products. Unlike dyeing, which adds color to the carpet fibers, bleaching removes the pigment in the carpet. But like dyeing, this staining mechanism could cause irreversible damage.
Absorption: Examples include oil, grease and wine. This usually involves both water and solvent soluble stains. A water soluble stain usually doesn’t require much more than cleaning with water. But for solvent soluble stains like oil or grease, you’ll need more specialized cleaning methods.
Carpet cleaning: Do’s and don’ts according to the professionals
General rule of thumb: Clean it asap to avoid staining.
If the staining is extremely bad, it may be best to leave it to the professionals. But for daily maintenance, we can all benefit from knowing the basics. Here are some of the do’s and don’t according to the experts.
Pay attention to Performance factors
How do you up your cleaning game? You have 4 dials to play around with. Let’s learn about how 4 main factors can help you improve your cleaning results.
Mechanical action: This is the scrubbing, beating, tumbling, rubbing, etc. The general idea is to physically loosen the soiling particle from the carpet/ fabric fibers. But loosening it, you’ll be able to remove it from the fibers easily. You should always keep in mind that you can worsen the situation with the wrong technique. It’s not
Chemical activity: This is the detergent, cleaning solution, spot remover, etc. Understanding the stain mechanism (explained previously) and the type solvent to use will improve your chances greatly. Again, applying the wrong chemical will worsen the situation.
Time: This is the duration of the cleaning process. How much time did you allow the spot treatment to stand? How much time did you scrub the carpet? How much time did you allow the carpet to dry?
Temperature: The general rule of thumb is high temperature is good. In most cases, it helps to loosen the soiling particles from the fibers. But if you’re facing something like wax or chewing gum, it’s best to stay away from heat.
You will not get the best results by dialing up the intensity of all 4 factors. The key to achieving the best result is by knowing when to use which dial and how.
Learn carpet fiber types
Next is to learn about the type of carpet fiber you’re dealing with. There are generally 3 main types of fibers.
Natural fibers: The most common materials are wool and silk. Jute is also a common material but it doesn’t use the same cleaning techniques. Enzymes and chlorine should be used sparingly and should be diluted.
Wool should be cleaned with detergents carrying the WoofSafe Mark. The product will be tested to be safe for both the wool fibers as well as the dye that’s used to color the fiber. Because using the wrong type of detergent will damage the wool fiber.
Viscous fibers: This type of material is gaining popularity in recent years. It has a silk-like feel, and provides a similar comfort level as natural fibers. Yet, it is only a fraction of the cost.
It can be manufactured to imitate wool, silk, cotton and linen. It is made from wood pulp, and has a shiny appearance. This type of fiber stains easily because it absorbs liquid quickly.
According to the Rug Insider “[t]he durability, cleanability, and appearance retention of viscose is far lower than […] wool and silk, especially when wet.” Viscose fibers have very poor elasticity. As a comparison, wool fibers bends 10,000 times before breaking, silk fiber at 2,000, but viscose fiber only at less than 100.
That’s why you’ll need to remove any stains as quickly as possible. Although you can clean it when wet, but only with minimum agitation. Rough scrubbing will destroy the fibers. It’ll be advised to use dry absorbent carpet powder, especially with oil-based stain. Allow carpet to dry completely before using it.
Synthetic fibers: There most common synthetic fibers include nylon, polypropylene, acrylic, and polyester.
Nylon is one of the most popular choices because of its durability. Although it can be used in high traffic areas, maintenance is still required to keep the pile clean and crack-free. Clean it using detergents made for wool carpet.
Polypropylene, polyester, and acrylic clean fairly easily in most instances. But oil/grease stains tend to be problematic on these types of carpets fibers. Acrylic is most similar to wool in terms of appearance and feel. Synthetic fibers are still not as strong or durable as wool.
Check for chemical incompatibility
Most carpet fibers are sensitive to certain types of cleaning solutions. The carpet backing is only incompatible to some chemicals. So using the correct cleaning solution is important because the damage can sometimes be irreversible. Pick out only cleaning solutions that are specifically developed for the type of carpet fiber.
We need to take into consideration the compatibility of the cleaning solution to not only the fiber and backing, but also the dyes and adhesive used. Before you start, pre-test any solution on a small inconspicuous spot.
If another person has attempted to clean the area previously, then you’ll need to flush out any remaining cleaning solution residue. Do this before you start cleaning to ensure there will not be incompatibility between the cleaning chemicals used.
Enzyme: Enzyme-based cleaning solution is a popular choice for cleaning pet stains. But it is not recommended to be used on natural fibers such as wool or silk. Enzymes can attack and weaken the fibers.
If you must use them, use them sparingly and diluted. Rinse the area thoroughly afterwards. Using the blotting action, alternate between wet and dry cloth. If you have a wet-dry vacuum on hand, rinse with water and suck up all the residue enzyme.
General purpose cleaning detergent: The experts caution against any type of general purpose floor cleaning detergents. They are usually too harsh on carpets. Also, some tend to foam up quite a bit and can be challenging to rinse.
Spot-removal detergent: Read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully before applying. Do not use any spot-removal that’s not meant for carpets. This damage can be irreversible. And the damage sometimes won’t be visible until sometime later. It would be too late to fix the problem then. That’s why it’s very important to always pre-test any new cleaning solutions you’re unfamiliar with.
Clean what you can’t see
According to Zsednai, “approximately 74%–79% of soil in a carpet is insoluble dirt and most of it is usually found at the main entrance.” The dry particles will deposit at the entrance area when you step indoors. Being heavier, they fall deep into the fibers and to the base of the carpet.
This is the invisible soil that lies deep in the carpet. It will not contribute to the visible staining and soiling, but is still bad for your carpet. This is because the particles will rub against the carpet fibers when walked on. This results in premature wearing of the carpet.
So, maintain a good vacuuming schedule. Focusing on the entrances of the house. Switch to a shoes-off home and you won’t have this problem.
Use soft water
Hard water is fresh water with a high concentration of minerals (such as calcium, iron, manganese and magnesium). Soft water, on the other hand, contains much less minerals, but still has a good amount of sodium.
Soft water is preferred over hard water because of the impurities in hard water. These impurities will reduce the effectiveness of the cleaning detergents. When the detergent is less effective, you’ll need to use more of it. That’s why you’ll need less detergent if you’re using soft water, to achieve the same results.
Detergent manufacturers are trying to solve the problem of hard water. The solution is often to include alkaline components so the detergent can be effective even when using hard water. But carpet fibers don’t do well with too acidic or alkaline solutions. The solution is for manufacturers to produce even more specified cleaning solutions for different carpet types.
Develop a cleaning schedule for your carpets and rugs
A cleaning and maintenance schedule consists of both preventative efforts and restorative efforts. The specific cleaning method and techniques depend on the carpet fiber, color, location and traffic pattern (high traffic area vs. quiet corner), and cleaning restrictions.
So while there’s no hard and fast rules for assigning a specific cleaning method or technique, developing a schedule is quite universal. Sticking to a regular cleaning schedule will ensure the longevity and cleanliness of your carpet and rugs.
Preventative efforts: How to keep stains at bay
Barrier: This is your first line of defense. Use shoe scrapers or entrance mats at the entrances to remove large dry pieces of dirt and mud.
You’ll need the right material and adequate size for the mat to be effective. The width should be at least two footfalls wide, so both shoes can come in content with the mat at least once. Clean these entrance mats frequently to keep them effective.
Protective: Prevention is better than cure. A protective chemical treatment is applied to make the carpet fiber more resistant to soil and stain. A finishing layer is usually applied at the manufacturing facility as a last step of the production. It can also be applied by the installation team after the carpet is installed.
This is usually applied by professionals, but if you’re looking to DIY this step, always consult the manufacturer. Make sure that the protective chemical used is compatible with the carpet.
Restorative Efforts: Schedule for regular cleaning
Here’s an example of a cleaning schedule:
- As needed: Spot removal
- Daily/Weekly: Vacuuming and dry absorbent powder
- Quarterly: Wet restorative cleaning with carpet cleaner
- Yearly: Intensive deep cleaning by professional on-site or in-plant rug cleaning
Vacuuming or dusting: Dirt and dust make up a large portion of the soiling on carpets. Make sure to vacuum regularly, paying attention to high traffic areas. For loose rugs or area carpet, dust it outdoors once in a while.
Spot removal: Refer to the guide at the top to help you discover how to tackle 33 of the most common types of stains.
Zsednai, A. (2018). Carpet cleaning and maintenance. Advances in Carpet Manufacture