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How do I Remove Stains from Carpet?

By Deborah Ng
Updated May 16, 2024
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Regardless of the cause of the problem, the first step to removing stains from carpet is to blot up as much of what is causing the stain as quickly as possible. The next step is to treat the stained carpet with a cleaner that is appropriate for the specific carpet fiber and the substance creating the discoloration. Water and a mild detergent will remove most stains, although other cleansers like vinegar, ammonia, or an off-the-shelf product may be more effective in some cases.

Carpet Material

Carpet may be made of natural fibers, such as wool, or synthetic fibers, like olefin. Not all cleaning products are considered safe for use on all types of fibers; ammonia, for example, should not be used on wool carpets. If you know what kind of carpet you have, check the manufacturer's website to find out what types of cleaners should not be used. If you don't know, test the cleanser on a small, inconspicuous area first. Many carpets are made of yarns that are very stain resistant, so most spills should be cleaned relatively easily. For very tough or big stains, or if you are worried about damaging your carpet, you may want to contact a professional carpet cleaner.

General Cleaning Tips

For most spills, quick action and clean water are all that is needed to remove a stain or prevent it from setting in. Cleaning up the spilled matter immediately decreases the chances that it will cause permanent damage to the carpet. First clean up any solid matter and then use a clean, dry cloth to blot at the spill until as much as possible has been lifted.

When it's clear no more of the spilled product can be removed through simple absorption, treat the spot by blotting it with a damp cloth or sponge and lukewarm water or club soda. Scrubbing or rubbing the stained area is not recommended, because it may weaken the carpet fibers and cause the stain to spread or become more deeply embedded in the fibers. Blotting gently — beginning at the outer edge of the discoloration and working inward — is considered the safest way to clean the spot without causing additional damage.

Soaked-In Stains

Wicking — in which a stain appears to have been thoroughly cleaned, only to reappear a day or two later — may occur when substantial liquid has pooled at the base of the carpet. Even though the spill initially appears to have been cleaned, only the surface actually has been. This allows the remaining liquid to work its way back up the carpet fibers to the carpet surface, causing discoloration to reappear. Wicking can be prevented by covering the area with a thick, clean cloth or several plain paper towels and weighing down the pile with books or another heavy object. The weight should be left overnight to allow time for the remaining liquid to be absorbed, after which the carpet can be cleaned appropriately.

Food Stains

For most stains caused by food, blotting the stain alternately with a solution of liquid dish detergent or non-bleaching laundry detergent and water followed by a mix of 0.25 cup (62.5 ml) vinegar and 1 cup (250 ml) water can clean the carpet. After blotting the spill to absorb as much liquid as you can, apply a small amount of the detergent solution to the area. Let it stand for several minutes, then blot the stain to remove as much as you can. Follow this with a small amount of vinegar solution; let stand for several minutes, then blot it up. These steps can be repeated as long as the stain appears to be lightening each time. End with the vinegar solution treatment, which will remove any residual detergent from the carpet.

Some foods, like berries, ketchup, or colas, can be removed more easily if treated with ammonia first. A mix of 1 tablespoon (about 15 ml) clear ammonia in 0.5 cup (125 ml) of water should be sprayed onto the spot until it is saturated. The ammonia mix should be blotted away, then any remaining stain can be treated with the detergent solution and vinegar. Ammonia can act as a bleaching agent, so it's best to use it only on light-colored carpets.

Red Wine

To treat a red wine stain, start with club soda; add a little to the spot and blot with a clean towel. This can be followed with the solution of vinegar and water (0.25 cup (62.5 ml) vinegar and 1 cup (250 ml) water), which should be blotted and then rinsed with warm water. If there is still a stain, it can be treated with the detergent solution.

After this has been blotted up, any remaining stain can be treated with a mix of 1 tablespoon (about 15 ml) hydrogen peroxide mixed with 1 cup (250 ml) water; the hydrogen peroxide solution should be applied to the stain then covered with a towel for about 30 minutes. Like ammonia, hydrogen peroxide can bleach the carpet, so it's best to use it only on light colors. If the stain is still not removed, try the ammonia solution (1 tablespoon (about 15 ml) clear ammonia in 0.5 cup (125 ml) of water), followed by vinegar and water.

Oil and Grease Stains

For oily foods and other greasy items, start with a solution of mild detergent and water. After letting it sit for a few minutes, blot the stain to remove as much as you can, then apply a small amount of warm water to rinse the detergent out. If this does not remove the stain, using a clean cloth dipped in dry cleaning solvent or rubbing alcohol may work. It's important to rinse the carpet after each treatment, as the solvent or alcohol can cause damage if left on too long. Do not allow the solvent or alcohol to come into contact with the carpet backing as it can break down the latex that holds the carpet together.

Pet Stains

Pet urine stains can be treated with water or club soda, then a mix of mild detergent and water. If the spot has not been eliminated, spray it with the ammonia and water solution (1 tablespoon (about 15 ml) clear ammonia in 0.5 cup (125 ml) of water), blot the stain, then spray it with a vinegar and water mix (0.25 cup (62.5 ml) vinegar and 1 cup (250 ml) water). Tough stains may respond to the hydrogen peroxide and water mix (1 tablespoon (about 15 ml) hydrogen peroxide mixed with 1 cup (250 ml) water), which needs to sit for at least 30 minutes.

Blood

To remove blood stains, first treat the spot with the ammonia solution (1 tablespoon (about 15 ml) clear ammonia in 0.5 cup (125 ml) of water) to neutralize it. Once this has been blotted up with a towel, follow with a small amount of the mild detergent mixed with water; if this appears to be working, repeatedly apply the detergent and blot it up, then follow with a cool water rinse. A hydrogen peroxide and water solution (1 tablespoon (about 15 ml) hydrogen peroxide mixed with 1 cup (250 ml) water) can be used on tough blood stains; remember that it will need to sit for 30 minutes to an hour. All solutions used to treat blood should be cool, as warm water will cause the stain to set and become permanent.

Wax

Wax that has dripped onto carpet fibers can be removed using both cold and heat. Applying ice to the wax will cause it to become brittle, and once frozen, it can be chipped out carefully with a knife and vacuumed away. If this does not allow you to remove all of the wax, place a clean, dry cloth over the spill area and using a warm steam iron on the cloth to melt the wax. Once melted, the wax will be absorbed into the cloth. Be sure to only heat the iron hot enough to melt the wax; if the iron is too hot, it can burn the carpet.

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Discussion Comments
By randalscott — On Jul 18, 2014

I make use of vinegar with baking soda to remove the stains from my home custom rugs. It helps to remove stain as well the smell from the carpet.

By anon265538 — On May 02, 2012

I am surprised ammonia was mentioned for cleaning pet stains. There is a lot of "ammonia" in urine and it seems to enhance the odor. My pets are drawn to areas cleaned with ammonia and revisit the accident, only to recontribute to the issue.

By anon199006 — On Jul 21, 2011

The best thing I have found to clean carpets, furniture and rugs is Genesis 950. I am disappointed I don't see it mentioned as often as it should be. It is the only thing I use for pet accidents. I have tried the stuff PetCo sells and I'm sorry, but they do not work at all. They are so watered down.

By anon188787 — On Jun 21, 2011

I am surprised you didn't mention Genesis 950 in this article. It is by far the best stain remover and cleaner I have ever used on carpet and furniture. I use it to clean up pet stains and it also removes the odor. In addition, it has cleaned up A1 Steak Sauce stains, paint stains, nail polish, ink, tomato soup, wine and blood. It has no chemicals that damage carpet either, and it's non-toxic. Definitely the best thing I have ever used and I recommend it to everyone who has ever had a stain to clean.

By anon185673 — On Jun 13, 2011

Pet stain removers work wonderfully for all kinds of things -- even human body fluids! I buy the ones from Petsmart or Petco.

By anon169878 — On Apr 23, 2011

My beige carpet has so many dark spots all over it. It looks like pet urine stains. I'm so embarrassed to have people over. My neighbor came by today to drop off some Easter goodies for my kids and I wouldn't let her in the door. I just kept her on the patio. What can I do? Is there any hope? I am so embarrassed! Our next home will have tile or wooden floors. This is awful!

By anon138121 — On Dec 30, 2010

The best carpet cleaner by far is Genesis 950. I used it to remove paint from carpet, months after the paint had been set in. It took it all out. I used it once to clean an entire bottle of A1 steak sauce that shattered on my living room carpet. It picks up pet stains.

It's so good I even use it when I rent Rug Doctors. I use it in there two times a year. By far the best stain remover I have ever used.

By anon131932 — On Dec 04, 2010

Help! I've been stupid by sitting on the carpet and dyed my hair without covering it. Now it's spotted everywhere. How can i remove it? please help me.

By anon130819 — On Nov 30, 2010

When it comes to stains, traffic wear or just maintaining your carpet the best answer always is to call a professional carpet cleaner. Yes it sometimes may cost money but honestly they can help better then doing it yourself. Otherwise you can make an easy stain become permanent.

Be careful with spot remover products, and always read the label. Some products contain detergents or optical brighteners in them. There is nothing wrong with detergents being used for a stain but if not properly extracted a residue is left behind and will attract dry soil. And you will notice dark spots start to appear around the areas you once cleaned.

Products that have optical brighteners in them can discolor or even bleach an area. Which means that a "yellow" stain can become an orange red stain now. Truthfully, yellow and red spots are very stubborn and can be hard to get out, so pretty much if you don't get to a spill immediately then it will become permanent.

It's always just better to get a professional cleaning rather then have the risk of permanent stains and eventually replacing your carpet. It's cheaper and less of a headache, plus if you find the right carpet cleaner they will always help give you the knowledge and tools for your carpet down the road. If you need a good carpet cleaning company look in your local yellow pages or online. I personally use Stanley Steemer and have had nothing but good experiences.

By anon120579 — On Oct 21, 2010

I found generic dishwasher powder mixed with very warm water works on a lot of stains. I have no idea what kind they were on the carpet when I moved in my house. Just do a color fast check first. Scrub with firm bristle brush and pat dry.

By anon119295 — On Oct 17, 2010

I had an old stain (possibly pet urine) a yellow circle on carpet. I tried Oxyclean then another carpet stain remover. Nothing has worked and the stain turned from yellow to orange red! What to do next?

By anon109430 — On Sep 07, 2010

carpet dye sticks is a really nice product that will help you to resolve your problem. they are an easy and fast way to repair and recolor carpet stain and bleach spots on carpets

By anon91894 — On Jun 24, 2010

Carpet dye sticks are a fast and easy way to recolor, redye and carpet stain removal.

By anon76319 — On Apr 09, 2010

Brown marks on carpets that have stayed wet too long, and have been affected by a change in pH. This is what is happening, the color is coming up from the backing of the carpet. The dyes in the carpet are weakened by cleaning, cleaning chemicals are alkaline, to remove the dirt.

As a professional carpet cleaner, we have to neutralize the alkaline pH and return it to a safe pH, to maintain bright colours from the dyes. If a carpet is left wet, or at the wrong pH the brown dyes wick up from the backing in to the carpet.

The solution is to clean away the browning and correct pH and fast dry, in other words call in a trained carpet cleaner.

By anon69961 — On Mar 11, 2010

One thing that works good on carpet stains is shaving cream. Rub the solution on one spot and watch what it does. Be careful not to saturate if it brightens the original carpet color.

By anon69807 — On Mar 10, 2010

what is the best way to clean normal traffic stains without a carpet cleaner.

By anon65140 — On Feb 11, 2010

I have some orange spots on my light colored berber carpet that the cleaners say are brown out or pH related. They also say that it often comes from the carpet staying wet for too long. Any suggestions? Has anyone used dilute bleach solutions on their carpet with good results?

By anon52626 — On Nov 16, 2009

my carpet got wet and it turned a rust color so I cleaned a small spot and know I have a four-foot square rust colored stain. I have tried everything and the spot just gets larger.

By anon38888 — On Jul 29, 2009

How can I remove the stain of a baby nappy with poo that is on my cream carpet? I have tried Vanish and washing up liquid but I still have a stain the size of a dinner plate. Help!

By anon35966 — On Jul 09, 2009

help ... i have a big red stain(don't know what it is) on my carpet left from my old flat mate it looks old and i have a house inspection how do i get it out before i get kicked out

By cfausak — On Feb 26, 2009

I have a red stripe on my carpet caused by the edge of an oriental carpet. This stain was caused by the dye in the oriental. Any ideas on removing?

By anon17721 — On Sep 05, 2008

I really works! If you have catsup stains or mustard stains on your carpet, you need to clean them right away using laundry preteating! I used tide and it worked perfectly, took a bit to 100% remove the stain, but definitely works! Thanks wise geek!!

By anon15480 — On Jul 12, 2008

How do you remove baby diarrhea from light beige carpet?

By dorothyclark — On Mar 25, 2008

After a recent heavy rain, I discovered that two sections of my Berber carpet were wet from a roof leak. I soaked the water up with clean dry towels for a couple of days. Now, to my dismay, there are white borders around the areas that had been wet. What is this and how can I fix it? Thanks

By bigmetal — On Jan 25, 2008

i believe there are surfactants in dishwashing liquid that can attract dirt in carpet...i've noticed with some rug cleaners, that the places you clean with the cleaner end up dirtier than before. they almost become dirt magnets! anyhow, i'd recommend some good old fashioned water and elbow grease. you can also dilute some white vinegar with water, spray it on, and scrub with a clean rag. good luck!

By anon7410 — On Jan 25, 2008

My niece spilled about 1/4 cup of Palmolive Dish Detergent on my carpet it was splattered and there are many spots. My daughter blotted it up right away, but apparently she did not get it all. She has cleaned the area several times and it looks fine for a couple days and then it turns black (dirty) It is right in the pathway of the most traveled area of the room. Any suggestions?

By rsentner — On Jan 11, 2008

What is the best way to get normal traffic stains out of carpet that is of a medium light color.

Thanks

By anon3668 — On Sep 11, 2007

my carpet is a blue nylon. Dropped some black printer cartridge ink on it. Mopped up with water the added some bi carb soda. Then read book so used methylated spiritshave ended up with a brown stain!help!!

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