Carpet cleaning—do’s and don’ts

No matter how carefully you look after your carpets it’s inevitable that they will bear the brunt of the occasional scuff or spillage. Coffee, wine, mud and pet mess are all common substances that can stain carpets, and if they aren’t tackled immediately can leave a permanent mark.  

There are many hacks, tips and old wives’ tales concerning how to remove these stains, some of which can be effective when done correctly. The danger, however, is that not all treatments are suitable for every carpet—in fact, some are unsuitable for use on any carpet—and you may be at risk of causing even more damage.

Before tackling any stains, consider the following:

  • Know what material your carpet is made from before you try to remove stains from it. Bleach-based solutions are only suitable for polypropylene carpets and can permanently damage other materials.
  • Be careful not to soak the carpet during cleaning. If it remains wet for longer than 24 hours, it’s at risk of growing mildew and bacteria.
  • Make sure you remove cleaning detergent from the carpet completely, as the residue can leave a secondary stain.
  • Don’t use a cleaning solution with a pH value of more than 10 (i.e. very alkaline).
  • Never scrub at a stain or you risk damaging the carpet fibres.
  • Before using any stain removing solution—whether bought over the counter or self-mixed—test a small amount on an inconspicuous area of carpet first.

To learn more about safely and effectively removing stains from carpets, we spoke to Paul Pearce, Technical Director of The National Carpet Cleaners Association (NCCA).

Here’s what we discovered:

What are the most common mistakes people make when attempting to remove carpet stains?

The most common mistake is assuming that all carpet fibres and constructions are the same. So, a remedial process for one type may not be the best for another.

If it’s a liquid spillage, absorbing it with kitchen towels or similar and blotting (never rubbing) as much as possible prior to using any cleaning agent is going to be the best action. Sometimes it can be advantageous to re-wet the carpet with cold water and remove more of the soiling, again before using a cleaning agent. If the stain is dry, vacuum it thoroughly before doing anything to moisten it. 

How quickly should you treat a stain? Is it better to act immediately or wait until you have the correct treatment?

Deal with wet spillages as quickly as possible by blotting them up and applying some pressure to assist the process. This will reduce the chance of the spillage leaving a permanent stain. If the soiling is dry—such as plasterboard dust, brick dust and so on—dry vacuuming is a must.

What are your suggestions for tackling the following carpet stains?

Coffee and wine

Soak up as much liquid as possible with absorbent towels—apply pressure and turn or replace the towels regularly. It sometimes helps to apply more water through a small plant sprayer and repeat the blotting process. Once you’ve done this, use a dilution of carpet shampoo and water through the hand sprayer and blot, repeat as required. Leave six to eight sheets of kitchen towel on top of the wet carpet and leave overnight to dry. Finally, remove the towels and vacuum the carpet.

Blood

For small amounts of blood, dab with cold water to remove as much as possible. Use cold water in a hand sprayer, apply to the blood and repeat the blotting process. At this point you can use a dilution of carpet shampoo and water and repeat the process.

Removing blood is a complex process and very often needs a professional to make the area clean and safe.

Mud

Allow to dry and then go over it with the vacuum cleaner. If there’s any residue left, use a dilution of carpet shampoo and water through the hand sprayer and blot and repeat as required. Leave six to eight sheets of kitchen towel on top of the wet carpet and leave overnight to dry. Finally, remove the towels and vacuum the carpet.

Food (sauces, chocolate etc.)

It’s possible that some of these stains can be a combination of both oil and water. Remove excess food first by using a blunt knife or spoon, then vacuum. Blot with white spirit to remove any oil-based stains then apply diluted carpet shampoo and blot out as much as you can. Repeat as required. Leave six to eight sheets of kitchen towel on top of the wet carpet and leave overnight to dry. Finally, remove the towels and vacuum the carpet.

Pet mess

Soak up as much liquid as possible with absorbent towels—apply pressure and turn or replace the towels regularly. Mix two parts white vinegar and two parts water in a hand sprayer, apply it to the carpet and repeat the blotting process. Once you’ve done this, use a dilution of carpet shampoo and water through the hand sprayer and blot, repeat as required. Leave six to eight sheets of kitchen towel on top of the wet carpet and leave overnight to dry. Finally, remove the towels and vacuum the carpet.

Cosmetics (make up, nail varnish, fake tan)

It’s difficult to know where to start with cosmetics as some are oily, some water-soluble and some a combination of both. Start with white spirit or surgical spirit—apply it to a clean white towel and blot. Remove as much of the stain as you can by turning or changing the towel. If the stain persists, proceed with a dilution of shampoo and water as above.

Oily stains

Treat with white spirit, apply to cloth, repeat as necessary. Over-applying solvents such as white spirit can wear away the backing of the carpet so be careful.

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