If you have carpet in your home, chances are you will need to attend to a spill at some stage. Having some easy methods to attend to fresh stains may save you the need to call in a professional.
Before I get into the stain removal tips I thought it was important to dispel a few myths about carpet and carpet stain removal. Once you have this information you can tackle those fresh spills with confidence and the best chance of getting a great result.
Common Carpet Cleaning Myths
- You shouldn’t steam clean wool carpet because it will shrink. This is not true of any tufted carpet. The myth has arisen around the very real chance of a woven carpet shrinking if it was installed or cleaned incorrectly. Over 90 % of woollen carpets are constructed using the tufting method and those woven carpets still out there can be steam cleaned by someone who knows what they are doing provided they have been installed properly.
- You shouldn’t clean woollen carpets because you will wash the lanolin out of it. The lanolin that naturally occurs in the sheep’s fleece is completely and 100% stripped out of the wool as it is being processed into yarn. Lanolin is a greasy fatty substance and would make keeping the carpet clean and dyeing the yarn impossible. Consequently no woollen carpet has ever had the smallest trace of lanolin left in it. Steam cleaning remains the manufacturer’s preferred cleaning method for a full restorative clean.
- You shouldn’t clean your carpets because they will never be the same and will get dirtier faster. There are many reasons why a carpet can re soil quickly after it has been cleaned but these all relate to the job being done incorrectly. Bad cleaning can leave a residue, change the pH and static qualities and leave dirty water to rise to the surface as it dries. All three of these things will cause premature re soiling. A properly cleaned carpet will be dirt and chemical free and the carpet will be left in a neutral or slightly acid state to eliminate the pH and static problems. Another thing to consider is the user’s perception. When the carpet looks great after cleaning, every little bit of wear and tear is much more noticeable. This means even when the carpet is re soiling at the appropriate rate it is more noticeable to the user. Good cleaning can’t fix this one but it will deal with the first 3 :)
- You shouldn’t vacuum your carpet with a beater because it is wearing out the pile. It is strongly recommended that you do vacuum your carpets with a machine that has a motorised power head (beater). The extra vibration this causes helps dislodge more grit allowing it to be sucked away. The grit left deep in the pile is what causes most of the wear so it makes sense to remove as much as possible. Some woollen carpets shed small amounts of fibre as they are vacuumed. These are tiny little barbs on the main fibre and having these come off and vacuumed away is not hurting the carpet. Because some carpets shed quite a lot in the early stages this might explain how this myth came about.
Common Stain Removal Myths
- Pour salt on to any spill quickly and allow it to soak it up. Watching salt change colour as it soaks up the red wine, tea or coffee could easily make you think this is a good idea but it really isn’t. If you have ever tried it you will know it doesn’t soak everything up. No matter how much salt you use there will always be a residue which you will have to fix anyway. Save yourself the salt and all the extra work of cleaning up the salt and treat all fresh stains with water and blot with a clean dry towel. This will dilute the problem and provide more carrying agent to be absorbed giving you a better transfer onto the towel. If this method fails to remove the whole spill you can try warm water (*except blood see note below) and “MILD” dishwashing detergent and continue to blot until the stain is gone or no longer responding. If the stain persists refer to our stain chart for stain specific advice. You can download a copy from our website free of charge or visit the stain advice section. *The protein in blood will congeal when heated making it harder to remove.
Here’s a true story that happened a few weeks ago that demonstrates the effectiveness of this first response method on a fresh spill:
The other evening at a party someone bumped my arm and spread half a glass of red wine onto my friends bone coloured wool Berber carpet. My friends live in one of those pristine houses you see in magazines so you can imagine his face turned grey as he started running toward the laundry cupboard for the cleaning stuff. His wife, the calm one, asked me what I needed to fix it. There were many people in the room who thought I was mad and or stupid when I replied “just some water and a dry white towel please.”
I was able to remove the spill with the water and dry towel using only one hand….I was using the other to fight off a well meaning person trying to get me out of the way so she could pour salt and soda water onto it :) It wasn’t until the host told her I owned the local Stain Busters that she relented. I did have to finish the stain off with a mild detergent diluted in warm water. You may find this necessary on some spills on some carpets. Needless to say it was a good advert for Stain Busters and I now try to spill wine everywhere I go :)
- The best thing to put on red wine is white wine and vice versa. This is not correct although pouring white wine onto red does work, the white wine is just doing what water will do so save the white wine and stick to the instructions above. Pouring red onto white is not only wasting wine but also doubling your work and risking leaving a tannin stain which will be a lot harder to remove than the fresh wine stain.
- Bicarb Soda is a good stain remover. This is like the salt in that it will soak some of the spill and leave a residue. The problem with putting it on your carpet apart from it making a mess and leaving a residue is it can actually chemically burn carpet. Some woollen carpets do not like anything with a high pH and it can be chemically burnt on contact.
Its alkalinity and the fact it remains damp from soaking up some of the spill can also promote cellulose browning (a different chemical reaction) which will require specialised knowledge to reverse.
Bicarb can be useful in balancing or creating a chemical reaction to help in advanced stain removal but this requires knowledge of the chemical makeup of both the stain and the products you are using. Unless you have this expertise the best thing is to stick to the water and towel method as described herein. In most cases it is all you will ever need on a fresh spill. Check our stain Removal Advice section on our website for more instructions if a stain is not responding to this first step.
- Off the shelf carpet cleaners and stain removers must be OK or they wouldn’t make those claims on TV. The off the shelf carpet cleaner & stain remover is often not acceptable for wool and New Generation carpets. They have a high alkalinity to make them affective on grease and oil but this high pH can chemically burn wool carpets and strip the protection from New Generation carpets. You will usually find they have some small print which covers them for the damage they do. It will say something like “apply to a small area and check for colour fastness” Even if you can’t find this on the label it is a good idea to do this with any product you haven’t used before. These products use alkalinity so can be affective on general dirt, oil and grease stains but will be ineffective on most coloured stains once they have dried.
- You must use salt or vinegar to balance the chemical reaction. Whilst there may be some times when balancing or changing the chemistry of a stain is going to help you remove it, in most cases it will be irrelevant when dealing with a fresh spill. I advise to follow the water and the dry towel instructions and seek stain specific advice if a residue remains. Water is a great first step as it will dilute the stain’s colour and the acidity/alkalinity. Because water is neutral it will bring the pH up toward neutral in an acid spill and down toward neutral in an alkaline spill. Neural or slightly acid is where you carpet likes to be.
- It must be OK I read it on the internet. Unfortunately you can’t believe everything on the internet. I advise you stick to a trusted source where possible. If you don’t have a trusted source, do your research and check out a few sites. Look for consistency and contradiction. Both will help you narrow down your search. Be wary of sites selling a product especially if they claim one product fixes all stains on all types of carpet. They are blatantly lying to you and can’t be trusted. Their label is most likely full of small print diluting these spectacular claims. Our technicians carry around up to 20 different products some of which we would never use on a woollen or New Generation carpet and we have others we only use on a particular stain, knowing nothing else will work. We have 6 different products for ink because ink has several different carrying agents. Even if an off the shelf cleaner worked on your last ink spill it is no guarantee it will work on the next! There is no one product that fixes all despite the many claims to the contrary.
Here is a summary of some important stain removal tips
- Attend to the stain as quickly as possible. Don’t stop until it is gone completely or not coming out anymore.
- Avoid scrubbing, use the blot and dab method starting with water and progressing to a diluted soap and warm water solution. (stay with cold for blood and other protein spills)
- Never use bleach, it will remove most stains but it will also change the colour of your carpet. Do not use dish washer or clothes washing powders. They are very high in alkalinity, even if the don’t damage your carpet they will almost certainly leave a stubborn residue.
- If using an off the shelf cleaner do a colour fast test in an inconspicuous area to make sure it isn’t going to pH burn or remove dye from your carpet. These are often high residue so be prepared to get out what you put in to avoid premature re soiling.
- On large stains start at the outside and work your way in to avoid spreading.
- Don’t believe everything you read on the internet, even the well meaning sites may buy into the myths and other bush remedies. Some bush remedies work on some things some of the time so unless you have this context you need to be wary of them. Work with a trusted source or do your research.
- Visit our stain specific pages on our website or download a stain removal chart for more helpful tips.
I hope this has been helpful and there were a few myths I have busted for you.