How to Remove Stains From Carpet

How to Remove Carpet Stains

The Spruce / Ellen Lindner

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 10 - 30 mins
  • Total Time: 10 mins - 8 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $5 to 15

Carpet and area rugs add warmth, comfort, and style to a home. However, the residue left behind by dirty shoes, food and drink spills, and pets, results in stains. Ideally, every type of stain, from mud to pet accidents to coffee spills, should be treated immediately or as soon as possible. Early treatment will have a much more successful stain removal than older stains. Never rub any carpet stain, or you will push the stain further into the carpet. While not every stain can easily be removed, there are some steps that you can take that will keep your carpet looking better and lasting as long as possible. Learn how to get stains out of carpets, plus why some stains reappear and how to prevent them from coming back.

 Stain type  Varies
 Detergent type  Carpet stain remover
 Water temperature  Cool to warm

When to Call a Professional

If you have a carpet that is made out of wool or is a thick shag rug, you should consider contacting a professional to handle the job. They can also handle the larger and tough-to-get-out stains easier. Additionally, if you try to remove a stain and still can't get it out, it's best to let the professionals handle it. Make sure to choose a reputable professional carpet cleaner to clean your carpet. Good professional cleaners have the proper equipment to extract the moisture from the carpet, leaving it almost dry.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Thin spatula or credit card
  • Soft-bristled nylon scrub brush
  • Small bowl
  • Sponge (optional)
  • Paper towels
  • Microfiber cloths
  • Vacuum
  • White towels (optional)
  • Books or weights (optional)

Materials

  • Carpet stain remover
  • Dishwashing liquid
  • Powdered oxygen-based bleach

Instructions

Materials and tools to clean stains from carpet

The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

How to Remove Stains From Carpet

  1. Lift and Blot

    Lift or blot any fresh stains. If the stain maker is solid or semi-solid like mud, pet excrement, or mustard, lift it away. NEVER rub the stain. Use the edge of an old credit card or a thin spatula to lift the staining matter away from the carpet fibers or paper towels if blotting. Rubbing will push the stain deeper into the fibers making it more difficult to remove. Aggressive scrubbing can also potentially fray the tops of the carpet fibers. This can change the appearance of the carpet in the spot area even after the spot is removed.

    For liquid stains, use white paper towels or a microfiber cloth to blot up as much moisture as possible. Again, don't rub. Apply some pressure and blot the area, moving to fresh paper towels or a dry section of the cloth frequently.

    Tip

    Always use plain white paper towels or color-fast cloths to blot and treat carpet stains. The last thing you need is the cleaning cloth reacting with the stain or the cleaning product and transferring dye to the carpet.

    Stain blotted from blue and white carpet with white paper towel

    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

  2. Identify the Stain

    Knowing what caused the stain is the first step in getting it out. If you weren't there when it happened, use your detective skills to figure out the culprit. A stain usually offers three clues—the location of the stain, how the stain smells, and the color of the stain. Each clue you solve will help you treat the stain properly.

    Round yellow stain on blue and white carpet closeup

    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

  3. Get Out Identifiable Carpet Stains

    If you know what caused the carpet stain, follow a stain removal chart to get out the stain. Here are some helpful guides for getting out the five most common and difficult stains on carpet:

    Acetone blotted on carpet stain with white cloth

    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

  4. Remove Carpet Stains With a Homemade Stain Remover

    Many carpet stains can be removed with a simple solution of dish soap like Dawn, white vinegar, and water. Mix 1 tablespoon of dish soap with 1/4 cup of white vinegar and 2 cups of water. Work the solution into the carpet from the outside of the stain inward to prevent spreading. Blot with a damp cloth to remove soapy residue, air dry fully, then vacuum to lift the carpet fibers.

    Dishwashing liquid and water solution scrubbed on to carpet stain

    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

  5. Remove Carpet Stains With a Commercial Stain Remover

    If you are using a commercial carpet stain remover, follow the directions on the product carefully. If the stain is old, allow more time for the product to work. Always finish by vacuuming the freshly cleaned area to lift the carpet fibers. Repeat the steps if the stain is still there after the carpet is dry.

    Vacuum cleaning carpet fibers after cleaning stain

    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

  6. Remove Older Carpet Stains

    If the commercial stain remover or the homemade carpet cleaner did not remove the stain or if the stain is older, it's time to up the game.

    • Mix a solution of oxygen-based bleach and cool water following package directions. 
    • Dip a clean cloth into the solution and working from the outside edge of the stain toward the center, work the solution into the carpet. Do not over-wet. Leave the solution on the stain for at least one hour before blotting it away with a dry cloth.
    • Allow the carpet to dry completely and vacuum to restore the pile. Repeat as needed.

    Warning

    Oxygen bleach is a mild form of bleach but it can still discolor dark-colored carpet. Always test the solution in a hidden spot before using it as directed. Never use chlorine bleach to remove stains on a carpet. The discoloration it causes is permanent.

    Water and oxygen-based bleach solution rubbed into carpet stain with cloth

    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

What to Do About Reappearing Carpet Stains

How to Prevent Reappearing Carpet Stains

The Spruce / Michela Buttignol

You spill something on your carpet, and it leaves a stain. You clean the stain, and it disappears, but a few days later, you notice a spot on your carpet. You take a closer look, and the stain is back!

What happened? How could it reappear? There are two possible reasons for the reappearance: soiling or wicking.

Stain on tan carpet next to white and green spray bottle

The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo

What Are Soiling and Wicking?

Soiling occurs when residue is left behind on the carpet fibers from the carpet cleaner used to treat the original stain. If not completely rinsed and blotted, the residue becomes sticky and attracts dirt and soil to the same spot, which can make it look like the stain has returned.

The other common cause of reappearing stains is something referred to as wicking. Wicking occurs when the substance that was spilled on the carpet has soaked through into the backing of the carpet (and sometimes even the underpad). When you clean the stain, you are cleaning the surface of the carpet. But then the spill that is trapped in the backing and/or underpad can be reabsorbed by the carpet and make its way up the fiber strands, back to the surface—like traveling up the wick of a candle (hence the name).

Wicking typically occurs when the carpet is wet. This can happen if you have your carpet cleaned by hot water extraction (“steam cleaning”), and the carpet is damp after cleaning. This is especially a risk if you choose to steam clean your carpet yourself because many rental units are not powerful enough to extract all of the water from the fibers.

How to Prevent Reappearing Stains

Reappearing stains can be prevented by ensuring that spills are treated as quickly as possible when they happen to prevent the spill from soaking deep into the carpet. After treatment, place a stack of paper towels or a clean white towel over the spot, and use a stack of books or something heavy to weigh it down. (If you are worried about your books getting wet or stained, put a piece of plastic wrap between the towel and the bottom book.) This will draw up the moisture left in the carpet.

Stack of books with plastic sheet beneath on top of stained carpet

The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo

So how can you get rid of the stain for good? Well, the answer depends on the size and severity of the spill, as well as the cause of the reappearance—wicking or soiling.

How to Remove Reappearing Stains Caused By Residue Soiling

If you suspect the cause of the reappearing stain is due to soiling, which is caused by soapy residue left behind from the spot cleaner, there are a few steps you can take to remove the stain once and for all.

  1. Put Water on Stain

    Pour a small amount of lukewarm water on the spot.

    Tip

    The amount of water will depend on the size of the spot, but no more than 1/4 cup. This will hopefully help to rinse the residue out of the fibers.

    Lukewarm water added to soiled spot remover stain on carpet

    The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo

  2. Dry

    Place clean white towels over the spot, weighted by something heavy, and leave overnight. Dry the fibers as much as possible to prevent wicking.

How to Remove Reappearing Stains Caused By Wicking

If you don’t believe that the reappearance of the spot was caused by residue, then you may be dealing with wicking. Treat the spot as you normally would, and be sure to follow up with the final step of stacking towels and weights on the spot overnight. 

If the stain reappears again or if you are dealing with a much bigger spill, then the next step should be a professional carpet cleaning by hot water extraction. Again, be sure to choose a reputable company, and try to choose one that uses a truck-mounted unit (obviously, this is not an option if you live in an apartment or condo building). These units are more powerful than portable ones.

If Drastic Measures Are Required

If the problem continues to occur, then it may be time for more drastic measures: you may need to pull back your carpet to let the pad, and possibly subfloor, dry out. This is not too bad if your spill happens to be near a wall; obviously, it is a much bigger issue if your spill is in the middle of the room (which is, of course, where most spills happen).

Once you are certain everything is dry, including the subfloor, if necessary, you can then reinstall your carpet. If you had to pull up a large portion of your carpet, you may prefer to have a professional installer come to reinstall it to ensure a proper re-stretch of the carpet. After the carpet is installed, you can treat the stain again as you normally would.

Stained carpet pulled out to dry out subfloor

The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo

Additional Tips for Handling Carpet Stains

  • A good time to look for and get rid of stains is before your weekly carpet vacuuming.
  • Even if you plan to do an overall cleaning of the carpet, it is best to pretreat and remove visible stains. These usually require more time and treatment than simply removing overall soil.
  • If you find that your carpet is wet after cleaning, use fans to help it dry faster before wicking can occur.