Carpet and Rug Stains – Cleaning Tips

Originally Published 2007

Mr. Griffin is president of Cleaning Consultant Services, Inc., located in Seattle WA. His specialty is assisting others in the process of cutting costs while improving quality.

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Removal of spots and stains is critical to the overall appearance of every carpeted area. The most effective approach is to remove spots and spills as soon as they are noticed. The longer you wait the less likely you’ll be able to clean up the mess and completely remove the spot.

With a tile floor it’s a simple matter. Wipe up the spill and your work is done. With carpeting it’s a different story. Wait too long and you may have a permanent stain. Rub or scrub too hard and you’ll change the texture of the face fibers. Use the wrong chemical and you could change the color, melt the fibers or destroy the latex adhesive that holds the carpet together. And this is just a sampling of what can happen when a well meaning but inexperienced or untrained custodian attempts to remove spots from carpet.


-Get to the spill fast. Most spills can be completely removed if you begin the removal process before they dry.

-Remove the excess. If it’s dry use a vacuum hose. If it’s wet, use a wet vacuum hose. If it’s something like mud that has dried, gently scrape the surface to break it up and then use the vacuum hose to remove as much as you can while dry, before you begin the wet cleaning process. Water plus soil makes mud, which is more difficult to remove than dry soil.

-Don’t over wet. Mist or spray on a small amount of water or water based general-purpose carpet spotter. Work an area the size of a quarter first; see if the chemical is working to remove the spot. If it works, expand the size of the area you’re working. If not, try a solvent based spotter. Blot with a dry clean cloth to remove soil and spotter; for large spots use a wet vacuum for removal.


  • Remove the excess, scrape, blot or vacuum.
  • Test the spotting chemical and blot. If the color doesn’t come out and the fiber doesn’t melt, continue.
  • Apply the spotter; mist on a small amount. Be careful, don’t over wet.
  • Gently massage the fibers in a circle, toward the center of the spot.
  • Allow dwell time (30 seconds) to let the chemical work.
  • Blot to remove with a dry cloth. Do not rub or scrub.
  • Inspect the rag to see if it’s working. If it is, the spot will be on the rag.
  • If it is working, continue the process. You may have to repeat the process several times to completely remove the spot.
  • If it’s not working, try a dry solvent chemical and repeat the process. If this works, continue. If not, go to 10.
  • Try a specialized carpet spotting chemical.
  • If it works, continue. If it doesn’t work.
  • STOP. It’s a permanent stain. Continuing will only make it worse. As a professional cleaner you must also know when to STOP.

Keep in mind that not all spots are removable without damage to the face fiber, which may cause a visible change in the appearance, texture or color of the carpet. That’s what we call a permanent stain. You can’t remove it chemically. Although a sharp razor blade is still an option, you had better check with your supervisor before you start cutting holes in the carpet.

COMMON SPOTS: Let’s look at some common spots found in facilities and what can be used in an attempt to remove them.

  • INK: Very difficult to remove; chances of compete removal are slim.
  • VOMIT: Use a shampoo type spotter and finish with an enzyme spotter and finally apply a deodorant. This is a body fluid. WEAR YOUR GLOVES.
  • BLOOD: Wear RUBBER gloves. This is a body fluid. Don’t wet vacuum. Use cold water and blot. This is for a small spot less than two inches in diameter. For large spots, call a professional cleaning service or replace the carpet.
  • RUST: Use a specialty product. Be careful; most are dangerous acid based products. Wear your gloves.
  • GUM: Use a freeze type or natural solvent gum remover. (Editor’s Note: -Or, Healthy Clean Building’s ‘RID-A-GUM’)
  • GLITTER: Use a vacuum or a sticky roller.
  • KOOL AID OR FRUIT PUNCH: Use a specialty type spotter, generally a dye transfer product that uses steam or heat.
  • COKE: Use a general-purpose spotter and follow with an enzyme spotter.
  • COFFEE: Use a mild acid like white vinegar or a specialty spotter for removing tannin type stains. These are slow, so be patient.
  • URINE: Rinse with water, white vinegar and then blot dry.
  • COSMETICS: Blot with a solvent based spotter.


  • Snags: Cut the yarn off level with the surface. Do not pull. It won’t go away.
  • Seams: Reseal with hot melt glue gun. Don’t over apply the glue. Trim off any yarns that may snag in the vacuum cleaner.
  • Cigarette burns: Trim off the black part and glue in some fuzz or new yarn with a hot melt glue gun.


  • Wear: Cleaning may improve the appearance, but wear is permanent.
  • Matting and crushing: Cleaning may improve the appearance, but matting is permanent.
  • Traffic lanes: Apply a traffic lane cleaner and brush in before cleaning. For the best results allow the chemical to dwell five to seven minutes before you begin the cleaning process.
  • Color Loss: You may be able to spot dye a small area. Check out an art supply store for a wide selection of colored felt markers.

ODORS: You have to find the source and remove it. If not, all you can hope to do is mask the odor with an odor that smells better. Use your nose, it’s the best tool available. Once you find the source, use a spotter to clean the area and then apply a deodorizer to neutralize the odor so it doesn’t return.

No guarantees here. It depends on what you’re trying to remove, how much there is of it, what it’s on or in, how far it has sunk in and how long it has been there.


Commercial spotting kits: Generally overkill and a waste of money.

General Purpose Spotter: Every custodian should have this type of product and be trained in its proper use. (Editor’s Note: Healthy Clean Building’s Favorite is ‘H2ORANGE2′ # 117’ Concentrate

A Natural Solvent Based Spotter: A citrus-based solvent is most common. Do not over apply, a couple of drops will do. Wear your gloves.

Mini Wet Vacuum: Most hardware stores sell a one-gallon wet vacuum for under $60.00 that is ideal for carpet spotting and many small cleaning jobs around your facility.

White wash cloths or face towels: These are best for carpet spotting.

A sharp razor blade scraper: Great for trimming snags and tufts that are above the surface. Do not pull snags; cut them off level with the surface. Be careful with bladesblood as it is also difficult to remove.


Daily removal of spots is required. If you wait, the spot may become permanent, and shortly, you’ll have too many spots to do in a short time period. Stay on top of carpet spotting in your assigned area. Keep a general-purpose spotter handy and the tools you need. Set aside some time each day for spot removal, or remove them as you complete your regular room cleaning.

Some spots will come back through a wicking action. Repeat the spot removal process and place a towel and a book over them. If this doesn’t work, wipe the yarn tips with a clear dry solvent or try the same with a general-purpose spotter. Spray the spotter on the rag, not on the carpet, to avoid over wetting that may be causing wicking.


You’re a facilities professional,… not a magician. Not all spots will come out. Some are permanent stains. It’s important to know the difference.

Follow the procedures and tips above and stop before you cause damage.

Continue your training. There is a lot more to spotting than I could cover in this short article, but at least you have the basics. Start by spotting a small area the size of a quarter. This will keep you out of trouble and save you time. Applying more of a product that is not working will not remove the spot. Test, Test, Test. It’s the safe and professional approach. Good luck, good spotting and keep it clean.