Despite the wide variety of residential flooring products now available—laminate, bamboo, tile, vinyl, wood, stone, and cork—carpeting remains extremely popular. In fact, the carpet industry in the U.S. accounts for about 51 percent of the total flooring market, which created over $10 billion in revenue in 2019 alone, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
One reason that people love carpeting—besides its warmth and softness—is that it requires less maintenance and upkeep than hard-surface floors. Frequent vacuuming and an occasional deep-clean scrubbing is typically all that’s required to keep carpeting looking new and fresh.
However, despite your best efforts, sooner or later your carpet will become the victim of spills, splashes, messy accidents, and whatever you track in on the bottom of your shoes. To learn how carpet professionals handle these problems, Mark Tarbox, owner of Best Carpet Cleaning Experts in San Antonio, Texas, walks us through the process with tips gleaned from 30 years in the business.
Pro Tip 1: Blot Stains, Don’t Rub Them!
When a stain or spill first occurs, resist the urge to immediately start scrubbing. That’ll only drive the stain down into the carpet. Instead, gently dab stains with a cleaning solution and a clean cloth, paper towel, or sponge.
“The key is blotting. Blotting puts a small amount of pressure on the stain, so you can soak it up,” Tarbox says. “Rubbing causes the particles to get ground into the fibers, which can lead to the premature breakdown of those fibers.”
And always blot from the outer edge of the stain inward toward the center; blotting outward can spread the stain further across the carpet.
Pro Tip 2: Club Soda and Vinegar are Your Friends
You may have heard that you can use club soda to remove beer and wine stains from carpeting, which is true—if you use it correctly.
First, pour club soda onto a clean cloth and blot the stain. If the stain appears lighter, repeat with more club soda. If that doesn’t work, mix a one-to-one ratio of white vinegar and water, and pour it into a handheld spray bottle. “Spray the solution onto the stained area, then wait 10 or 15 minutes for it to soak in. Next, press a clean, dry sponge down onto the saturated area to soak up the cleaning solution and the diluted stain, too,” says Tarbox. Repeat this process, if necessary, until the entire stain is gone.
“Once you’ve removed the stain, rinse the spot with clean, warm water. Use your hand to brush the carpet strands into their natural direction. Finally, lay several white paper towels over the area and weigh them down with something heavy, like a phone book,” explains Tarbox.
The towels will absorb the dampness from the carpet; leave them in place until the carpet is dry, usually about one day.
Pro Tip 3: Try Shaving Cream
Tarbox says the best carpet cleaner for general stains is—believe it or not—ordinary shaving cream. “It will remove just about every type of stain. Apply the shaving cream directly to the stain and let it sit for about 30 minutes,” Tarbox says. Once the shaving cream has set, blot it up with a dry white cloth.
Finish by spraying the area with a 50/50 mix of white vinegar and water, and then wipe away the solution with a cloth.
Pro Tip 4: Dish Soap Cuts Grease
Greasy spills are some of the most difficult to remove from carpeting, but again, the secret is to use the proper product and technique: Place a few drops of grease cutting dish soap, such as Dawn, into a cup of warm water. Gently mix the solution to dissolve the soap.
“Pour the solution into a spray bottle and soak the greasy stain,” Tarbox says. “Then blot it up with a white cloth or paper towels.” Depending on the size and age of the stain, you may need to repeat this treatment multiple times.
Pro Tip 5: Freeze Chewing Gum
Here’s an all-too-familiar scenario: You step in chewing gum out on the street, but don’t realize it until you track that gross, sticky mess into the house and onto your carpeting. The trick to removing gum from carpeting can be found in your freezer.
“Grab a few ice cubes and press them against the gum for 30 to 45 seconds,” Tarbox suggests. Once the gum is frozen solid, use a spoon to lift up the glob, then use scissors or sharp knife to cut the carpet strands as close as possible to the gum. If you cut only a small amount of carpet, the spot will be undetectable.
Pro Tip 6: Heat Hardened Wax
Burning candles in the house can result in wax dripping onto the carpet, where it quickly hardens and becomes embedded in the fibers. Tarbox recommends heating the wax back to a semi-liquid state in order to remove it. Place a white cloth over a warm clothes iron (use the “no steam” setting). Then set the iron on top of the wax until it melts. Scrape off the softened wax with a butter knife or a comb.
Pro Tip 7: Hydrogen Peroxide to the Rescue
Few carpet stains are as obvious or unsightly as blood. But suffering a paper cut on your finger and getting a few drops on the carpet doesn’t mean your shag is permanently stained. “Hydrogen peroxide will get out blood all day long,” Tarbox says. First, loosen up dried blood with water mixed with a mild detergent. Then use a butter knife to scrape off as much blood from the fibers as possible.
To remove any residual blood, apply full-strength hydrogen peroxide directly to the stain. The solution will immediately start to foam and fizz when it contacts the blood so don’t be surprised. Wait a few minutes, then blot up the hydrogen peroxide and remaining blood with a white cotton cloth or paper towels.
Pro Tip 8: Comb out Crushed Candy
If you have kids in the house, sooner or later you’ll end with candy stuck in the carpet. “First try to scrape out the candy with a butter knife,” Tarbox suggests. Then, soak the area with a sponge dipped in water mixed with mild soap. “It’s important to get out all of the sugar, otherwise that spot on the carpet will attract dirt and debris more easily than the surrounding area,” says Tarbox.
Once the candy is removed, dry the spot by blotting it with a cotton cloth or paper towels.
Pro Tip 9: Clean Pet Accidents Organically
If you live with pets, it’s only a matter of time before one of them has an accident on the carpet. Tarbox prefers using organic cleaners, such as Eco-88 or ZorbX, rather than caustic chemicals. Spray the cleaner directly on the stain. “You’ll probably have to do some scrubbing to remove all the staining and odor,” Tarbox says, “but then wipe up the cleaner with a white cloth or paper towels.” Note that these nontoxic cleaners can also be used to remove other types of stains, including coffee and sauces.
Pro Tip 10: Deep Clean Regularly
The very best way to keep carpeting looking fresh and new is to deep-clean it regularly using a steam cleaner. Steam cleaning involves using a cleaning solution under pressure injected deep into the carpet via water-jet nozzles. And the machine will also extract the cleaning solution along with the dirt and debris in the carpet.
The hot water and steam penetrate the carpet fibers all the way down to the backing to loosen any embedded soil, dust, or greasy deposits. “The result is that your carpet will be cleaner than it has ever been,” Tarbox says. He recommends that a four-person household deep clean their carpeting every six months.
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