Despite your best efforts at cleanliness, your carpet will eventually become the victim of drops, spills, accidents, and whatever's on the bottom of your shoes. To learn how professionals handle problem areas and keep carpets looking new, we spoke with cleaning expert Mark Tarbox, the owner of Best Carpet Cleaning Experts in San Antonio, Texas, who has more than 30 years of experience.
Blot Stains, Don't Rub Them
Dab stains with a cleaning solution and a clean cloth, paper towels, or a sponge. "The key is blotting. Blotting puts a small amount of pressure on the stain to soak it up," Tarbox says. "Rubbing causes the particles to get ground into the carpet fibers, and this can lead to the premature breakdown of those fibers." Always blot from the outside of the stain inward, as blotting outward can spread the stain.
The Club Soda Process
You may have heard that club soda is effective against beer and wine stains. It's true—if you use it correctly.
Blot the area with the soda on a cloth. If that doesn't work, mix one part white vinegar with one part water and pour it into a handheld sprayer. Spray the solution on the entire stained area and let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes to soak in. Then press a clean sponge onto the area to soak up the solution and the stain. Tarbox says you may have to repeat this process to eradicate the stain.
Once the stain is gone, rinse the spot with warm water. Use your hand to brush the carpet strands into their natural direction. Finally, lay white paper towels over the area and weigh them down with something heavy, like a phone book. The towels will absorb the dampness from the carpet. Leave the towels in place until the carpet is dry, usually about one day.
Try Shaving Cream
Tarbox says the best carpet cleaner for general stains is ordinary shaving cream—"It will remove just about every type of stain." Apply the shaving cream directly to the stain and let it set for about 30 minutes, Tarbox says. Once the shaving cream has set, blot it away with a dry white cloth. Finish by spraying the area with one part vinegar mixed with one part water and then wiping away the solution with a cloth.
You step in chewing gum out on the street but don't realize it until you tracked that gross, sticky mess onto your carpet. To get it out, head to the freezer and grab a couple of ice cubes. "Freeze the gum with ice cubes for about 30 seconds." Tarbox said. Once the gum is frozen solid, use a spoon to lift up the glob and cut the strands of carpet as close to the gum as possible. If you cut only a small amount of carpet, the spot shouldn't be noticeable.
Dishwasher Detergent vs Grease
The best method against difficult-to-clean grease stains is to use a drop or two of a grease-cutting dishwashing detergent, such as Joy, in a cup of water. It'll cut through the grease in the carpet just the way it does on your dishes. "Put the solution in a spray bottle and spray it on the stain," Tarbox says. "Then blot it up." Again, you may need to do this multiple times for larger stains.
Burning candles in the house can result in wax dripping onto the carpet, where it quickly dries and gets embedded. Tarbox recommends heating it back up to remove it. Place a white cloth over your iron, then put the iron on top of the wax to warm it up. Finally, scrape off the wax with a butter knife.
"When you are done doing that, lay a paper towel over the surface area and iron on the paper," Tarbox said. "The wax is melting and binds to the paper, and the wax will be gone after a few more applications."
Important note: Don't use the iron this way for more than 30 seconds or you risk burning the carpet. And be sure to use a white cloth and white towels since colored ones can transfer the color onto the carpet when heated up, especially if you have a light-colored carpet.
Hydrogen Peroxide to the Rescue
Few carpet stains are as obvious as blood. But suffering a paper cut on your finger and getting a few drops on the carpet doesn't mean your shag is ruined.
"Hydrogen peroxide will get out blood all day long," Tarbox says. First, loosen up dried blood with water mixed with a mild detergent. Then scrape off as much blood from the fibers as you can. To get the remainder, apply hydrogen peroxide directly to the stain. The solution will immediately foam when it contacts the blood, so don't be surprised. Then dab the hydrogen peroxide with towels to dry the carpet.
Clean Pet Accidents Organically
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Even well-trained pets can have an accident on the carpet. Tarbox prefers organic cleaners, which can costs about $10 for a spray bottle, rather than using chemicals. Spray the cleaner at the strain. "Some scrubbing will be necessary," Tarbox says. Then wipe up the cleaner with a cloth or towels. Eco-Spot and similar cleaners can also be used to remove other types of stains, including coffee and sauces.
If you have kids in the house, it's only a matter of time before candy ends up in the carpet. "Try to scrape it with a spotter brush or a butter knife," Tarbox says. Then, using a sponge, apply water mixed with a mild soap. "It is important to get all of the sugar out of the area on the carpet," he points out. "Failure to do so will result in that area attracting dirt and debris easily." Once the candy is removed, dry the spot by blotting it with a cloth or towels.
Cleaning the carpet is essential to keeping it looking fresh and new. Steam cleaning involves using a cleaning solution under pressure injected deep into the carpet via water-jet nozzles. Then the machine extracts the solution along with the dirt and debris in the carpet. "The water will penetrate the fiber all the way down to the backing and loosen any embedded soil, remove oil and grease deposits, and get your carpet cleaner than it has ever been," Tarbox says. He recommends deep cleaning every six months for a family of four.