How to Remove Rug Stains, According to a Professional Carpet Cleaner

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It’s now spring, which means it’s nearly the season of cleaning and organization. There’s something particularly alarming about emerging from the winter doldrums to find that your home is a dusty, cluttered mess. To help you (and us) with sprucing up and restoring order, we’re talking to professionals and experts this week all about the best tricks and tools.

If you’re wondering if it’s maybe time to give your area rug or wall-to-wall carpet a deep-clean, or hire home carpet cleaners, it’s probably too late. “The biggest problem that we have in the industry is that people don’t clean, period,” says Paul Iskyan, president of ABC Rug & Carpet Cleaning Service, the only professional carpet cleaners affiliated with ABC Carpet & Home. “And then they don’t clean frequently enough, then they wonder why their carpet doesn’t look good, or they wonder why their kid is at the doctor with big allergy problems.”

According to Iskyan, you should be getting your area rugs professionally cleaned every year or two, especially if it’s in a high-traffic area like a living room or if you have pets or kids. And for these big, intensive cleans, you’re better off hiring a professional who takes the rug out of the house and into a carpet-cleaning facility. There, they beat out the excess dirt that’s stuck deep in between the fibers with high-powered machines, things you can’t reach even with the most high-powered vacuum.

They then properly soak, lather, and rinse the rug. “If we took a 9-by-12 rug and we cleaned it in the factory, we would use hundreds of gallons of water. If we took a 9-by-12 wall-to-wall carpet and cleaned it in the home, we would put two gallons of water in and extract out about a gallon and a half,” Iskyan explains. “It’s almost like someone washing their hair in the shower, versus someone taking one of those spray bottles when their hair is dry and just buff it up a little bit.”

Those regular, professional cleaning sessions can do wonders for keeping your carpet or rug dust-free and looking nice. But that doesn’t mean you should let your rug sit there collecting dirt and stains in the interim. There are a few things you can do to keep carpets clean like a professional carpet cleaner, including investing in a good vacuum and learning how to deal with spills before they become stains. Below, some tips from Iskyan about what carpet spot cleaners and carpet-cleaning tools a responsible rug-owner should keep at home, just in case.

(One quick disclaimer: Though these tips are good for “98 percent of the rugs and carpets in homes,” according to Iskyan, including short-pile rugs, shag carpets, or synthetic fibers, you “always want to test for color fastness” before applying any sort of new cleaners.)

The easiest way to keep your carpet or rug clean is to vacuum regularly because, as Iskyan explains, most of the dirt that can damage your rug can be removed just by vacuuming regularly. But that also means regularly maintaining your vacuum cleaner. “You actually change the filter bag,” says Iskyan. “We occasionally go into a customer’s home, and they say, ‘Oh, I’m having a problem with allergies.’ And we look at the vacuum-cleaner bag, and it’s blowing up, it’s so old, and there’s so much dust and dirt in it.” That’s one reason why Iskyan prefers vacuums with clear bodies, like Dysons, where you can see the dust building up. “If it’s a paper bag inside the canvas bag, you don’t change [the filter] because you don’t see it,” he says. “If you see it, you change it.”

If you do spill something on your rug (because you’re human, and accidents happen), the first step is to blot up any excess liquid with a white towel as quickly as possible. “Blot it up as much as you can. Then you just want to blot it up and eventually call for help if you can’t get it out.” Of course, Iskyan notes, “if it’s something more solid like mayonnaise or ketchup, you want to scrape it up first; you don’t want to spread it.” You should also use a clean, dry white towel to blot up any excess cleaner you might apply to the problem area.

Once the spill has been blotted up, don’t run back to the kitchen and grab a bottle of whatever all-purpose cleaner you have. “What you don’t want to do is start attacking stains with those types of products, because you can permanently set them and actually damage the fibers,” says Iskyan. Instead, he recommends keeping a “neutral spotter” on hand, which is more often referred to as a carpet or stain spotter. It’s a carpet-specific cleaner with a neutral pH, which means it’s not going to be tough on the fibers or damage the dye. “The homeowner can’t make a mistake if they go a little too strong on it; they’re not going to hurt something or hurt themselves. And if a young child were to get into it in the home, it’s not going to hurt the child.” But it’s effective at removing the signs of even the toughest spills, including nail polish or blood or vomit, if it comes to that.

All you have to do is spray the spotter onto the spill, and move the product around with a white towel until the stain lifts. Iskyan’s company sells a spotting kit that includes a neutral spotter, but if you just want a bottle of spotter, Folex is a readily shipped option. It’s water-based and nonionic, meaning it has neither a positive nor negative charge, and therefore won’t attract more dirt to the area, and though it starts off with a slightly basic pH in the bottle, it becomes more acidic — and therefore more neutral in composition — when it’s applied to a stain.

Taking soap to stains on your carpet is also a less-than-ideal way to deal with pet stains and the like, especially if you don’t rinse it out fully. “Soap is stupid, soap doesn’t know what to do. All soap wants to do is attach itself to dirt,” Iskyan explains. “If you leave it, it will attract dirt faster.” A good alternative to using straight hand soap or detergent — or if you need something that you can get from the grocery store now, unlike a spotter — is Woolite. Just be sure you dilute it; the ratio Iskyan recommends is a teaspoon of Woolite to a cup of warm water. With this mix, you can tackle things like grass stains, urine stains, wine stains, and coffee stains. Just be sure to dry it fully so that soap itself doesn’t become a dirt magnet. “Get a hair dryer out, in case they over-wet it. It’s not hard to do.”

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How to Remove Rug Stains, According to a Pro Carpet Cleaner