Got Carpet Stains?

Put the OxiClean down and step away from the coffee spill. Unless you want that carpet or sofa permanently stained, there are a few things you should understand about fabrics and how they react to different liquids.

“There are so many different fabrics, so many different solutions and problems you can run into,” says Alec Houle, a carpet and upholstery cleaner in the Boston area who’s been removing stains for 50 years. “You need a real strong background in chemistry to understand it. If you don’t understand it, you’re going to get in hot water.”

Speaking of which, hot water is something you don’t want to put on a spill. In fact, apart from club soda, Houle doesn’t recommend putting anything on a spill. Sure, vinegar solutions and other natural cleansers do the job for small spots on rental carpets and thrift store finds you’ve been meaning to reupholster, but when you’re dealing with your favorite — and expensive — sofa or rug, you don’t want to take any chances.

Most spills are acid based. Coffee, tea, wine, salsa, juice, even pet vomit are all acidic and have the ability to set the color of the stain right into cotton, synthetic and other natural fibers. “Very few fibers are acid resistant, even with protective finishes such as Scotchgard,” Houle says. “The protective finishes will only allow the consumer a little more time to react to a stain before it becomes permanent.”

The worst carpet for acidic spills? Nylon, which is 60 to 70 percent of the carpets sold, says Houle. A chemical agent added to nylon carpets helps them receive acid dyes. Without it, colors fade quickly. Great if you like bright colors; bad if you have a tendency to knock over glasses of red wine. If you spill something acidic on a carpet that’s designed to accept acids, you’ve got a big problem on your hands and you’ll need to act fast.
Red wine spill
For an acid-based spill on carpet or upholstery, the best solution is to immediately neutralize the spot with club soda. Then don’t do anything. From there you’re best off calling in a pro to finish the job. Houle says once you put club soda on the spill and let it dry, it can sit there for months as long as the spot doesn’t get resaturated. “Wetting it activates the pH and makes it acidic again. It brings the stain back to life, so to speak.”
An experienced upholstery cleaner will have up to a hundred cleaning solutions to combat various stains on various fabrics. But once you start dumping supermarket cleansers or homemade solutions and blotting, wiping and drying, it reduces the professional’s likelihood of completely removing a spot.

Now what to do with nonacidic spills: Nothing. Two common problems with non-acidic stains are ballpoint pens and nail polish. Houle says a carpet and upholstery cleaning professional has a 95 percent chance of removing an ink line on upholstery as long as nothing was done to it. “If you put anything on it, even just dab it, there’s only a 5 percent chance it can be removed,” he says.

For an entire inkblot, no such luck. It’s just too much ink. “It could be a 1/16 of an inch blot, and you would not believe how much ink that is,” he says. “As soon as you try to clean it, it spreads and ends up being a 3-inch blue stain.”

There is that age-old question that has perturbed us all at one point. Why do stains reappear on carpet after they’ve been cleaned? Oftentimes when you clean a carpet stain, you’re removing only the top stain from the fibers. If a liquid has penetrated the carpet backing, then a process called wicking occurs, during which the stain rises through the fibers again. (Think of a kerosene lantern wick.) This can occur within days of cleaning, so it looks like the stain has simply reappeared. Sometimes up to three cleans are needed once a week to remove the whole stain.

Sugary spills sometimes hold hidden secrets, too. A spilled can of Sprite or ginger ale seems innocent and manageable enough. It’s relatively clear, after all. But if it’s not completely removed from the carpet backing, the sugars will wick to the surface fibers and attract soil over time. In two weeks or a month, you could have a large, dark area where you spilled that soda.



About hemphillbrett
Floorcovering specialist

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