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Key Concepts for Spot-Cleaning

Blot

Trying to rub out a stain just pushes the spill into the pile and causes fibers to mat. Instead, blot up spills by covering the area with a clean towel or a thick pad of paper towels. Press down with the heel of your hand. Repeat using dry towels until all the liquid has been absorbed. If the spill is large, use a wet-dry vacuum (if available) to remove most of the material before blotting.

Soapy Water

Mix your own spot-cleaning solution by diluting a few drops of clear hand-dishwashing soap in water. (Laundry detergent is too alkaline, and creamy-looking hand-dishwashing soaps may leave a sticky residue.) Use less than 1/4 teaspoon per quart.

Rinse

To remove colored spills or spot-cleaning solutions, such as soapy water or vinegar, either mist the area with clean water, or blot it with a wet towel. Then blot area with a dry towel. Repeat these two steps until no more residue comes out. Do not rub, or the carpet fibers may become matted.

Removing Stains

Some commercial spot removers take off the protective coatings or break down dyes that are found on most carpets, but the remedies listed here do not. Note: Be sure to follow the instructions for spot-cleaning, “blot,” “soapy water,” and “rinse.”

Stain Type: Organic blood, berries, candy, chocolate, soft drinks/coffee, gravy, ice cream.

Cleaner: Hydrogen Peroxide bleaches these stains without breaking down carpet dyes.

Mix: Buy 3 percent solution at a drugstore and use full strength.

Technique: Scoop up solids with a spoon. Blot liquids. Rinse repeatedly. If stain persists, use soapy water, then rinse. Repeat. If improvement stops, dab on hydrogen peroxide. Wait one hour. Repeat as needed.

Mud: Allow spill to dry. Break off pieces and vacuum. Rinse with soapy water. Go to hydrogen peroxide if needed.

Stain Type: Alkaline cat urine, beer.

Cleaner: White Vinegar, a mild acid, neutralizes alkaline spills.

Mix: 1 cup white vinegar in 1 cup water.

Technique: Blot up spill and rinse. If stain persists, use soapy water, then rinse. Repeat until spot is gone; if stain persists, apply vinegar solution with a spray bottle or a saturated towel. Blot with a dry towel; rinse. If stain persists, repeat.

Stain Type: Acidic ketchup, cough syrup, mixed drinks, soy sauce, watercolor paint.

Cleaner: Ammonia, an alkali, neutralizes acidic spills.

Mix: 1 tablespoon in 1/2 cup water.

Note: Never use on wool; it can destroy the fibers. Instead, dilute spill with plain water.

Technique: Blot up liquid spills. Scrape off solids with a spoon or knife. Apply ammonia solution with a spray bottle or a saturated towel. Blot out excess with dry towel. Rinse. If stain persists, use soapy water and rinse. Repeat until improvement stops. If stain persists, use hydrogen peroxide. See instructions above.

Caution: Ammonia is toxic. Use good ventilation.

Stain Type: Oily/Waxy asphalt and tar, wax and crayon, metal polish, grease, hand lotion, ballpoint ink, makeup.

Cleaner: Rubbing Alcohol, a mild “dry-cleaner,” dissolves oily or waxy materials and is much safer than solvents in commercial spot removers.

Mix: Use full strength from bottle. Do not let it puddle; it may destroy the carpet backing.

Technique: Blot up or scrape off as much as possible (then, for wax, cover area with a brown paper towel, and transfer the wax by ironing on warm). Apply rubbing alcohol with a towel or cotton ball. For deep stains, blot with a clean towel, and repeat until towel remains clean. If spill is on the carpet tips, work material out by gently rubbing in one direction rather than blotting, which might drive the stain deeper. If stain persists, blot with soapy water and rinse; repeat. If needed, switch to hydrogen peroxide, as detailed above.

Stain Type: Chemically Reactive Acidic toilet-bowl cleaners, acne medication, lye-based drain cleaners, chlorine bleach, hair dye, iodine, insecticides, mustard with turmeric, plant fertilizers

Cleaner: Stain is permanent. For wall-to-wall carpet, call a professional to cut out the damaged area and patch with carpet from a closet or other hidden area. Alternatively, move furniture or set out pillows to cover stain. With area rugs, rotate so stain is in a less noticeable position.

Stain Type: Special Cases chewing gum, rust, nail polish

Technique: For chewing gum: Freeze with ice cubes. Break off bits, and pick them out. If that doesn’t work, go to a janitorial supply store for a spray that freezes gum instantly and allows you to chip it off. For rust: Apply soapy water. Rinse. Repeat until improvement stops. If stain persists, call a professional who will have access to more powerful cleaners. For nail polish: Dab on non-oily nail-polish remover with a cotton ball. Do not get it on carpet backing. Blot and repeat.

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