Carpet Stain Remover Buying Guide
Consumer Reports no longer updates this product category and maintains it for archival purposes only.
Spritz It To Blitz It
Spills happen. But when they land on carpet, things get tricky. There’s certainly no lack of cleaning options, including buying a carpet-cleaning machine, renting one, or hiring a pro. But sometimes you just need to clean up a few spots by hand.
To test carpet stain removers, we poured specific amounts of wine, coffee, spaghetti sauce, and French dressing on untreated nylon carpet panels. After two hours we blotted up what hadn’t been absorbed. The next day we worked in the removers.
What We Found
None of the cleaners removed all stains completely. Coffee and red wine tend to be tougher to remove because they immediately soak into carpet. Work quickly. Dried stains are harder to clean than fresh ones.
Try a wet/dry vacuum to lift the initial spill. Then apply the carpet stain remover and use the vacuum to suck up the cleaner and stain. Repeat as needed. That should improve the performance of the carpet stain removers.
Some stain removers and cleaning solutions for machines emit fumes, so be sure to open windows and run fans when cleaning. That is especially important if someone in your home has a respiratory problem such as asthma.
Shampoos and even plain water can temporarily or permanently alter the carpeting’s color; in some cases, the carpeting could shrink or widen. Take these simple steps to avoid problems:
With any kind of cleaner, test the fastness of the dye by dampening an inconspicuous area and seeing whether loose dye transfers onto a white paper towel. If so, rely on an expert to do the cleaning.
When you use any water-based treatment, avoid over-wetting. Never allow water to penetrate to the back of a rug. The backing may be damaged and the color may bleed through to the floor.
Remove as much furniture from the room as you can. You or the professional you hire should put a small piece of aluminum foil under any furniture legs that are in contact with the cleaned carpet to prevent staining. Leave the foil in place for one to two days or until the carpet is thoroughly dry.
Guide to Getting It Out
For removing tough stains, the faster you act, the better the results. Use a white paper towel or cloth to blot the spill until it’s dry, or gently scrape semi-solids. Scrubbing can damage carpet. And never apply heat, as it causes a stain to set.
Test any stain remover or cleaning solution on an inconspicuous area. If no color change occurs, start by working from the edge of the stain toward its center. Apply a small amount of remover to a white paper towel or cloth and blot. Repeat with clean towels until no more stain transfers onto the cloth. Then blot with water to remove the solution, and blot again. Or use a wet/dry vacuum to suck up the spill and stain remover.
For fresh blood, blot carpet with cold water or 3 percent hydrogen peroxide. If blood is dried, blot with peroxide then try an enzyme laundry detergent solution. Make the solution by following the directions on the package.
Blot up excess wet latex paint and then blot with a detergent solution of 1 teaspoon mild clear or white dishwashing liquid mixed in 1 cup warm water. If stain persists, try a solution of 1 tablespoon ammonia mixed with 1/2 cup water. For dried paint, try denatured alcohol to soften it. For oil-based paints, blot wet paint with paint thinner. If stain remains, try a cleaning solvent and then the detergent solution. For dried paint, try a paint-oil-grease remover.
If you don’t have an enzyme-based pet stain product, blot a fresh stain with ammonia solution. If stain remains, try detergent solution. Then blot with warm water. For a set stain, use a solution of 1/3 cup vinegar and 2/3 cup water, then detergent solution, then water.
Carpet Types and How They Clean Up
The kind of carpeting you choose can affect how easy it is to clean. Here are some things to consider when you purchase your next carpet.
The deeper and thicker the pile in your carpet, the more likely it is to retain dirt once the dirt sinks below the surface. But threads and lint can stay on "top" where they can be very visible.
Short, densely spaced loops, with both ends attached to the backing, create a surface that is fairly easy to vacuum because there aren’t crevices for dirt to sink into.
This is a type of level-loop carpet made with a thick yarn, which creates harder-to-vacuum "hills and valleys."
The varying long and short loops of these carpets can make them difficult to clean. The low loops create pockets that break vacuum-cleaner suction and can make it harder to remove any dirt that has accumulated.