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Many times we are called by homeowners who have tried to clean their carpet and upholstery by themselves. There are ads out there for products or rental equipment that claim to have the same results as professional cleaning services at a fraction of the cost. These ads never mention how complicated carpet cleaning and stain removal can be. The type of fabric, how that fabric has been treated and the type of stain change what is required by the cleaning. For instance, one wouldn’t treat a nylon carpet with a wine stain the same way as a wool rug with pet stains.

Here are some of the most common misunderstandings and mistakes that we see:

Stains vs Spots

When a stain is set it becomes chemically bonded to the fabric. A spot is merely a discoloration that may be able to be removed. It is critical to keep a spot from becoming a stain.

We often get calls from homeowners who have tried to clean spots and have made them into stains. Some people first reaction to a spill on a carpet is to get hot water on a towel and wash it. That is oftentimes the worst action possible as the heat will set the stain. A Rug Doctor or similar product will send hot water into the spot, therefore turning it to a stain. The proper method would be to blot it and treat it with the appropriate spot remover to neutralize the substance before removing it with water. Once the stain is set, there is very little that can be done.

After a spill other people will panic and immediately douse the spot with detergent which may only increase its staining ability depending on the stain and the detergent. If your carpet is treated with Scotchgard however, substances that usually stain, such as wine and blueberries are prevented from interacting with the carpet. Those substances can be blotted up with a sponge or a towel.

Natural vs. Synthetic Fibers

Most organic spots are most easily removed by applying alkaline detergents. Those detergents break down the acidic spots so they can be rinsed away with water. A lot of off the shelf products are simply powerful detergents and they won’t have a negative effect on synthetic carpet (in the short term. After a while they will break down the carpet backing). However on a natural fiber such as wool, cotton or jute, the detergent will alter the natural pH and turn the carpet or fabric brown. Some of that discoloration can be removed with an acid rinse but not always.

In natural fibers there are often water soluble dyes. With a heavy clean from a rented steam cleaner, those dyes will be removed and the color will be washed out.

Over-use of detergent

When a homeowner is cleaning a spot, many times they think: “Hey, a little of this detergent is somewhat affective, I bet a whole lot of detergent will be way more affective!” So they go ahead and dump the bottle of whatever they bought right on the stain. That will do two things. Firstly, it could damage the fiber and break down any glues or adhesives in the backing. When that happens, the threads and fibers will soon fall out. Secondly, soap attracts dirt so the treated spot will get dirty more quickly and the constant wear on the fibers will dull and age the carpet or upholstery. It is important to note as well that some off the shelf products will void any warrantee on the carpet or upholstery fabric.


Many hardware stores and home retailers will sell a “magical” product that can remove any stain. Just blot it on and the stain will disappear. Actually what is happening is the “magical” product is a surfactant which is a type of chemical that simply alters how light is reflected off of carpet. The stain will appear as if it is gone but in reality, the carpet isn’t getting it any cleaner. As soon as the spot gets wet or the surfactant is washed or worn away, the spot will become visible again.

The Solution

Healthy carpets that are clear of dirt, oils and grime will remain attractive and last much longer than those that have been soaked in detergent and attract dirt which wears on its fibers. The only way to have clean and healthy carpets is to have them periodically cleaned by a professional with professional equipment and products. Truck mounted hot water extraction units remove detergents and dirt leaving only the original manufactured fibers. You carpet is healthy, free off pollutants and should look great for many years to come.

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