You just received the dreaded call. Spots have reappeared following your recent cleaning job. How do you solve this problem?

In last month’s article, I discussed the common causes of reappearing spots and how to explain these problems to consumers.

These are usually booby traps you did not cause and had no reason to anticipate. In most cases, solving the problem for the consumer at no additional charge is the fastest and easiest way to keep a satisfied customer.

Even though this is inconvenient, it is a part of what customers expect from their cleaner.

Diagnose the problem

A thorough investigation is required to determine the cause of the returning spot. Something unusual has occurred to this area of the carpet.

Ask questions: Does the customer have any idea what caused the original spot and what was done to fix it? Did the spot reappear within 24 hours of the cleaning or did it gradually appear over a period of days?

If the spot appeared immediately, it is an indication of something wicking to the surface during the drying process. If it returned gradually, dirt is probably being attracted to a sticky residue that was not completely removed during the cleaning.

It’s important to perform a physical inspection. The more clues you find, the easier it is to determine the cause of the problem.

carpet spotLook closely at the visible soil. Separate the yarns and look for where soil is present. Is it at the base of the yarns and wicking to the top, or is the soil only visible on the tips of the fiber? If there is soil at the base, it needs to be removed in order to eliminate the problem. Soil on the tips only is an indication that something sticky is still on the fiber attracting soil.

Does the area have a different texture? Run your hand over the spot… can you sense a change in the feel? Does it feel stiff or sticky? Look for a way to remove this residue.

Check to see if the spot will foam. Add water to the spot and agitate. If foam is created this spot is probably the result of a spot cleaning solution that is not removed with standard cleaning procedures.

Does the dampened spot have an odor which could help determine the cause?

Perform a pH test. If the spot has a different pH from the surrounding area, it will need to be neutralized.

Common solutions

Most reappearing spot problems can be resolved. Here are some specific steps you can take to ensure success.

Removing spot cleaning residue

Some soap and detergent residues from improper spot cleaning attempts often is not removed during standard cleaning procedures. An acidic fabric rinse is usually needed to remove it.

To solve this problem, saturate the area with the rinse solution and then extract. Repeat this process until foaming no longer appears when the spot is agitated. The use of cold water helps reduce foaming.

If a large quantity of soap is in the carpet, defoamer may be required to ensure your equipment continues to function properly. Never work defoamer into the carpet yarns; defoamer is intended to neutralize foam in your extraction equipment, not on the carpet.

Spills in the carpet backing/pad

Some spills, such as urine or oil, can deeply penetrate the carpet backing and pad. The source of the spots is below the reach of standard cleaning procedures. These spots can continue wicking to the surface, causing the fibers to become sticky, resulting in soil being attracted to the area.

To resolve this situation, the original spill needs to be extracted from the carpet backing and/or pad.

Urine re-soiling can often be treated from the surface. There is a risk to damaging the sub-floor in the process, since the pad will be saturated with a water-based solution during this restoration process. Discuss this risk with the consumer before proceeding.

Saturate the carpet and pad with a urine pre-treatment solution, followed by a deep extraction, using a sub-surface extraction tool. A thorough rinsing should remove enough of the urine from the carpet backing and pad to eliminate the re-soiling issue.

For a significant oil spill, resulting from something such as an oil lamp or a large amount of salad oil, the above process used to remove urine can be applied, but using a degreaser instead of urine pre-treatment.

You may choose an alternative approach. An absorbent compound can be used for smaller oil spills or when saturating the pad with water is not an option.

To do this, thoroughly re-clean the area and then apply an absorbent compound, such as diatomaceous earth. Work the compound in between the carpet yarns and then pack the carpet with a one-fourth inch layer of the absorbent compound. Allow it to remain on the carpet for at least 48 hours. Remove the absorbent compound with a dry vacuuming. If the re-soiling continues, repeat this process.

Large, dry-soil wicking

There are situations when the soil at the base of the carpet is impractical to remove due to the amount of soil, size of problem area or the density of the carpet. Dry-soil wicking is triggered when water, used for cleaning, draws some of the soil to the tips of the fibers during the drying process.

This wicking only occurs when the soil at the base of the carpet gets wet. It can be easier to deal with the wicking symptom each time the carpet is wet cleaned, than to eliminate the cause. Anti-wicking or encapsulating cleaning solutions can often prevent the soil from wicking.

Another approach is to return after each wet cleaning to remove the soil that wicked to the surface. A light cleaning with a dampened towel or spin bonnet cleaning can remove wicking soils from the tips of the fibers.

The professional approach

Knowing how to deal with reappearing spots is important.

Determining the cause, explaining the situation to the consumer and solving the problem are vital skills a cleaning professional must have.

The cleaner who develops these skills will not be fearful of getting after-cleaning feedback from customers.

Steve Marsh is the creator of the Be Competition Free Marketing Program. He is a 30-year veteran of the carpet cleaning industry, an IICRC-approved instructor and a Senior Carpet Inspector. Marsh is a marketing and business consultant who provides a turn-key program for attracting better customers. For more information, log on to