Professional Spot and Stain Removal Procedures


The standard of measurement of your entire cleaning ability can all come down to a tiny spot on the carpet.

And even if the result of your cleaning is, in your opinion, a successful cleaning job, and you are able to remove all spots or stains, one or more can reoccur and result in a complaint and an unhappy customer.

The first order of business with proper spot or stain removal is to identify the substance in the carpet.

Of course, the easiest way to identify the spot or stain can be by asking the customer. This doesn’t mean the customer will be right, but they most likely will have a good idea of what the cause might have been.

Procedures that can best determine the content of a spot or stain include:

  • Analyzing the location, remembering that different rooms often have different types of spots or stains.
  • Analyzing the appearance of the spot or stain: A “shiny” appearance often means the spot or stain is synthetic, and a “dull” appearance often means it is organic.
  • Testing the spot or stain for a pH reading, as this can help classify the substance.
  • Using a pocket microscope to determine if the material is in the fiber or if it is on the fiber, because a stain will be inside the fiber and much more difficult to remove than a spot, which is typically coating the outside of the fiber.
  • Identifying the odor of the spot or stain, which can be done by wetting the area, blotting it with a towel and then detecting the odor.

After you ID the substance

After you identify the spot or stain, you need to determine the class of chemical needed to remove the substance.

In general terms, use the following guidelines:

  • If the spot or stain is petroleum-based or solvent-soluble — inks, oils, greases, adhesives, paints, etc. — use a dry solvent spotter — included in this class are gel solvents
  • If the spot or stain can be determined to have a specific pH and/or you find it to be a water-soluble spot or stain, you can use the proper water-based cleaning agent to neutralize the spot or stain
  • If you have a synthetic stain — manmade, such as red dyes, candy or food, etc. — use a reducing agent
  • If the stain is natural or organic — coffee, tea, condiments, mustard, etc. — use an oxidizing agent
  • If the spot or stain is protein — vomit, feces, blood, etc. — use a protein digester.

Remember that these are guidelines, and that use of one or even two of these on a specific spot or stain might be best.

Coffee or tea, for instance, typically requires an acid-based agent to dissolve the natural tannins, but then an oxidizing or reducing agent — depending on the type of coffee or tea, such as decaffeinated or herbal — may be necessary to remove any remaining stain.

The physical removal

After determining the identity of the spot or stain and the proper chemistry needed for removal, follow these physical steps:

  • Remove contamination by blotting or vacuuming.
  • If sources are unknown, start with a dry solvent spotter and then move to a wet solvent spotter.
  • Use small amounts of spotting solution — flip-top bottles work well in controlling amount of solution.
  • Be careful when working cleaning solution into the fiber, as you do not want to add moisture to the base of the carpet or the cushion where it can wick back and cause a recurring spot.
  • Use a tamping brush and towel; be careful of aggressive agitation as it can damage the fibers.
  • Work from the outside in to keep spots or stains from spreading.

Be sure to have plenty of blotting material — cotton towels, for example — or a vacuum capable of pulling moisture from the fabric.

Add heat to the spot or stain when needed. This activates the chemical and makes it work faster — but be careful of some spots or stains, such as protein-based varieties, as excessive heat can set the protein matter permanently, or at the very least, make it more difficult to remove.

It”s safer to use steam, such as from a wallpaper steamer. You can also add safer heat by putting a hot water bottle or a bucket of hot water on a damp towel on top of the stain.

Remember that dry solvents work much faster than wet solvents. Be sure to ventilate adequately when using dry solvents.

Jeff Cross is the executive editor of Cleanfax and an industry trainer and consultant, and offers carpet cleaning marketing, disaster restoration marketing and contract cleaning marketing seminars and classes through Totally Booked University, and also IICRC technical training for carpet and furniture cleaning, spot and stain removal and carpet color repair.


Jeff Cross

Jeff Cross is the ISSA media director, with publications that include Cleaning & Maintenance Management, ISSA Today, and Cleanfax magazines. He is the previous owner of a successful cleaning and restoration firm. He also works as a trainer and consultant for business owners, managers, and front-line technicians. He can be reached at [email protected].

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