Cleaning & Restoration Tools and Gadgets / Carpet/Rug/Upholstery Cleaning

Stain Removal: Simplified, Not Mystified

June 15, 2014

In my early certification training classes I was taught that if I first applied a VDS (volatile dry solvent) to an unknown stain and then followed that up with a NVDS (non-volatile dry solvent) if it responded but needed more oomph, but then had to rinse again with a VDS. Unless of course it wasn’t coming out, then I should follow with an NDS (neutral detergent solution), but if that didn’t work go stronger with an ADS (alkaline detergent solution) and then neutralize with an acid.


The sad part is I think I actually understand what I just said. I went on to teach these types of techniques to thousands of professionals over the years.

OK, hold on because what I’m about to suggest is arguable. In fact, it just well may be controversial. What has been taught for at least the past 30 years and is still taught in our carpet cleaning certification classes today is outdated, confusing and complicated.

In case you haven’t guessed, I want to talk about spot and stain removal chemistry as it applies to carpet. Upholstery stain removal is essentially the same, but some special consideration needs to be taken so we will leave that for another day. I spend about 25% of my time working with the chemist and playing in the lab developing new and better chemistry for our industry. I love what we can now do with 21st Century chemistry but I don’t love complicated old fashioned systems that use a bunch of acronyms to make your professional life tougher.   

The modern day, 21st century spot and stain removal kit can consist of 7 products that will remove 99.5% of the stains found in carpet. Today, most professional kits have 10 to 12 chemical agents and even then they may not contain necessary specialty products like a reducer and an oxidizer. 

I taught for years that if I had an ink-based stain I had better apply a NVDS (non-volatile dry solvent) spotter like a P.O.G. first. If I applied a volatile solvent first, then I risked the chance of dissolving and removing the resin that surrounds the colored pigment. If the resin was removed and the pigment no help in suspension then the pigment would permanently stain the carpet. However, I was also taught that on unknown stains I should apply a VDS (volatile dry solvent) first – but what if it turned out to be ink?

So what if you had one product that you could try on any stain without it causing issues? When I sat down with our chemist that was our goal – to develop a water-based product containing green, safe solvents that would not set oil-based stains like paint, cosmetics or inks but actually aid in their removal. If it didn’t remove the stain completely, we would develop the ultimate solvent-based spotter to get out those tough enamel-based paints etc.  

Modern technology makes stain removal simple for everyone. One spotter to try first which gets most everything out but for those unique and stubborn stains, back up spotters may be necessary. Here is a list of my 7 chemical stain removers your kit should have:

1. Water/solvent-based “do just about everything” spotter stain remover: This type of product is lightly alkaline and will work on most oil-based, water-based and food spills. It will also work on protein stains like blood. It is your first use, attack spotter. It rinses freely with water.

2. Extreme, gelled solvent spotter: This is not extreme in the sense that it will melt the skin off your hands, but in the effect it will have on a wide variety of oil-based stains. For fingernail polish, paint or even permanent marker, this product will remove it. It will freely rinse with water or the spotter described above.

3. Rust Remover: Used on rust and other stains that respond to a potent acid-based product.

4. Gelled delimonene-based solvent: Best product for chewing gum and adhesives. The gel keeps the spotter working on the gum and not running into the backing.

5. One part oxidizing stain remover: Urine stains, and other organic stains such as coffee, or wood stain, require an oxidizing product. Also used as a final application for other residual stains.

6. One part reducing stain remover: Typically called a “red stain remover,” this is designed to remove synthetic dyes like cherry Kool Aid® stains. 

7. Mild acid-based encapsulate: Used where a mild acid spotter might be required. Neutralizes alkaline residue. Applied after all spotting procedures to prevent wick back of soils and staining material that could wick up from the backing. An essential product for every spotting kit.

 I recommend that all professional carpet cleaners prepare themselves with the best stain removers available and practice with them. Look to your distributor to supply you with products that have been developed or improved in the last four or five years so you will have the latest technology. Get some carpet pieces and stain them with all manner of tricky stuff and then go to work on them. You’ll love the process and it will give you additional confidence on your jobs.  

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