ICS Magazine

Identifying and Correcting Stains, Spots & Soils

July 12, 2001


Educating your customer on the differences between stains, spots and soils, and taking the correct path of action, will raise their confidence level and your bottom line.

While cleaning carpet for a residential customer last week, her father who was visiting made the statement that “they” are trying to put carpet cleaners out of business since “they” now have carpets that are stain proof! Since all of the carpets in this house are polypropylene/olefin, which is generally considered “stain proof,” I responded that I was aware of this type of carpet and that the carpet I was cleaning was considered “stain proof.” “That can’t be,” replied the daughter. “This carpet gets spots all of the time and it gets real dirty,” she said.

One role that will befall every cleaner at some points in their career is the role of educator. A little education from me resulted in two customers that understood a little better what to expect from their carpet. They also realized that there is more to this “carpet cleaning thing” than what they thought. Perhaps carpet cleaning is not a commodity to be contracted to the lowest bidder.

My response to them began with discussion of the three words at issue here: stain, spot and soil. According to the IICRC, a stain is a discoloration caused by chemical reaction or by penetration of discoloring material into yarn’s dye site, which is generally considered non-correctable by common spot removal agents. The IICRC says a spot is actually a discoloring material adhered to the outside of a yarn, which causes a visible spot. Spots can generally be removed using mechanical or chemical processes. Soil is merely anything foreign to the construction of the carpet. Until the law of gravity is repealed, soiled carpets will be there for us to clean.

Stains may be classified as color added stains, caused by spills such as beverages, or they may be color loss stains from spills of color-removing materials such as bleaches or bodily fluids.

In the color added situations, correction may require using color removal products or processes to correct. Some oxidizing agents may damage wool fibers, so be sure to get your customer’s approval to use oxidizing methods on wool. If proper use of spot removal agents and thorough rinsing doesn’t result in removal, then it’s time to move onto color removal agents and/or processes, many of which will rely upon controlled oxidation to remove the unwanted color without damaging or removing the desired color of the carpet.

The simplest way to approach the stain is with ordinary 3 percent hydrogen peroxide. Apply it liberally to the discolored area and allow it to dry. No rinsing is required. After drying, if some correction of discoloring occurred, then another application may provide more correction up to, and including, total correction. Direct, hot sun will assist immensely in this color correction process. If the stain is stubborn and doesn’t respond to simple peroxide, then you may have to step up to a more aggressive two-part color correction product that will add heat to the picture. Be sure to familiarize yourself with whichever product/process you decide to use and always follow label directions!

Color loss stains may be addressed, in some cases, by a “spot dye” process. The success of this approach is dependent upon the skills of the technician in recognizing which color has been lost and the replacement of the lost color to recreate the original color in the stained areas. In some situations, it may be necessary to actually remove the affected area and replace it with a “patch” fashioned from a donor piece of the carpet obtained from an unseen area such as a closet or under a piece of furniture. This procedure was once known as a “cut and plug.” However, describing the repair as a “Bonded Insert” more closely describes the actual corrective action and may be worth more dollars!

Solution-dyed fibers such as olefin and some nylons will not experience color loss and will usually resist the bleaching effects of spilled substances. Whichever method is decided upon, keep in mind that stains are considered to be permanent. If you are able to correct the condition, it is worth a premium price. Consider that if you correct a stain, you have saved your customer from having to “live with the embarrassment” of the discoloration or the cost of carpet replacement, or they can put a piece of furniture over the stained area. It’s ultimately their decision. Be cautious about what is promised as far as correction—don’t promise more than you can deliver. It may be a good idea to get the customer to sign an agreement that spells out the degree of correction that can be expected before the job is started. This step may ensure that you get paid for your efforts.

Next month we'll take a closer look at spots and their correction. Until then, think color! Seeya!