ICS Magazine

Spot & Stain Removal

May 7, 2008


For the professional textile cleaner, the part of the job most scrutinized by the client is spot and stain removal. The client has high expectations and would like the carpet to come out looking brand new. As professionals, we understand that certain chemicals and dyes cause permanent damage to carpet fibers.

In light of this, as a professional textile cleaner you must be able to advise why certain stains on carpet fiber cannot be corrected by cleaning. You need to be armed with scientific information and must be able to educate your client on the technical aspects and chemistry involved in stain removal. Possessing excellent spot-and-stain-removal skills is such an integral part of the job it is crucial that you know as much about it as possible.

There are many factors and variables influencing the outcome when attempting to remove spots and stains from carpet: the type of fiber; age of carpet; dye method (i.e., solution dyed, continuous dyed, beck dyed, print dyed, etc.); length of time spot or stain has remained on carpet; previous cleaning attempts and improper cleaning, to name a few. The reality is, you must understand that spot and stain removal is not a perfect science. The professional can have the best of the best in their spotting kit and still fall short when it comes to stain removal. The job, when it comes to spot and stain removal, is to use reasonable care to obtain a satisfactory result. Professionals quickly learn that, due to the nature and construction of carpet fibers, various stains may cause permanent damage.

Your most common problems come from bleach; dyes; oils; cosmetics; pet stains and acid-based spills from fruit juices and food. The textile cleaner during pre-inspection must evaluate the spot or stain first before cleaning begins to give the client realistic expectations: the cleaning process cannot repair damaged carpet. When it comes to advanced stain removal, the textile cleaner will often use heat-release systems (i.e., red-stain removal products used with a wet towel and iron). There are newly developed oxidizing products made to use without heat that add oxygen to oxidize the stain, making it invisible to the naked eye. There are also reducing agents that strip oxygen to make stains invisible. For stains like mustard, you can increase success with oxidizers by allowing a black light to shine on the affected area. Advanced techniques are nothing to fool with without hands-on experience and education. Proper education will limit risk and help alleviate fear when working on spots and stains.

Pre-inspection is key to success when it comes to spot and stain removal. You must communicate with the client by setting realistic expectations and not offering a sense of false hope. The professional must be educated enough in the science of stain removal to advise the client on the difference between a spot or stain. A spot would be defined as “foreign particles on the carpet that have not affected the dye sites of the fiber that can be removed.” A stain is “when the dye site of the carpet fiber is permanently altered with the addition of dyes.” Damage is “when the carpet is physically damaged or color has been permanently removed by bleaching.”

Remember, the best of the best cannot restore fiber damage or replace lost color with what is contained in your spotting kit. Speaking of spotting kits, you will have a greater success rate with a well-developed spotting kit. Even when you cannot remove a stain that has damaged the carpet, the client must see you have the tools and knowledge and have made a conscious effort to remove the stain. The spotting kit exudes pride and professionalism in the hands of a well-educated technician. When you go for a car repair and see the mechanic with that 13-story-high Snap-on tool chest with a uniform that states “certified technician” and the shop is clean and neat, your psychological perspective and awareness increases. The mindset is, “these technicians are dead serious about their business and possess the knowledge necessary to be successful.”

I cannot stress pre-inspection enough. Proper pre-inspection of the carpet adds tremendous value, in addition to making your client a big fan who would gladly recommend your service. After completing your pre-inspection, provide the client with a completed pre-inspection form indicating all existing spots and stains, especially those which appear to be permanent. Make sure you have a statement on the form that says you cannot guarantee to remove all stains and that the client is made aware of this. It would be prudent to have the client initial or sign the form. A good rule of thumb is, don’t promise what you can’t deliver. Another good rule is to under-promise and overachieve. What helps in cases when you cannot remove a stain is to hand the customer an educational pamphlet that explains why that type of stain has caused permanent damage to the carpet.

In your spotting arsenal be sure to carry inspection tools such as a high-intensity light, microscope, pH pen, and black light. Be sure to have ample supply of Q-tips, white towels, tamping brush and spotting spatula, in addition to your spot-and-stain cleaning agents.

A general rule is to never tell a client that a spot is not removable without first conducting a proper inspection. Use the microscope in front of the client. The microscope will show deep dye damage to fiber and also exhibits knowledge coupled with sophistication. The pH pen is indispensable when analyzing stains. Can analyze whether a stain is acid or alkaline in nature. The use of the pH pen exhibits extreme use of technology, which people know takes education and equates to value in the clients eyes.

If you detect deep dye damage when using the microscope, see if you can get transfer to a white towel when you blot the stain with your spotter. If you do not get transfer to the towel, it’s safe to tell the client there is a stain. If the client wants the technician to try advanced techniques it must be noted on the contract, or use a waiver form indicating you will not be held responsible if the area becomes lighter in color or texture due to application of advanced techniques.

Basically, you are trying to restore an already-damaged carpet with cleaning techniques in which a positive outcome is not always attainable. Carpet repair and spot-dyeing skills come in real handy at this point, and will help keep your client satisfied with your work. You have the ability to offer the client a solution to the problem by repairing or spot dyeing (where applicable) the carpet. When you advise a client there is absolutely nothing you can do about a stain, it adds an unnecessary negative tone to the job. If you don’t already possess these skills, be sure to take a carpet repair and spot-dyeing course either through the IICRC or your local trade association.

Identification of a spot is the first step towards removal or correction. Spots can be identified as one of the following: solvent-soluble, water-soluble or non-soluble. Solvent-soluble spots are generally oily or greasy in nature. They do not dissolve easily in water based cleaning agents and respond better to solvent based detergents. Water-soluble spots result from a wide range of materials such as food spills, body fluids, waste materials, etc. The spotting agents for these types of spots are usually detergent-based although there are some agents that work on protein based spots and contain enzyme digesters. Non-soluble spots are comprised mostly of soil and sand. Soil and sand cannot be dissolved by either water- or solvent-based cleaning agents; however, the sticky substance causing soil or sand to adhere the carpet fibers can be dissolved. Pre-vacuuming and application of a spot removal agent best suits this type of spot.

Let’s review the basics when it comes to spot and stain removal procedures:
  1. Safety first. Always read all label directions before using any spotting agent. If solvents are used obtain permission and immediately increase ventilation. Use safety glasses and chemical resistant gloves.
  2. Procedures. Remove encrusted material. Blot excess liquid spills with an absorbent white towel. Dry vacuum particle spills, i.e. soil. You must get as much material off the carpet as possible before you apply spotting solutions.
  3. Never use any cleaning solutions without testing the carpet or fabric for color fastness before proceeding. See IICRC S100 and IICRC S300.
  4. Do not use too much solution too quickly. Work in stages. Use products in small amounts until the desired results are achieved.
  5. Work from the outside of the spot toward the center. After applying the cleaning solution, agitate with a spotting spatula. Do not use your hands, and wear gloves.
  6. Never scrub, only tamp with your spotting brush. Use your tamping brush and a towel to absorb the material.
  7. Certain spotting agents take a few minutes to work. Read the product instructions.
  8. The area must be sufficiently rinsed after application of spotting solutions. Use a spotting machine or portable extractor, truckmount, etc. to rinse. After rinsing, tamping with a dry absorbent material helps remove excess moisture and prevent wicking problems.

These procedures are fairly general in nature, but offer a basic understanding of spot and stain removal. Professional training through the IICRC or trade associations will be necessary for success and to limit your liability. There are also online programs, videos and CDs, as well as manuals available on the topic of spot and stain removal.

If you desire true business success, immerse yourself in education. I have found in my personal experience the more energy and time I spend studying the technical world of textile maintenance, the more I find how much I don’t know. This inspires me and increases my thirst for knowledge. As an educator I believe studying your field or craft is a lifelong journey. Experience is also crucial. It takes time and practice to master one’s craft.