The Science of Spot Removal

March 1, 2007
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Carpet can make up a large percentage of a facility’s flooring, and upkeep of carpet is often an overlooked task. However, keeping carpet looking new and clean can increase the perception of clean in the facility. Understanding the products and procedures behind spot removal can go a long way in improving the appearance of a carpeted area and extending the overall life of a carpet.

Spot removal can help improve the overall cleanliness, appearance and life of a carpeted area, but proper implementation of spot removal procedures can be difficult. The variables that come into play when removing a spot are often plentiful. Is the spot fresh or aged? What is it? Cola and coffee can look quite similar to chocolate or tracked-in dirt under the right circumstances. And, how do spot removers interact with the fibers in the carpet? What is the carpet fiber…wool? Nylon? How colorfast is it?

These are all issues to keep in mind when tackling the unidentified spots destined to land on carpet. Carpet will be subjected to spills and ground-in dirt, so the lifespan of carpet can largely depend on how carpet-care specialists react to these spots.

Unfortunately, most carpet-care specialists don’t have the time to ponder the composition of their carpeted areas and how old a stain is. Carpet-care specialists are looking for solutions that minimize guesswork and maximize results. Despite those challenges, it is possible to eliminate most spots if quality products and correct procedures are used soon after the spot is created.

There are three basic spot removers:
  1. A high-quality general purpose stain remover should be the first product used on an unidentified stain. Enzyme-fortified products are especially effective in breaking down unknown food and protein stains. When using enzymatic spot removers, carpet care specialists should make sure the application system accompanying the products comes in squirt bottles. Aerosolizing these products can be dangerous for individuals who have acute sensitivity to enzymes.
  2. A tannin spot remover will help eliminate coffee, rust, tea, red wine and other tannin-based stains. A tannin stain is defined as a stain originating from a plant that grows from the ground. It is not recommended to remove tannin spots with traditional soap and water. Using soap – bar or flake – on a tannin spot can make it more permanent.
  3. A bio spot remover with an effective surfactant blend can help remove organic stains. These stains are different than tannin stains in that they include bodily fluids and food products like milk that can leave behind odor-causing bacteria if left untreated.


When removing a spot, containing the problem prevents the stain from becoming a large and sprawling stain. Before applying any products, scrape and vacuum away any large clumps of soil that are present.

The next step is to apply the spot remover and blot the spot with a clean white cloth. Always blot; never scrub. Scrubbing can distort the carpet piling and cause the spot to spread. When blotting, work from the edges of the spill to the center to prevent the soil from spreading.

It’s rare to fully remove the spot with one application. Continue applying product and blotting pressure to the soiled area as long as the soil continues to transfer on to the white cloth. Enzyme-based and peroxide-based spot removers often work over time. After completing the removal process, flush thoroughly with water to remove any spot remover residue. A handheld extractor is best in these situations, as it will remove the largest amount of product from the carpeting. Failure to remove spot remover product can result in rapid re-soiling of the area, because the carpet’s surface will become tacky and attract dirt.

The order that the spot remover is applied plays a role in how well the spot will be removed. When applied in the wrong order, some spot removers are ineffective.

In addition to the order in which they are applied, spot removers can also be rendered ineffective when the process for applying them is performed incorrectly. Testing a small amount of the product on a hidden area of carpet is another recommended step in stain removal. Discoloration is a potential threat depending on the carpet’s fiber and color, as well as the type of spot remover. Removing a stain can be confused with the color of “clean.” If a carpet has not gone through a thorough extraction in several months, the spot remover is likely to return the carpeting to its original color. This can make the carpeting look discolored as the non-treated area will be a different color from the treated area. Overall good preventive maintenance like vacuuming and fairly regular extraction procedures can prevent this discoloring from occurring.

Many of today’s carpets have fiber protectants built in to help resist stains. A protective product may be beneficial for preventing stains in high-traffic areas and problem areas, like around the coffee machine, where tannin stains are a regular occurrence.

Understanding basic spot removers, when to use them and how to use them correctly can help keep carpets looking their best and help improve the perception of the facility’s overall cleanliness.

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