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X Marks the Spot: Spot Removal Basics for New Carpet Cleaners

As a newly minted carpet cleaner, your first visit to a Jon Don store may overwhelm you. Thousands of chemicals line the shelves. Even if you narrow it down to just spot and stain removers, the aisles are still densely packed full of products with strange-sounding names like reducers, oxidizers, encapsulates, soil filtration removers, and POGs.

With all these options, how will you ever know which products remove which stains?

Not to worry. All these choices may seem overwhelming, but there’s a relatively simple matrix for matching the correct product with its corresponding stain. Read on to find out everything you ever wanted to know about spotting.

Oh, and we should also mention that even the world’s best carpet cleaner can’t remove all stains: there’s absolutely a difference between a stubborn stain and a permanent one. And after all, we’re professionals, not miracle workers! Now let’s get into it.

Carpet Stains: Definitions

‘Spot’ and ‘stain’ are often used interchangeably, but for those in the know, there’s a slight but distinct difference. A spot adds substance or texture. These are things like flecks of food or dirt clods that get stuck in the carpet. A stain, meanwhile, adds color or dye. Common culprits are liquids like juice, coffee, and wine.

A discoloration, on the other hand, is the absence of color. Discoloration can often come from sun fading caused by ultraviolet light exposure or bleach. Yes, we call them ‘bleach stains,’ but they’re not really stains at all, based on our previous definition. Instead of adding color, bleach removes it entirely, which makes the affected area appear stained. Unfortunately, that means you won’t be able to get the bleach stain ‘out’ because there’s simply no color there to get out.

In other words, spots are (relatively) easy to remove, while dye stains are tough to lift and are sometimes permanent. On the other hand, discoloration means that part of the carpet’s dye is gone, and spot dying the affected area is the only solution.

How to Spot a Spot

To accurately identify spots and stains, you’ll have to use your senses. There’s no magic trick to identification: it just takes a good eye, intuition, and practice. Start by running through your mental checklist:

  • What does it look like?
  • What does it feel like? Is it crusty, greasy, waxy, hard, etc.?
  • What does it smell like? (Yes, this really helps!)

Then, note the location for context clues. For instance, if there’s a brown spot near the front door, it’s more likely to be something tracked in from the outside rather than, say, a coffee spill. Don’t be afraid to ask the customer, as it can save you a lot of time and hassle when it comes to stain assessment. Plus, it reduces the risk involved with making the wrong identification.

Out, Darned Spot!

So why exactly does spot identification matter so much, anyway? After all, a stain’s a stain’s a stain, right? Not so. The more you know about a spot or stain, the better equipped you’ll be to remove it. That’s because certain spots and stains react differently to the chemical compounds in cleaning products. That’s why there are so many carpet cleaning chemicals stocked at Jon Don! Different products are specially formulated to tackle different kinds of spots and stains, so choosing the right one is an essential part of the job description.

Here’s some good news, though: many regular household spots, like those made by food, drink, and bodily fluids, are water-soluble. That means applying a good pre-spray, like Matrix Grand Slam, followed by a rinse with Matrix All Fiber Rinse, will typically remove 90% of spots.

The other 10% are the tricky ones that require a little extra power. These are the solvent-type spots, like gum, tar, grease, paint, cosmetics, and dye stains, like Kool-Aid, wine, and mustard. The ability to remove these 10% stains is what separates the amateurs from the pros.

See Spot Lift

Here are the categories of spotters:

Dry Solvent Spotters

Dry solvent spotters are non-water, hydrocarbon-based compounds that dissolve oily soils. These spotters are ideal for removing oil-based spots, such as gum, cooking oil, paint, grease, and tar. These products should not be used for overall cleaning for a large area of carpet— only localized spot cleaning.

Extreme caution should be used when applying these products, as they can dissolve adhesives and latex backing on carpet. Always apply dry solvent spotters in a well-ventilated area, as some products may be flammable.

Dry solvent spotters include:

  • Volatile Dry Solvent (VDS)
  • Citrus/Gel-Type Spotters
  • Non-Volatile Dry Solvent (NVDS) or Paint, Oil, and Grease Remover (POG)

Wet Solvent Spotters

Wet solvents contain water and are used to dissolve sugars, starches, and salts.

  • Alkaline spotters fall in the pH range of 8–10 and effectively remove protein-based spots and stains, such as blood, chocolate, milk, eggs, and everyday household soils. Rinse the affected area after product application
  • Acid spotters in the pH range of 4–6 are also referred to as Tannin Spotters and contain a surfactant. These are effective for removing coffee, tea, and wine stains and can also assist with removing browning.
  • Neutral spottersfall in the pH range of 6–8. These spotters are safe for most wet-cleanable carpets or rugs. Neutral spotters should not contain any ingredients that leave a soil-attracting residue.

Rust Remover

Rust Removers are in the pH range of 1–4 and are one of the most hazardous spotters being used. If misused, some can even etch glass. Technicians should use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), including gloves and goggles. Rust removers should be rinsed and neutralized following application.

Enzyme Digesters

Enzyme digesters are in the neutral pH range. This type of enzyme can be affected by high heat and high pH. These products are designed to remove spots, such as blood, eggs, and milk, and require a longer dwell time—at least 30 minutes. These spotters have largely disappeared from the industry and were replaced by synthetic enzyme pre-sprays. They are primarily used on restaurant carpets and have been designed to withstand high pH and high heat. Enzyme products are formulated for a specific use, such as urease for urine and protease for protein.

Color Removal Agents

Color Removal agents include oxidizing agents and reducing agents.

  • Oxidizing agents (oxidizers) chemically augment the staining agent to a colorless compound by adding oxygen or removing electrons. They are referred to as bleaches and include hydrogen peroxide and chlorine bleach. Oxidizers, such as sodium perborate, can be used as a booster for carpet pre-sprays. These products are most effective for organic materials, such as wine, coffee, and urine but can cause color loss, degrade natural fibers, and corrode metals.
  • Reducing agents (reducers), such as sodium bisulfite, sodium metabisulfite, and sodium hydrosulfite, remove oxygen by adding electrons. They are also referred to as “strippers.” Reducing agents can be accelerated by heat and acids but will smell like rotten eggs. They should only be used in a well-ventilated area by trained technicians wearing proper PPE after thorough testing. While oxidizers are best used on organic stains, reducers should be used on synthetic dyes such as Red Dye #40, found in many soft drinks.

Spotting Challenges

While cleaning, you may encounter a number of common spotting challenges. These can include:

  • Re-appearing (wicking) spots, which appear when the offending liquid penetrates the backing or substrate of the carpet. This may require you to leave an absorbent material like a towel on the stain to collect the residue.
  • Color loss, which can be caused by bleaches, including peroxide, medications (benzoyl peroxide, fungal cream), and sodium hypochlorite (chlorine bleach, tile cleaner, dishwasher detergent).
  • Textural Damage. The most effective methods for carpet cleaning are tamping and blotting techniques. Do not scrub the yarn of the carpet as this can cause fraying of the fibers, which cannot be repaired

Spotting Tips and Tricks

Here are some of our best general knowledge tricks for carpet cleaners of all stripes.

Unidentified spots

For an unknown spot, it is best to start with a volatile spotter, as they evaporate quickly. If this isn’t effective, you can use another spotter right away without rinsing. However, non-volatile spotters must be thoroughly rinsed to prevent re-soiling.

Oil-based stains

When removing oil-based stains, it is imperative to apply the solvent to the towel and then the towel to the spot. Over application of a solvent can dissolve the latex holding the carpet together or dissolve the glue holding the carpet to the floor.

Organic protein matter

Enzyme spotters take a longer time to break down items, such as milk, food fats, blood, raw eggs, and gravy.

Ink stains

Ink is especially difficult to remove, simply because there are so many different types of ink formulas. After dry-blotting the ink, surround the spot with a hydrogen peroxide spotter. Then use your dry solvent to dissolve the ink and rinse the spot. Once again, over-application of the solvent will damage tufted carpet.

Rust stains

Rust can be easily removed with a strong acid but should be neutralized with an alkaline solution and thoroughly rinsed.

Insoluble stains

Insoluble stains such as fingerprint dust and copy toner can be removed by vacuuming. But, if it has been absorbed into the carpet, an encapsulate may be used.

Synthetic dye stains

Synthetic dyes such as Red Dye #40 are best removed with reducing agents and a steam iron. Apply the reducer to the stain, place a damp towel on the spot, and then place a steam iron on the lowest steam setting on top of the towel. Check after 15 seconds to see if the stain is being absorbed into the towel. You will typically see a yellow or light brown dye coming through the towel. However, if the dye of the carpet is also being lifted, remove the iron immediately.

Turn to the Experts at Jon-Don for Help

If this still seems like too much to take in, one of our friendly in-house experts can assist you. With years of applicable real-world insight, our professional and knowledgeable staff are always on hand to facilitate a great shopping experience. They can help you choose from a vast selection of the industry’s top brands so that you can achieve maximum clean every time.

And for those who prefer to shop online, our website is comprehensively categorized to help you find the perfect product for the job. You can choose between brand filters and spot type filters, which are meticulously sorted and alphabetized for your convenience. Plus, we offer same-day shipping on 100% of our in-stock orders placed by 5 pm.

Shopping at Jon Don means you’ll always get the job done right! Look us up online or visit us in-store to see what we can do for you.