Whether after routine cleaning or following a special carpet care project, the one thing a building service contractor doesn’t want to hear is, “That spot is back.”

Quite often, carpet spills can turn into recurring nightmares for cleaning staff for a variety of reasons. Luckily, in a few short steps, contractors can identify most problems that lead to reappearing spots, and remedy the situation.

The common culprits
“There are many different reasons why a spot comes back,” says Ruth Travis, vice chairman of the Board for the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification and a color-correction instructor. “Sometimes the cleaners didn’t rinse or flush an area enough and never completely removed the substance that got onto the carpet.”

Depending on the make-up of the substance still left in the carpet fibers, the spot gradually will wick back up the fiber shafts and reappear. The substance also can start attracting more dirt — called resoiling — because it might be sticky or oily.

Another common reason for resoiling is a build-up of detergent from not properly rinsing the area after cleaning. When this occurs, the remaining chemicals on the carpet literally will clean the bottoms of people’s shoes as they walk over it, depositing more soil back to the area of the original spill sooner than the rest of the area.

A quick test
The best way to determine what is causing a recurring spot is to test the area, says Travis.

“First spray some water on the spot and agitate it slightly,” she says. “If the area starts to look soapy there is too much detergent left in the fibers.”

There are specialty cleaners and defoamers available to remove detergent residue from carpeting. But Travis suggests first trying to rinse the area and thoroughly extracting any moisture. If enough detergent has built up, it may take more than one rinsing to remove all of the residue.

If an area doesn’t get foamy after adding water and agitating it, then blot the area with a white terry cloth to see if the spot will transfer. If it does, this means the substance in the fibers is water-soluble. A very mild acid rinse should help remove these types of spots, says Travis. But cleaners should be very careful using any type of acid rinse, even mild ones, to avoid injury. Another concern is spilling the solution on any other surface where it could cause damage.

Since not every substance requires the same removal technique, she suggests cleaners further test the area to determine if the unknown residue is one of the following categories:

Oily residue – This often occurs near kitchen or industrial entrances. It also is common in healthcare areas where lotions and other gels might be used and spilled. The oil will wick up through the carpet fiber and quickly attract soil. A mild, dry-solvent spotter can remove oily spots, but cleaners must be careful not to delaminate the carpet, says Travis.

Sticky residue – This often can be a soda spill or other sugary drink. Often times when coffee is spilled it can result in a sticky residue because of the sugar that might be in it, says Travis. Because coffee is an acid-based substance and any creamer or milk is a protein-based substance, a cleaner might use the appropriate solution to remove those types of spots and forget about the sticky element, she adds. A simple water-based solution should remove these spots.

Spin-finish residue – When carpets are new they could have this problem. During the tufting process, manufacturers apply an oily treatment to help the fibers move through the needles more easily. Afterward, they are supposed to clean the carpeting to remove the finish, but some of it can remain in the fibers. This then attracts dirt as an oily spill would; the same removal techniques would apply.

Preventative measures
The best way to avoid recurring spots is to make sure someone can clean up a spill immediately, says Travis. Since BSCs may only clean at night, they may want to educate their customer contacts in how to blot up a spill with a white towel, and supply some that occupants can use. Whether or not customers are willing to blot up spills during the day, contractors should ask them to leave a note reporting the spill so that cleaners can attend to it with a professional spotting kit the same day.

If there are specific areas in a building that seem to have spills more often, contractors should discuss those areas with their customers, says Travis.

“Part of the problem is there is carpet in areas where it shouldn’t be and there are going to be spots as long as occupants don’t clean up after themselves,” she says.

Another issue to raise with customers is whether or not to do more frequent spot cleaning to keep up with spills if occupants aren’t cleaning them up properly during the day. If the customer isn’t willing to pay for that additional work the contractor must determine whether it is better to do spot cleaning when possible, to reduce the risk of substances tracking to the rest of the carpet and re-soiling larger areas. The other option is to explain to the customer that they only can receive a certain level of clean for their contract and they will have to live with spots or stains on their floors, says Travis.

If an area is prone to spills, one change contractors can make on their own is their choice of extractors. There are some small extractors that are easy to transport for quick remediation projects. The important detail in choosing one of these machines is making sure there is enough suction to thoroughly remove water and enough drying time once the substance is removed, says Travis.

When nothing else works
If testing and re-rinsing an area doesn’t remove a spot, it then is classified as a stain. In cases like this, contractors have one last option for improving a carpet’s appearance, says Travis — carpet dying.

“Usually what happens with a stain is there is discoloration or bleaching,” she says. “A trained technician can clean the area, adjust the pH of the carpet fibers and treat it with a color that blends with the stain and matches the surrounding area.”

Many stains can be fixed using this method, but a thorough understanding of pH balancing and color theory is necessary first, says Travis.