Considering all the time and effort housekeeping staffs spend cleaning and maintaining expensive carpet, no one wants to see a spot or stain. Discolored or dirty-looking blotches ruin the appearance of any carpeted area, even if it was just cleaned.

Carpet spots and stains that only take seconds to create can linger in carpet after many scheduled cleanings if they are is not addressed properly. Luckily, housekeeping executives can take care of these big problems in just a few small steps.

The first step to removing a carpet spot is to determine what caused the spot or stain, Ruth Travis, vice president and marketing chairman for the Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC), says. Most commercial and institutional carpet spots and stains are caused by spills, she says. But cleaning professionals should find out if the substance causing the spot is a solid or a liquid because each case requires separate spotting agents.

“If it’s a spill, you want to reliquify it,” Travis says. She suggests flushing the area with water before using any carpet-spotting solutions.

Once the carpet is wet, staff should use a clean, white towel to blot up the water, let the water dwell, then blot it up again.

When working with solid substances, “Start with dry solid spotters, then go to liquid spotters,” Travis says. “Once you wet something, you won’t have as much success with dry spotters.”

When working with tracked-in or spilled grease on carpet, for example, Travis says to use a cleaning agent to dissolve the spot, then emulsify it.

“Sometimes you can have a substance that will actually stain the carpet fibers,” Travis says. “Coffee, Kool-Aid and Jell-O, for example, add color to the fibers and it won’t come out.”

Most commercial and institutional facilities have stain-resistant carpet, but if a fiber stain occurs, Travis recommends managers hire a carpet-spotting specialist to get the color out of the carpet.

Just as tough to treat as stains are carpet discolorations. Discoloration caused by bleach, for example, actually removes color from the fibers.

Bleach spots are common in hotels because housekeepers often use bleach products in hotel-room bathrooms. Sometimes bleach drips onto carpet outside bathroom areas.

“In the case of a stain or discoloration, general cleaning is not going to take care of it,” Travis says. She suggests managers use the IICRC referral system — or call 800-835-4624 — to find certified carpet color specialists by state and cleaning specialty.

Common mistakes
If not cleaned properly, carpet spots can get worse overtime. For example, one mistake cleaning staff often make is not rinsing carpet thoroughly after cleaning or spotting carpet.

“Just like shampooing your hair, you wet your hair, emulsify it with shampoo, and if you don't rinse it out, it’s a mess,” Travis says. “Same with carpet. You’ll get a residue that actually attracts soil and makes it worse.”

Housekeeping managers should make sure staff is following the instructions on chemical labels and material safety data sheets, diluting the solution properly and rinsing it out completely, she says.

Other carpet spotting blunders include over-agitation and scrubbing, which can fray or braid carpet fibers. “Blot. Do not scrub” to prevent carpet damage, Travis says.

Also, allowing for proper dwell time is important in removing tough spots and stains. “Be patient,” Travis says, recognizing that it is challenging for today's cleaning professionals to wait before blotting up spots because of time constraints.

Also, when possible, blot up spills as they occur. The longer a spill sits on carpet, the harder it will be to clean.

Make spotting routine
Just like any other janitorial task within the cleaning operation, it is best to schedule specific times, days and staff for cleaning carpet spots and stains.

“It’s best to schedule spotting for once a week or every other week, otherwise it gets overwhelming and it is easy to give up,” she says.

Every organization has its own special challenges and volumes of people going through buildings, so Travis suggests managers specialize and elect one cleaning worker to do all the carpet spotting.

“Have one specialist — make it their job — and get them the proper training so they understand the chemicals and equipment,” Travis says. “Because spotting is their job, they will be good at it.”

Also, if one person is dedicated to carpet spotting, that person will be able to address spills and other spots immediately.

Carpet Fibers 101

Housekeeping executives who know how to clean and maintain different types of carpet can help facility managers and administrators specify the right kind of carpet for their organizations.

“Facility managers should always include housekeeping staff in carpet specification because they will know what the carpet will look like over time,” says Jeff Bishop, technical advisor for the Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC).

In addition to carpet specification, it is important for cleaning professionals to know the basic properties of the most common types of commercial-grade carpet in order to clean and maintain them properly.

The two most common types of carpet are nylon and olefin. Bishop says olefin carpet accounts for 38 percent of carpet used in commercial and institutional buildings.

“Olefin is solution-dyed, which means the dye is on the inside of the fiber, so it won't get bleached,” Bishop says. “Olefin has no dye sites, so it won't accept dyes, either.”

So, in the case of red wine or Kool-Aid spills, olefin carpet will not stain — a quality that makes olefin a popular choice. But olefin carpet has a downside: It has a low resiliency to traffic and abrasion.

“In high-traffic areas, olefin tends to look dingy within six to eight months, depending on how well it is maintained,” Bishop says. “Also, like scratched plastic, soils [that rub against and scratch] the plastic-like fibers make the carpet look dull.”

Olefin is oleophilic, which means it likes oil. The carpet tends to absorb oils tracked in by visitors and occupants, which causes traffic lanes to discolor over time, Bishop says. It is best for cleaning staff to get oils out as quickly as possible, before they absorb deeper into the fiber.

Nylon carpet, popular for its high resiliency, dominates the carpet industry — representing 60 percent of the carpet installed in commercial and institutional facilities. Nylon carpet is contact-dyed and is highly susceptible to discoloration when exposed to a bleach or chemical spill.

Bishop points out two types of nylon carpet — nylon 6 and nylon 6,6. These carpets, made from petroleum-based chemicals, are more difficult to manufacture and dye, but the carpets also are harder to stain and fade.

Wool and wool-nylon blends make up 2 percent of commercial carpet applications. Wool is very resilient, wears well and resists soiling. However, wool is very sensitive to cleaning chemicals and bleach. Also, wool is a natural fiber, which makes cleaning it a careful, sensitive process compared with manmade olefin and nylon carpet.

Spotting basics

For cleaning basic carpet spots and stains, follow these steps, provided by Ruth Travis, vice president and marketing chairman for the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification:

  • Act quickly. Vacuum, blot or scoop excess spill or substance.

  • Determine the spot’s composition, if possible.

  • Test for colorfastness.

  • Apply as little spotting agent as necessary. For water-based spills, such as cola, juice, coffee and tea, use a neutral water-based spotting agent. For oil-based spots, such as grease, gum, lipstick, magic marker and ink, use a dry solvent spotter. Apply the solvent to a clean, white towel and blot the spot.

  • Be patient. Let the cleaning agent do the work.

  • Blot, don’t rub the spot, to remove dissolved contaminants.

  • Rinse residues with clean water to avoid resoiling.

  • Let the area dry.