Whether a carpet is located in one’s home or in an office building, spills and spots that can mar its beauty and utility are inevitable, especially in high-traffic areas. A spot is a spot is a spot, and removing it isn’t usually a big deal if it’s correctly identified and the right products and procedures are used to treat it. But a spot not treated in a timely manner can become a stain, and that’s another story.

Although no carpet today is completely stain proof, most have been rendered stain resistant. Many spills can be easily removed if action is taken quickly. But a delay will increase the probability of the spot becoming permanent. With some spilled substances — children’s fruit drinks, for instance — it takes only minutes for a stain to set permanently.

Ron Borchert, owner of Imperial Carpet Cleaning, Blue Springs, Mo., formed his business 14 years ago. However, before that he spent 20 years in carpet sales, lending to his expertise in floor coverings and their maintenance.

Customers are puzzled by carpet spots or stains that won’t go away, Borchert says, and they want to know why certain spots keep “coming back.”

There are different steps in treating spots, Borchert tells them. “You have to blot it off. If you use a solvent base, there are certain solvents to employ, depending on the nature of the spill. There are so many products out in the market that you’ve got to know what you’re doing.”

In Borchert’s area, grease, asphalt walk-off, tar and cola are the main sources of spots. “Tar and grease require citrus-based products to remove them. So, one ounce of a regular dishwashing soap, mixed in a gallon of water — as long as there’s no bleach in it — makes for a pretty good spotter,” he says.

Jules Hebert is owner of Vermilion Janitorial & Industrial Supply Co., Abbeville, La.

“In our area (the south central part of the state), there are many oil field service companies,” he says. “And carpeting in their offices can get stained from the oil, mud, tar and concrete that the people track in as they come in from the field. Some of those stains, as well as coffee and gumbo, are almost impossible to get out, especially if they’re allowed to sit on a carpet for a couple of weeks.”

Steven D’Orazio, a 23-year veteran of the industry and owner of D’Orazio Cleaning Supply Inc., a Middleton, Wis., cleaning supply business, says carpet maintenance has always been a concern, “but it seems that nobody wants to take care of it as they would a tile floor until it’s too late. By that I mean all of a sudden they realize the carpet is so darn dirty, and then they want to clean it.

“People are still drinking coffee and soda pop as they’re walking and inadvertently spilling the liquid,” he adds. “That’s not just in homes and office buildings, but in schools, too. It’s an everyday occurrence.”

The Right Tool For The Job
For spot cleaning, first determine what the spot or stain is, D’Orazio advises. “Ask questions of the customer. Half the time, they don’t know if pop, food, grease, oil, or normal dirt caused it. Spots are removable, but stains are forever, and can be caused by medicine, bleaches, red wine, Kool-Aid — they literally turn the carpet a different color.

“If it’s a spot, show the customer how to do some spraying and blotting with a terrycloth towel. Show them how to lift it out. That needs to be addressed and that’s when we bring in our different products to see which one will work best,” D’Orazio adds.

How have spot removal methods changed over the years? D’Orazio says the cleaning industry is still using the “tried and true” methods of old. “It gets down to which chemical works for you. We do business with [a company that] manufactures a product with enzymes that enables you to get rid of spots and stains caused by food protein or human or animal waste, as well as normal dirt that has been tracked indoors. The product leaves a nice, clean fresh scent as well. It’s safe to use — for the end user as well as the environment.”

The carpet industry has improved at producing products that make spot prevention and removal easier, says Rich deBoer, owner of Simply Magic Service LLC, South Windsor, Conn. But, he feels the general trend has been moving away from carpets toward hardwood floors. “That’s something of a style choice going on out there. People like hard floors with area rugs. But another significant reason is the perception that once a carpet is spotted it can’t be corrected.”

The Culprits
Pet urine and spilled coffee or juice cause a lot of problems in his area, deBoer says. “When we’re at a customer’s facility, it’s a matter of determining the carpet’s fiber and the type of stain. That information will indicate what we have to do to solve the problem.”

Spot and stain removal methods have remained pretty much the same over the years, he adds. “You have oil-based stains and water-based stains and must use the appropriate products on them. There has also been an improvement in the ability to correct color problems caused by stains. Products today are more effective than they used to be in terms of reducers and oxygen to help with yellowing or other color problems, he explains. Rinses help remove residues. And the solvents to take care of oil stains are more environmentally friendly. Odors from cleaners aren’t as bad. They’re safer to use, too,” he says.

In Milwaukee, Michael Kelly, technical manager for Adelman Maintenance Corp., has been in the carpet cleaning business for 36 years. During his career he has seen spot removal methods change.

“The biggest change has occurred in the past 10 years. Carpet cleaning had been primarily a ‘ma-and-pa’ business, where everybody had their own ‘secret’ methods of cleaning. Now the industry has its own labs in conjunction with most of the manufacturers. And there are chemicals that are designed to treat specific problems without damaging fabrics,” Kelly says. “There is also more carpeting today — and a lot more knowledge in the field. Groups like the IICRC (Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification) sponsor training classes and work closely with all the mills. Those mills have learned that their carpets are only as good as correct cleaning methods. They’re training us better because we can make their product look good. In the past, we had cleaned wool rugs with a high alkali, which would brown it out. When that happened people didn’t blame the cleaner, they’d blame the rug. Now we clean those correctly with a low-pH acidic rinse because we’re better educated.”

Time-Tested Methods
Kelly believes the old methods of spotting are still effective. “The fact remains that water goes in, and water comes out, and when it comes out it takes the dirt along with it. It was the best method, and still is. All the mills recommend hot water extraction.”

According to Kelly, people invariably ask how to clean up dog and cat accidents, wine spills — “That’s a big one” — and Kool-Aid, fruit punch or coffee spills. “These have always been the problems. With all of the ‘bulletproof’ carpets that are sold today, people are still calling us to clean up coffee.”

How does Kelly go about identifying spots? “Ninety percent of the time we can eyeball and identify the source. The customer very seldom knows what it is. Commercial customers might know if it’s a coffee or cola stain. We carry different spotters for each. We can do a pH test. Or perform a simple identification trick by putting warm water on the spot and putting a drinking glass upside down on it. After a minute, we pick up and smell the glass. That can usually tell us what caused the spotting.”

Kelly says his company prevents spotting and staining problems by spending a lot of time educating customers. “We give them a quick reference guide that tells them about fabrics, and spots, and advises them about the most common problems,” he adds. “Communication and information are vital.”

According to him, the most important products to have on hand include solvent-based spotters, coffee tannin stain spotters, protein spotters, and a dog/cat spotter. “All told, we have about 30 products on hand when we go out on a job.”

D’Orazio believes a good spot remover, whether it’s liquid or dry, should be nearby when a spill occurs. “I like the dry removers,” he says. “There are little 2.2 pound bags — we call them emergency packs — that a custodian can easily grab. It works well if you put a handful of product on the spot, take a brush and work it into the carpet, lift it out and vacuum it up,” he says.

Industry veterans agree that adding spot and stain removal to your expertise can enhance your organization’s bottom line. It’s a field that requires knowledge, skill, and an aptitude for good customer relations.

Jordan Fox is a freelance business writer based in Milwaukee.
E-mail questions or comments regarding this article.

Additional Resources:
Rethinking Carpet Cleaning
Audition for the Role of Extractor Expert