Carpet-Cleaning Tips


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­Vacuuming is where most people start when maintaining their carpeting. That, then, is where we'll start this article on carpet-cleaning tips. But it isn't where the article will end. We'll present all sorts of guidelines for cleaning, removing stains, and dealing with various other problems.


For now, though, we'll get to the basics:

  • Carpets need to be vacuumed once a week and more often in areas of heavy traffic. Frequent vacuuming prolongs the life of your carpet by preventing a buildup of gritty particles that can cut carpet fibers. Every few weeks, take a little extra time and use your crevice tool for cleaning around baseboards and radiators and in other hard-to-reach places.
  • To vacuum wall-to-wall carpeting, divide the floor into quadrants and vacuum an entire quadrant before moving on to the next.
  • Take your time when you vacuum a carpet, especially a plush carpet in which dirt is sure to be deeply embedded. One pass with a high-powered upright is not enough. Go over each section of carpeting several times, and work slowly to allow the suction to remove all the ground-in dust and dirt.
  • Pay special attention to the areas where people sit and move their feet. Vacuum these areas of heavy traffic with a crisscross pattern of overlapping strokes.
  • Soil retardants can be applied to new carpets or to newly cleaned carpets. Follow manufacturers' advice. Apply soil retardants only with professional equipment using the recommended application techniques.
  • Add baking soda to the bag in your vacuum to fight odors.
Odors are one thing -- spots and spills are quite another. Spots and spills happen to just about every carpet and can be difficult to remove. In the next section, we'll offer some pointers for getting rid of those blemishes.

Cleaning Carpet Spots and Spills

Here's Rule No. 1 regarding spots and spills on your carpeting: Clean them immediately. If you catch the spill when it's fresh, you've got a good chance of removing it totally. Consider these tips, too:
  • Carefully blot or scrape the entire area before applying any cleaning solution. Remove as much of the spill as possible.
  • Before using any cleaning solution, test your carpet in an inconspicuous area to make sure the cleaner won't damage or discolor it. Test the cleaning agents that you keep on hand before you have to use them to make sure they will not harm your carpet.
  • Do not rub the spill -- that might spread the problem to a larger area.
  • When you apply spot cleaner, work from the outside of the stain toward the inside to avoid spreading the stain. After applying a cleaning solution, blot up all the moisture.
  • A clean white bath towel is unsurpassed for drying carpet and brushing the nap back up to a standing position.
  • If you feel that there is still too much moisture after blotting the carpet, place a 3/4-inch-thick stack of white towels over the spot and weigh them down with a heavy object.
What should you do if your carpet is soiled by chocolate? Or urine? Or mud? In the next section, we'll provide answers to these and other questions.

Homemade Carpet Freshener
Here's an idea for making homemade carpet freshener:
  • 1 cup crushed, dried herbs (rosemary, southernwood, and lavender are good choices)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • Combine ingredients, and sprinkle over carpet. Allow to sit for a few minutes, then vacuum.
Here are a couple variations of that mixture:
  • Mix 1 small box baking soda with your favorite potpourri oil, using just a few drops, and sprinkle on as carpet freshener. Leave on a carpet 10 to 20 minutes, then vacuum.
  • Use 1 cup baking soda, 1 cup cornstarch, and 15 drops essential oil fragrance. Leave on carpet 10 to 20 minutes, then vacuum. Store mixture in a glass jar or airtight container.


Treating Specific Carpet Stains

From wine to chewing gum, your carpeting has a lot of potential enemies. In this section, we'll tell you how to remove a variety of specific stains.
  • Acid stains: Acid spills, such as drain cleaner or vinegar, demand quick action. Dilute them immediately with baking soda and water or with club soda. Then apply a solution of ammonia (1 part) and water (10 parts). Rinse with cold water, let dry, and vacuum gently.
  • Alcoholic beverages: Quickly dilute the spot with cold water. Absorb the excess liquid. Then mix 1 teaspoon mild detergent, 1 teaspoon white vinegar, and 1 quart warm water. Apply the solution to the spot, and let the carpet dry. Vacuum gently.
  • Blood: Absorb as much of the blood as you can. Then mix 1 teaspoon mild detergent, 1 teaspoon white vinegar, and 1 quart warm water. Apply the solution to the spot, and let dry. Apply dry-cleaning fluid. Vacuum gently after the carpet is dry.
  • Butter: Scrape up as much of the butter as you can. Apply dry-cleaning fluid, and let the carpet dry. If the spot remains, repeat the procedure. Vacuum gently.
  • Candle wax: Press an ice cube against the wax stain. The wax will harden and can then be pulled off.
  • Catsup: Sponge a mixture of 1 cup vinegar and 2 cups water into rug. Frequently wring out sponge until stain is gone.
  • Chewing gum: Chewing gum can be a sticky mess, so harden it by pressing an ice cube against the blob of gum. Once hardened, the gum can be pulled off.
  • Chocolate: Immediately scrape the chocolate from the carpet. Mix 1 teaspoon mild detergent, 1 teaspoon white vinegar, and 1 quart warm water. Apply the solution to the spot. Rinse well. Vacuum gently.
  • Coffee: Blot spilled coffee immediately. Then mix1 teaspoon mild detergent,1 teaspoon white vinegar, and 1 quart warm water. Apply the solution to the spot, and let dry. Apply dry-cleaning fluid. Vacuum gently after the carpet is dry.
  • Crayon: Scrape away excess crayon or remove it by placing a blotter over the crayon stain and pressing it with a warm iron until the blotter absorbs the melted crayon. Move the blotter frequently so that it doesn't get oversaturated. Apply dry-cleaning fluid, and let the carpet dry. Vacuum gently.
  • Fruit: Fruit stains can be very hard to remove if they are allowed to set, but if you act quickly this method usually prevents a permanent stain. Scrape up spilled fruit, and absorb fruit juice. Mix 1 teaspoon mild detergent, 1 teaspoon white vinegar, and 1 quart warm water. Apply the solution to the spot, and let the carpet dry. If the spot remains, repeat the procedure. Vacuum gently.
  • Gravy: Wipe up as much of the spilled gravy as possible. Mix 1 teaspoon mild detergent, 1 teaspoon white vinegar, and 1 quart warm water. Apply the solution to the spot. Let the carpet dry. Apply dry-cleaning fluid, and let the carpet dry. Vacuum.
  • Mud: Allow the mud to dry completely and then brush or scrape off as much as possible. Mix 1 teaspoon mild detergent, 1 teaspoon white vinegar, and 1 quart warm water. Apply the solution to the spot. Let the carpet dry. If the stain remains, apply dry-cleaning fluid and blot dry. When the spot is completely dry, vacuum gently.
  • Salad dressing: Absorb as much salad dressing as you can. Mix 1 teaspoon mild detergent, 1 teaspoon white vinegar, and 1 quart warm water. Apply the solution to the spot. Let the carpet dry. If the spot remains, repeat the procedure. Vacuum gently.
  • Soft drinks: The carbonation in soft drinks will help you clean spilled drinks quickly, but act fast because some of the dyes in the drinks can permanently stain your carpet. Blot up the spilled drink. Mix 1 teaspoon mild detergent, 1 teaspoon white vinegar, and 1 quart warm water. Apply the solution to the spot. Let the carpet dry. If the spot remains, repeat the procedure. Vacuum gently.
  • Urine: Mix 1 teaspoon mild detergent, 1 teaspoon white vinegar, and 1 quart warm water. Apply the solution to the spot. Let the carpet dry. If the spot remains, repeat the procedure. Vacuum gently.
  • Vomit: Treat vomit quickly. Blot up as much as possible, then dilute immediately with baking soda and water or with club soda. Apply a solution of 1 part ammonia and 10 parts water. Rinse with cold water, let dry, and then vacuum.
  • Wine: When red wine is spilled on your carpet, dilute it with white wine, then clean the spot with cold water and cover with table salt. Wait ten minutes, then vacuum up the salt.
When nothing seems to work, you may want to try a deep-cleaning. That is the topic of our next section.

Deep-Cleaning Carpets

There comes a time in the life of every carpet when vacuuming can no longer restore its clean appearance. There are four major indicators of the need for a deep-cleaning job: the carpet is matted and feels sticky; the carpet is no longer the same color as the remnant you saved when the carpet was new; the carpet has grimy circles around the chairs; or the carpet releases a dust storm when you run across the room.

If any of these descriptions fit your carpet, then it is time to deep-clean it. Unless you have the time and strength to do a thorough cleaning job, it's time to call in the professionals. The only method for cleaning carpeting down to the backing is to agitate it with a shampooer and rinse with an extractor. Here's how it's done:

  • Before cleaning your carpet, test for colorfastness. Moisten a white towel with the cleaning solution that you are going to use, and apply it to an inconspicuous area. If the towel does not pick up any color from the carpet, it is probably safe to use the solution on the entire carpet.
  • Remove as much furniture from the room as possible, and place foil or plastic film under the legs and bases of the remaining furniture to prevent stains.
  • Vacuum the carpet thoroughly, then spot-clean and pretreat stains before shampooing the carpet.
  • Follow the instructions printed on the carpet cleaner.
  • Use single strokes over the carpet surface.
  • Do not apply heavy pressure with the machine.
  • Wipe cleaning solutions and foam from furniture legs and woodwork immediately to prevent damage.
  • Fluff damp fibers against the nap after shampooing to aid drying.
  • Make sure the room is well-ventilated after cleaning to speed drying.
  • Try not to walk on carpets until they are completely dry.
Onward to our final section, where we'll tell you how to treat special types of carpet problems, such as burned areas and loose threads.

Special Carpet Problems

When your carpet is burned, stained, or discolored, you could simply move a big chair over the spot and forget about it. Or you can use one of the following simple methods to restore your carpet to its original good looks.
  • If the spot remover you use alters the color of your carpet, try touching up small places with artists' acrylic paint. If acrylic paint doesn't work, try using a felt-tip marker or a permanent-ink marker of the appropriate color. Go slowly, and blend the color into the fibers.
  • To raise depressions left in a carpet by heavy furniture, try steaming. Hold a steam iron close enough for steam to reach the carpet, but don't let the iron touch the fibers, especially if they are synthetic, because they could melt. Lift the fibers by scraping them with the edge of a coin or spoon.

    Cleaning carpets involves tasks such as raising depressed fibers.
    ©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
    Depressions in carpets can be raised by steaming (center), then by
    scraping the fibers with the edge of a spoon (right).

  • If a carpet thread is loose, snip it level with the pile. If you try to pull out the thread, you risk unraveling part of the carpet.
  • To repair a large carpet burn, cut out the damaged area and substitute a patch of identical size and shape. Secure the new piece of carpeting with double-sided carpet tape or a latex adhesive.
  • To repair a small area burned down to the carpet backing, snip off the charred fibers and put white glue in the opening. Then snip fibers from a scrap of carpet or an inconspicuous part of the carpet (perhaps in a closet). When the glue gets tacky, poke the fibers into place. If the burn isn't all the way down to the backing, just snip off the charred tips of the fibers with scissors. The slightly shorter length of a few carpet fibers will never be noticed.
If you follow the tips in this article, you should get a lot more mileage out of your carpeting. And that's good news, given how much it costs to replace.

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