Here's how to lift dreadful stains and smells out of your carpet.

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Soft, clean carpets feel cozy and inviting. Rugs or carpets that have been host to dog urine, grease, coffee or other smelly stains are off-putting, at best. You might be thinking about the cost of replacing your carpet, but before you do, consider trying to reverse the damage with this tutorial.


This guide lays out the supplies, tools and techniques you need to remove unsightly stains and unpleasant odors from carpeting. You'll also learn what to do immediately when accidents strike in order to minimize the damage. We'll show you the effects of three common types of soilage too, from red wine and foul odors, to heavy food stains. Then we'll do our best to clean them up, so hopefully you can, too.

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Basic stain removal

Common types of stains

The faster you act the more likely you'll be successful removing a carpet stain. Speed can also prevent a stain from appearing in the first place. Once you notice a blemish, move quickly.


First, if there is any physical debris remove it with a fork or spoon. Be careful not to use much pressure. You want to avoid pressing material deeper into the carpet fibers. Next, dab gently with a damp cloth or paper towel. Use plain fabric or paper towels without any colors or prints and press gently into the stain; this process can take several minutes, so be patient.


Now pretreat the area with a stain-removal solution. The Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) maintains a list of cleaning products it certifies. You can also find similar products sold online and at supermarkets. Lastly, rinse the spot with cool water -- never warm -- and dab again to dry.


You may have to repeat the process several times for stubborn spills.

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Deal with red wine

A red wine stain can really ruin your carpet's day.

It's cliche, but it happens. Someone has dropped a big glass of red wine onto your lovely, light-colored carpet. What now? First, blot the spill with a damp cloth or paper towel. The idea here is to remove as much wine from the floor as possible. Any wine that remains should also be diluted with cold water using the cloth or towel.


Now you'll want to apply some carpet stain remover. They usually come in spray bottle form and cost about $5. I've found that the formulas marked "pet stain remover" or similar language work best.


Before you lay down the solution though, it's a good idea to test your carpet for colorfastness. Pick a small spot that's hidden, say, under the couch or sofa, and hit it with a little of the stain remover. If there's no change after a few minutes you're good to go.


Now apply enough stain remover to coat the stain. Let stand for at least 5 minutes, then blot again with another damp paper towel or cloth (again, using cold water, not warm). Repeat the procedure if necessary. With stubborn stains, it will take multiple rounds.


Spray stain removers alone didn't lift wine stains. The 24-hour stain (right) was particularly tough.

In my tests, I found that one cleaning wasn't enough. It was only after multiple sessions that all trace of the red wine shade completely disappeared. It was also much easier to remove recently spilled wine (within 5 minutes) than if it sat overnight.

Removing stains caused by dog and cat urine


Dogs and cats are lovable, but often they can cause big headaches -- like when they pee on your carpet or rug. Potent and noxious, you need to take special care with urine sourced from Fido and Whiskers. According to the CRI, never use a steam cleaner to treat urine spots. The high heat from that equipment will likely set both the stain and odor.


The CRI advises to first treat the trouble area as you should other spots and spills. Blot with a color-safe material (plain white, no patterns or prints) to absorb as much wetness as possible. Next, use a stain remover designed for pet messes. Always remember to blot rather than scrub to work in the detergent. Repeat the process until the stain and smell are removed.


Another option is to use a home carpet cleaner, aka a wet vacuum. After that you can rinse the area with cool water.

Get rid of carpet smells


To rid your carpet of foul smells, first blot any strongly affected spots with a damp cloth. Next, blot the area dry with a clean (dry) cloth or paper towel. Now give the rug a healthy sprinkle of baking soda. After 30 minutes, vacuum with the carpet with a standard vacuum cleaner. Repeat if the odor still lingers.


For this test, I used white vinegar as my contaminant. I had some success with the homemade method. A recent smelly spill (within 5 minutes) was easier to neutralize. Vinegar left overnight took more work to eliminate. Either way I had to perform numerous baking soda applications to significantly reduce the aroma.


As for mechanized solutions, perhaps it was the combined power of odor-fighting shampoo plus strong suction. Whatever the reason, the electric cleaner managed to banish all traces of my test carpets' funk.

Dealing with vomit

Oh boy, that's a nasty mess.


One of the worst materials to defile carpeting is vomit. Whether the source is dog, cat or human, vomit will surely ruin your carpet unless you act quickly. First start by removing any solid matter. Gently use a fork or spoon to lift matter away and make sure to employ a light touch. Too much pressure risks working the material deeper into the carpet.


Next, treat the exposed area with plenty of stain remover solution. After sitting for at least 5 minutes, blot with a damp cloth or paper towel. Again, be ready to repeat the procedure if you need to.


Gently scrape away the solid bits with a fork or spoon.


To test this technique, I created a mixture to simulate vomit's noxious properties -- homemade nacho dip. Its ingredients were sharp cheddar cheese and spicy diced tomatoes. I applied equal amounts of the stuff, in two sections, to my test carpet. One of them I did my best to clean after 5 minutes. The other I didn't touch for 24 hours.


After all my cleaning efforts, I was mostly successful with lifting the quickly cleaned nacho cheese stain (left) while much of the overnight stain (right) remained.


I failed to remove the damage even after cleaning with both spray-on solution and carpet machines. Still, I had better luck cleaning up the quick spill. The carpet section that sat overnight hardened and apparently is soiled permanently.

Lots of TLC


Prevention is good medicine for carpets, too. The Carpet and Rug Institute recommends at least a weekly vacuuming regimen, and up to twice a day for high-traffic areas. The industry group also says carpets should be professionally cleaned every 12 to 18 months.

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Consider a carpet cleaner

The $269 Hoover SmartWash shampoos and dries carpets automatically.

Another method is to clean rugs with a carpet cleaning machine. These appliances look like regular upright vacuums but operate very differently. Machines like this pump detergent liquid into the carpet below as you push them forward.


Spinning brushes scrub carpet and rug fibers (mixed with the shampoo liquid) along the way. Pulling the machine backwards over the same area allows it to vacuum up remaining solution along with any loosened grime.


They cost as little as $109 for a basic model like the Bissell TurboClean PowerBrush. You can also splurge on the new $269 Hoover SmartWash. Unlike the TurboClean, the SmartWash mixes its detergent concentrate with water for you as it goes.


A nifty added feature, the SmartWash switches between shampoo and drying modes automatically as you push it forward and backwards. With other cleaners, including the TurboClean, you have to do this manually.


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