Every home is prone to the occasional coffee spill or shoe stain. It’s inevitable. But it’s all about how you deal with the stain afterwards that matters. Here’s our expert-approved method, from Carolyn Forte, director of the Good Housekeeping Institute Cleaning Lab, for how to clean carpets that have common dried-on stains, like red wine, gravy, mud, pet messes (ick), and more.
1. Take two empty spray bottles, and fill one with cold water. In the other, mix 1/4 teaspoon mild dishwashing liquid, like Dawn Ultra Dishwashing Liquid Dish Soap ($2, amazon.com), and 1 cup warm water.
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2. Spray the detergent solution onto an absorbent cloth (not the carpet — you don’t want to wet it too much), and dab (don’t rub!) it on the spot. As the stain dissolves, blot with a clean section of cloth. Keep applying and blotting this way until the stain is gone.
3. Spray another cloth with the cold water, and use it to rinse the detergent solution from the carpet, then blot again with a dry cloth.
4. Pile a stack of paper towels on the spot, and place a heavy pot on top. “Overnight, the towels will soak up any residual stain deep in the carpet. In the morning, fluff the fibers with your fingers and allow to air-dry,” Forte says.
5. If the stain remains, try a more targeted approach based on the stain you’re dealing with. We have advice for the nastiest stains (like lipstick and paint) here.
How to Maintain Your Carpet
Refresh high-traffic areas
Spy a gray, matted trail from your couch to your kitchen? In between heavy-duty cleanings (with a rented machine or by a professional), hit the dingy path with a powdered or foam carpet cleaner, like Resolve High Traffic Carpet Foam ($4, amazon.com). Apply it according to the package directions, then vacuum.
Keep dirt outside
Try implementing a no-shoes-in-the-house rule. Stow extra slippers or flip-flops next to a shoe rack near your door, and encourage family members to make the switch inside. Stash a broom in a closet near the entryway to collect dirt before it gets ground into doormats, and put down mats outside your door, too, so you can wipe your feet before you go inside.
Interior doormats can only stop dirt from being tracked inside and onto your carpet if they’re clean. If the care tag allows, you can toss mats into the washer and dryer and use the gentle cycle on warm and tumble-dry low. Otherwise, use a vacuum. Go over the front of the mat, flip it over, and then vacuum the back, even if it’s rubber or plastic (this loosens any embedded dirt). Then flip the mat again, and vacuum up the grit that came out. For a quick refresh, take the mat outside for a good shaking, beating it with your hand or a stick a few times on each side.