How To Get Rid Of Carpet Stains (Even Tough Ones)

How To Get Rid Of Carpet Stains

If you’ve accidentally marked your carpet in some way, you’ll need some top tips to get the stains out as effectively and easily as possible. Carpet stains can be difficult to shift, depending on what has caused the stain, so we’re going to look at how to get rid of carpet stains (even tough ones).

First, we’ll cover some basic tips that apply to most stains, and then we’ll go on to look at the individual stains you’re likely to end up with on your carpets and how to lift those specifically.

Basic Tips to get rid of carpet stains

The best way to get rid of carpet stains is to deal with stains as quickly as possible. Stains that are left to dry are much harder to remove from carpets than fresh marks, so take prompt action.

If there is dirt or something else on the carpet leaving physical debris (e.g. mud), you need to get this out before you start, or it may spread. Use a comb or a fork to gently tease the debris out of the fibers, being careful not to snag the fibers themselves.

Flick the muck out onto a rag, and keep working until it is all free.

Next, you need to try and clean off the mark, firstly by soaking up any liquid that is causing the stain. You should always use a clean, plain cloth on your carpet, as a printed or dirty cloth might leave marks itself.

Pressing the clean cloth against the stain should help excess liquid soak up. If there is a lot of liquid, use several cloths; dry cloths will work more effectively to soak up liquid, removing more from the carpet.

Next, you’ll be adding a carpet cleaner of some sort to treat the stain What you use will depend on what the stain is, but in general, you’ll be applying the cleaner, letting it sit and soak for a while, and then blotting it off with a fresh cloth.

The carpet may need to be rinsed with cool water once you have finished to remove any residue from the cleaner. Next, it will need to be left to dry.

Do not use warm water on your carpets, and always get them as dry as you can using cloths to blot up moisture. Leaving your carpet wet is not a good idea and could cause mold.

When cleaning your carpet, follow any instructions offered by the manufacturers, and do not rub or scrub at a stain. This will damage the fibers and leave it looking odd even if you manage to remove all of the stain. Pat and blot stains and be patient in removing them.

Most water-soluble stains can be lifted by mixing detergent, white vinegar, and cold water, and applying this to the stain. Once it has sat for about ten minutes, it can be rinsed and patted dry. Water-soluble stains include ice cream, berries, food dyes, mud, wet poster paint, juice, many kinds of soda, etc.

Finally, try not to use more product than you have to. While it may seem that using lots of product is more likely to shift the stain, it’s also going to make your carpet wet and sticky, and this can be hard to remove. Several applications will be more effective better than huge amounts of product.

Lifting Coffee Stains

Coffee is the culprit of many carpet stains, and can be particularly damaging to light-colored or white carpets. If you’ve splashed coffee on a favorite rug, here are some ways to lift it out before it makes a horrible brown mark on the fibers.

Try to deal with the coffee as soon as it is spilled. Start by getting a clean cloth and carefully blotting the stain. Do not spread it around, but try to just soak it up directly from the area of the spill.

Get another cloth if necessary to make sure the stain is staying in one place, and keep blotting until the carpet is as dry as you can get it.

Next, mix some white vinegar and water in a spray bottle with a small amount of detergent, and gently spray it onto the stain. Allow this to soak in for several minutes, and then blot it off with a clean cloth. If the stain hasn’t lifted, keep repeating this technique.

If this will not lift the stain, you may need to try a commercial stain remover designed for carpets. These are readily available in most stores. You should always test on an unnoticeable patch of the carpet before spraying a stain remover over a visible area, just in case it affects the color.

Once you think the stain has lifted, gently blot the carpet dry and then check it again. Do not rub the carpet at any point; this will only damage the fibers and make the stain more noticeable.

Removing Red Wine

If you’ve got red wine on a light-colored carpet, you might feel like it’s never going to come off. This is admittedly a hard stain to deal with, but it can be done, especially if you take prompt action.

Start by blotting up everything you can using clean cloths, minimizing the amount of wine left in the carpet.

Once you have lifted as much as possible, you then need to use a little cold water to dilute what is left. Try not to spread the stain at all – just water down any remaining wine. Do this by squeezing water out of a clean cloth (not by pouring it on).

You will probably need a commercial cleaner to tackle red wine stains, so test a cleaner and then spray enough on to completely cover the wine stain. Follow directions on how long to let it stand for, and then gently begin blotting it up.

It’s likely that removing red wine will take several attempts; you often cannot shift it in a single go. Keep applying stain remover, letting it sit, and then dabbing it up with a damp cloth. Don’t let the carpet get too wet; allow it to dry between applications.

Hopefully, this will eventually shift the stain. Remember that old stains will prove harder to remove.

Dealing With Pet Accidents

If your pet makes a mess on the carpet, the first thing you’re going to want to do is to remove any debris. Wear gloves and dispose of it responsibly (not down the drains; this is dangerous).

If there is any debris stuck to the carpet, loosen it with a very small amount of water and use a fork or other tool to lift it from the carpet. Do not add a lot of water, or you risk increasing the size of the stain.

For wet stains, use lots of paper towels to soak up all the excess moisture. Paper towels are more absorbent than most cloths, so they will pull moisture from the carpet fibers and leave them drier.

Once you have got as much moisture as you can out of the carpet, you need to remove the smell – and it’s essential that you do this thoroughly.

If your furry friend can still detect the scent of their urine or feces, they are much more likely to use your carpet as a toilet again, and remember that their noses are very sensitive. Even if you can’t smell anything, they probably can!

To combat the smell and deal with any bacteria left by the accident, you should mix some white vinegar and cold water in equal parts. Spray this over the area and give it a few minutes to sit, and then blot it with paper towels.

Do this several times to lift out any leftover urine, and to ensure that the smell and any bacteria are neutralized. When you are satisfied that the area is clean, use paper towels to ensure it is as dry as possible.

If you’re still concerned about the smell, you can sprinkle a little baking soda on the area, allowing it to sit for a couple of days before vacuuming it up. Baking soda neutralizes odors so this will really help with lingering scents, and may also draw any remaining moisture from the carpet.

You may wish to put something that your pet does not like the smell of near the area of the accident to discourage them from going in the same place, as this can be a hard habit to break once it has formed, and it’s no fun cleaning up repeated carpet messes.

Shifting Blood Stains

Blood is notoriously difficult to handle, and blood in carpets is no different – you will need to take swift action to handle this stain effectively. Do not ever put hot water on a blood stain. Hot water encourages the blood to set and makes it almost impossible to shift the stain.

Mix some hydrogen peroxide with some dish soap (a ratio of 2:1 is a good guide) and test this on a small area of carpet that is unnoticeable to make sure it doesn’t affect the color. If it’s fine after five minutes, you’re good to go.

Spread the mix onto the stain in a thin layer and leave it to sit for ten minutes or so. Blot the stain with a clean cloth, apply more mixture, let it sit, and blot it off. You can keep doing this until the stain has disappeared.

It’s okay to press while applying the mixture to the stain, but remember not to scrub at it, or you’ll damage the carpet fibers.

Once you have removed the stain, use a wet cloth to flush the peroxide and soap mixture out of the carpet fibers, and then press a clean towel or paper towel into the carpet to pull out the excess moisture. Hopefully, your carpet is now good as new!

Getting Rid Of Ink

Ink – often black or dark blue – can look awful on any carpet, even darker colored ones. On light carpets, ink is a disaster, and most inks spread horribly if you get them wet again, creating a bigger and bigger problem. You need to deal with ink stains fast and carefully if you don’t want your carpet to be ruined.

You are going to need alcohol to get ink out of the carpet without spreading it all over the place. Many things have alcohol content, such as nail polish remover or even white wine, but isopropyl alcohol will work well if you have any. Try to use one with high alcohol content.

Test the alcohol doesn’t damage your carpet, and then saturate a clean cloth in the alcohol, and use this to gently dab at the stain. You can lay the cloth over the stain briefly, but do not scrub it or you risk the ink spreading.

Once the stain has started to shift, you can use a little cold water to rinse out the chemical, and then a paper towel to help lift the excess moisture out of the carpet. Repeat the stain removal process, always using a clean cloth so you don’t accidentally spread ink back into the carpet fibers.

Removing Vomit

Not a pleasant one to have to deal with, vomit will ruin your carpet and can also smell really awful if you don’t manage to clean it up effectively. You should wear gloves and start by removing any solid matter from the carpet. Lift it off gently, being careful not to press any down into the carpet fibers, and dispose of it.

You may want to use a commercial stain remover to lift vomit from the carpet. Test, and then spray the cleaner onto the stain and leave it to sit for ten minutes.

Blot the stain remover off with a paper towel, and then repeat the process as needed. It may take quite a few applications of stain remover to get rid of a vomit mark, depending on the mark. Again, vomit is a stain that should be addressed quickly to maximize the chance of removing it effectively.

Vanishing Oil Stains

If you’ve accidentally splashed oil on a carpet, it can be really hard to shift, and carpet stain removers aren’t like to touch it – you need a different trick. This will work for most fats, but should be done carefully and slowly to avoid causing burns to your carpet.

You will need a paper towel and an iron. Place the paper towel over the oil stain, and set your iron to “warm.” Do not use “hot” on your carpet in case it burns.

Lightly iron over the paper towel, being careful not to touch the carpet at the edges with the iron. The heat should help to lift the oil up out of the carpet fibers and make it stick to the paper towel. If there is a lot of oil, work slowly, using one paper towel at a time to shift the oil onto the paper.

Lifting Glue

Dried glue is going to prove almost impossible to remove from most carpets, but if the glue is water-soluble or still wet, you may have a chance. This is worth trying even with dry glue, as you have little to lose – but don’t expect miracles.

Firstly, soak a cotton ball in rubbing alcohol, and test it on an inconspicuous patch of carpet. Once you are satisfied it doesn’t mark the carpet, soak it again, and then set it on the glue and leave it to saturate the mark.

When the alcohol has had a chance to soak into the glue a bit, gently start to rub the cotton ball back and forth on the mark, dissolving the glue a little at a time. Do not press hard or scrub.

You may need several cotton balls and a few applications of alcohol, but this should eventually lift the mark. Rinse the carpet with cold water to remove any residue from the alcohol, and then pat dry with a towel.

Getting Rid Of Nail Polish

If you’ve spilled nail polish on the carpet, your best bet is nail polish remover – but you should check that this doesn’t stain the carpet on an inconspicuous area.

Once you’ve checked this, apply some nail polish remover to a clean cloth, and begin to gently work at the edges of the nail polish stain, pushing the cloth inwards toward the center of the stain, rather than working outwards.

Work slowly and carefully, avoiding putting pressure on the carpet as you go. If the nail polish is still wet, it will be easier, but you will need to be very careful not to spread it.

If you have a deep carpet, you may need to gently move the pile around to get at any nail polish that has soaked down the fibers. You can use a knife or a fork to do this, teasing the fibers apart to allow access to the deeper parts of the carpet.

Rinse the nail polish remover out once you are happy that the stain is all gone, and pat the carpet dry.

Getting Mud Out

Mud is a common problem in carpets, and it can be surprisingly hard to shift. If your carpet has got muddy, this is one of the few stains that may be easier to clean when it is dry – because there’s less chance of the mud spreading all over when you try to clean it. However, don’t let it sit for days on end.

Firstly, vacuum the carpet thoroughly to lift the soil out of the fibers. You may find that using a stiff brush to brush the fibers up and flick mud out of them is effective. Vacuum again, brush again, vacuum again, etc. Keep doing this until you are satisfied that you have removed as much loose debris as possible.

Next, mix a splash of dish detergent into a cup of water, and gently blot at the stain, working from the outside inward. Rinse the soap out, let the carpet dry, and then repeat as necessary. It may take several attempts, but you should be able to get the mud out of the carpet without it ruining the color.

Handling Rust Stains

You may not often have to deal with rust stains on your carpet, but they are worth mentioning because they can actually be worsened by commercial cleaners.

Because of the iron oxide in the rust, they may actually set when a commercial cleaner is applied. You do not want to use normal cleaners on rust.

There are dedicated rust-removers, but you can also try a homemade remedy (or both options). If you’re going with both, start by applying the rust remover product once any loose debris has been brushed up and disposed of.

Allow the product to sit for five minutes or so, and then very gently rub the stain a little with a damp sponge, working inward. You can rinse it off and reapply some product, let it sit, and repeat the process. You should see the stain shifting very quickly.

Next, sprinkle some salt granules across the carpet, and then squeeze lemon juice over it. This needs to sit for a day, and then it should be rinsed off. You can repeat the whole process if the stain is still visible.

Finally, vacuum up any residue, and pat the carpet dry.

Getting Kool-Aid Out

Kool-Aid is a nightmare for carpets, and kids seem to love spilling it while watching TV – so here’s how to get it out.

Firstly, blot up as much of the liquid as you can with a clean towel, being careful not to spread it around. Next, mix white vinegar, detergent, and cold water in a spray bottle. Spray this over the carpet and leave it to soak for twenty minutes. The soap will help to combat the stickiness.

Carefully rinse the soap out and blot the carpet with a dry towel or some paper towels until it is no longer wet. If necessary, repeat the process until the stain has vanished.


Carpet stains are not fun, but you can deal with them if you are patient and prepared to repeat the process several times. Knowing which techniques to use for which stains can help prevent a disaster with accidentally setting stains, and will ensure you’re dealing with them effectively.

You can also try hiring professional carpet cleaners or carpet cleaning equipment to give your carpet a bit of TLC and help clean up after a big spill!

Dean Luoma

As a long-time homeowner, Dean has been working on his own home projects for over 30 years. He is a licensed real estate agent in the state of Minnesota, helping clients with the buying and selling of their homes.

Recent Posts