A common request we receive from our clients with carpeted offices is to have stains removed from their carpets. Whether new or old, stains are to carpet what snow is to winter: a seemingly unavoidable calamity, hell-bent on dirtying your floors and making your entrance ways look unclean.
We get it. We know, better than most, the difficulty that comes with keeping a space clean – and the frustration that builds every time a careless employee or well-intended client spills a cup of coffee.
Why do carpets stain so easily? And furthermore, how come some stains simply refuse to come out? The answer is quite simple: carpet chemistry.
An Introduction to Carpet Chemistry
Most commercial carpets are made of a material called polypropylene (also known as olefin). Other materials, such as nylon, acrylic, polyester, wool, and cotton, are also used. However, chances are that you’ve got an olefin carpet in your space.
As a material, olefin is quite durable and actually stain resistant. It will endure day to day abuse while displaying minimal signs of duress. However, stain resistant and stain proof are two different things. As durable and easy to maintain olefin is, it is not immune to the effects of a flying pumpkin spice latte or poorly-poured glass of red wine.
Dye Sites: What Gives Carpets Their Colour
Every carpet fibre has a dye site. A dye site is an area in the fibre where colour – literally, dyes – reside. These sites give the carpet its colour. You can learn more about dye sites here.
The reason carpets stain is because new colour, such as colour coming from a spilled glass of Kool-Aid, is attracted to the dye sites. Dye sites are positively charged, and most commercial dyes are negatively charged. When they meet, they bond and neutralize each other’s respective charge. Thus, a stain is born.
Cleaning carpets is as simple as displacing the colour inside the dye site so that the original colour can continue to shine through… right?
Dye Sites Expand & Contract as Needed… For a While
The way most carpet cleaning solutions work is to expand the dye site (with hot water, cleaning solutions, and agitation), flush new colours out, neutralize the carpet’s charge, and then the wash away the dirt/stains that have accumulated. As the carpet dries, the dye sites will contract and the colour is once again “locked in”.
Unfortunately, a dye site only has a finite number of times it can expand/contract before eventually it loses the ability to do so. In the real world, this means that you’ve only got 1 or 2 real shots to get the stain out of the carpet before it “set”.
Handling Stains in Your Carpets
If all that stuff about “dye sites” and “expanding/contracting” made you uncomfortable, don’t sweat it. The good news is that you can usually get most stains out yourself if you: (A) react fast enough, and (B) haven’t stained that area of carpet repeatedly before.
General Carpet Cleaning (Stain Removal) 101
The process below is best accomplished with three or four clean, white dish towels.
- Mix a solution of warm water and dish soap (scentless, colourless if possible). Regarding dilution, you generally want of 1:4 mix of soap to water- if the label has instructions, follow those instead.
- Take a clean towel and soak it in the soapy solution. When it is saturated, press it firmly straight-down into the stain. Continue to blot the stain from the outside, working your way toward the center of the stain (this ensures the stain does not spread). Do not “scrub” the stain, as this may cause it to spread!
- After you have spent a few minutes blotting the stain, switch to a new towel and rinse it with warm water. Blot this towel down until you have rinsed all the soap solution from the carpet.
- Finally, use a dry towel to soak up any excess water in the carpets.
The above process should only take 5-10 minutes to complete and is effective at removing more than ¾ of stains you’re likely to encounter in your office.
If the above doesn’t do the job, it’s time to call a pro. Due to the nature of the carpet dye sites, challenging stains should be worked on by a professional after you have tried and failed to remove them once on your own.