Why do spots come back after carpet cleaning?

It’s quite a vexing question that we try to answer every day here at Zerorez® Phoenix. We like to think that as a professional cleaning company we never face this issue, but every now and then, we can’t completely escape its scandalous grasp.

Even as professionals who clean many carpets day in and day out, we still occasionally face an issue where a spot or stain has reared its ugly head after we’ve cleaned their carpet.

Whats the Difference Between a Spot and a Stain?

To understand why spots come back after carpet cleaning, we must first understand what the difference is between a stain and spot.

If a pesky spot on your carpet doesn’t want to leave after some intense cleaning, it earns the much-deserved name of “stain”. This means the carpet has been discolored.

Carpet is a colored and absorbent fiber, therefore there are many substances that can easily stain it.

For instance, coffee or Kool-Aid. These drinks have either an organic substance to them (tannins, in the case of coffee) or a coloring agent (red40 food dye for Kool-Aid) that can re-color your carpet with ease, my friend.

What Constitutes a Stain?

Unfortunately when something colorful spills it’s never at a convenient time. You’re rushing to head out the door and your coffee spills. Now what? If you’re like most people you grab something from under the sink and apply it to your carpet, dab it and scrub it up quickly, and get on with your day.

But then…. over the next day or so you notice that your little coffee spill spot is looking a bit peculiar.

It has an orange tint to it.

Dun dun dun…

What happened?! Most likely the “stain cleaning” product you used on the area actually removed or somehow affected the dye in your carpet, and therefore created a permanent discoloration.

Ugh, cue the horror movie music, am I right?

This my friend, is what constitutes a stain. A spot in your carpet that has been permanently dyed or discolored, and therefore, cannot be removed…

Though of course, some stains, with the right solutions still have hope. Depending on how far gone the stained area is though, it will depend on the hope it has of being removed (or to remain forever apart of your home).

What Causes a Spot? 

Now that we know what a stain is, we can move on to what a “spot” might be.

When a spill happens and you can get to it quickly, you stand a very good chance of getting it all up off your carpet, before it has enough time to stain, i.e. discolor your carpet.

However, nowadays, most carpet has some type of stain blocker applied to its fibers that can act as a barrier between the carpet fiber and the potentially staining substance.

You can count yourself among the lucky ones if you’ve had a spill happen and were able to get it all up using copious amounts of cleaner!

Now let’s fast forward three days later… you notice your spill area is turning a light shade of gray. By the end of the week, it’s black. Your spill has officially become a spot.

This time, let’s cue the sad violin music…

So what happened?

A “spot” is a result you get when you “successfully” clean the area with a cleaner, but there is an unfortunate sticky chemical residue left behind from said cleaner. This residue remains behind on the fiber and acts as a magnet for soil, dirt, and grime that comes from the foot traffic that comes in contact with it.

Now that we know the difference between a spot and a stain, let’s talk about 3 Reasons Spots Come Back After Carpet Cleaning:

3 Reasons Spots Come Back After Carpet Cleaning

We just covered one of the reasons a spot can come back (chemical residue right?).

And technically speaking it’s not coming back. It’s a new spot that was created due to incomplete spot cleaning. Some other reasons spots come back after carpet cleaning have to do with the natural layering of carpet and “the wicking effect”:

  1. The residue left behind from spot cleaning causes new soil to stick, an issue in high-traffic areas.
  2. Carpet has a great ability to hide soil. Its layered construction and installation don’t help. If a liquid spill is large enough it can go all the way through your carpet into the padding underneath and even onto your subfloor. This type of spill will be a gift that keeps on giving, my friend.
  3. Incomplete removal of a spill can show back up due to the wicking effect. Say you use a fair amount of spot cleaner to clean up your spill and finish by blotting up the tips of the carpet fiber. Now the remaining liquid will carry some of the spills back up to the carpet surface due to capillary action, i.e. that annoying wicking effect we spoke of.

How To Make Sure a Spot Won’t Come Back After Cleaning

The next step in this process is to make sure your spot won’t come back after you clean it right?

So, there a few steps you can take to make sure that your spot does not come back!

First and foremost will be to use a proper carpet cleaning spotting agent, and use as little of it as you can manage. The phrase “the more the merrier” does not apply here my friend…

If the spill you’ve cleaned-up was of liquid nature and hefty in size, you can avoid its inevitable return by putting a good layer of paper towels (or a rag/cloth) with some weight and pressure (like a book or your laptop) on top of the area.

This, of course, will help to soak up any leftover moisture and soil particles before it has a chance to dry into the carpet fibers.

The remaining residue problem can be dealt with by rinsing or blotting the area of the spill and cleaning it up with a water and vinegar mixture (dilute about 1 part vinegar to 4 part water). The vinegar, because of its acidity, will rinse and neutralize soil-attracting residues.

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