How To Remove Carpet Stains: A Helpful Guide

My favorite way to get stains out of carpet involves using towels and an iron.

Removing carpet stains may be an unavoidable part of keeping your home clean, but it doesn’t need to be difficult or time-consuming! I’ve spend years researching cleaning methods and developing DIY recipes that can help you clean carpet stains with confidence, and  I’ve put all the experience to use in this post. Here, you’ll learn how to remove all kinds of stains from carpet, mix up useful stain removers, and more.

Carpet can be pretty polarizing as far as flooring options go — I was fairly anti-carpet myself before we replaced the carpet in our main living area with hardwood floors. I soon learned that wood floors come with headaches of their own, and decided carpet wasn’t really as bad as I’d made it out to be!

Whatever your flooring feelings may be, this post covers almost everything there is to know about how to get carpet stains out, including tips, tricks, and recipes that will help you keep it clean in the future. (As an added bonus, many of these techniques can help get stains out of your car floor mats, too!)

How To Remove Carpet Stains, By Type Of Stain

Even a big spill like this isn't the end of the world when you know how to get stains out of carpet.

1. Tough Stains (Old Stains, Mystery Stains, etc.)

My go-to method for removing really tough carpet stains (including old stains) involves a combination of ammonia and steam, and packs a powerful punch against grime of all kinds. If you have an existing stain or spot that you haven’t gotten around to cleaning, or haven’t been able to remove with other methods, this is a great option to try!

To get stains out of carpet you'll need a measuring cup, white washcloth, iron, ammonia, and a spray bottle.

You’ll need:

  • Household ammonia
  • Hot water
  • Spray bottle
  • Clean, white towels
  • Clothes iron
Pour the ammonia into a measuring cup.

Step 1 – Prep: Plug your iron into the outlet closest to the stained area (or use an extension cord, if necessary) and allow it to heat up for a minute or two. Fill a spray bottle with a mixture of equal parts ammonia and hot water, then replace the spray top and shake to combine.

Spray the carpet stain removing solution onto the stain and dampen the whole stain.

Step 2 – Spray: Spray the ammonia mixture liberally over the carpet stain, then spread a clean towel over the top of it.

One you've sprayed the stain with the ammonia solution, place a white towel over the carpet stain and move a hot iron over it to transfer the carpet stain into the white towel.

Step 3 – Iron: Place your iron onto the towel, moving it around slowly to avoid singeing the carpet. After a few seconds, pull back one edge of the towel and have a look. If all goes well, you should see that quite a bit of the stain has been lifted out of the carpet onto the towel!

This method for getting stains out of carpet transfers the stain to the white towels you use.

Step 4 – Repeat: Spray more of the ammonia and water mixture onto the stain as needed to keep it moist, then repeat the ironing process using a clean towel. You may have to use a few towels depending on how severe the stain is, but eventually the whole stain should come up out of the carpet! Be sure to let your carpet dry completely before walking on it again — leaving a towel over the damp area can help remind people not to walk on it.

Get pet stains out of carpet by saturating them with vinegar, then liberally sprinkling with baking soda.

2. Pet Stains & Odors

Removing pet stains requires a specific approach, because you’re usually not just trying to get rid of the visible staining—you want to get rid of the smell as well! But never fear, because the combination of baking soda and vinegar (two of my favorite household cleaning ingredients) is more than up to the challenge! This treatment is easy, but you have to let the baking soda and vinegar sit overnight or longer after you treat the stain — and it’s worth the wait to remove the stain and the smell!

Get wax stains out of carpet with newspaper and an iron.

3. Spilled Wax

Wax melts are a popular alternative to traditional candles because you can still enjoy the aromas of scented candles without the added risk of an open flame. But those warmers full of melted wax aren’t without their own risks, and wax spills are definitely one of them!

But even though a puddle of spilled wax can certainly seem like a death sentence for your carpet, it doesn’t have to be! You can remove spilled wax from carpet with the help of your trusty clothes iron, a stack of newspaper, and a small amount of patience.

Get ink stains out of carpet with rubbing alcohol.

4. Ink & Permanent Marker Stains

To get permanent marker stains out of carpet, blot the stain with rubbing alcohol, then blot with a clean, damp rag to lift the alcohol and the stain out of the carpet. Repeat as needed, but don’t rub! You can also try hand sanitizer instead of alcohol — I’ve found it to work extremely well on fabric.

Get blood stains out of carpet with hydrogen peroxide.

5. Blood Stains

All you need to remove blood stains from carpet is hydrogen peroxide and a toothbrush. Get to the blood as soon as possible, and use a spray bottle or eye dropper to get hydrogen peroxide on it. It will foam up as it works. Let the hydrogen peroxide sit for ten to 15 minutes, then blot until the stain is gone. Keep using a clean spot on the rag you’re blotting with.

If the stain persists, use more peroxide. Once the stain is gone, rinse by dabbing with cool, clean water and blot dry. 

Get oil stains out of carpet with lemon essential oil.

6. Grease & Oil Stains

I remember learning that “like dissolves like” way back in high school chemistry, so it makes sense that lemon essential oil can help remove old grease stains from carpet! Just put a few drops of lemon oil on the stain, let it sit for a minute or two, then brush it gently with a toothbrush to work it into the stain.

While the stain is still damp, spray it with a solution of equal parts ammonia and hot water and blot with clean cloths to lift the stain out. It may take more than one attempt, but stick with it and you’ll get it all out!

Get coffee, red wine, and Kool-Aid stains out of carpet with a solution of Dawn dish soap, vinegar, and water.

7. Coffee Stains, Red Wine Stains & Kool-Aid Stains

While Dawn dish soap is one of my all-time favorite cleaning ingredients, it’s not the easiest to work with when it comes to carpet cleaning. Dish soap is so concentrated that it can be difficult to rinse out, and if soap residue gets left behind in your carpet, it can attract even more dirt and stains.

However, Dawn can be helpful when treating colorful organic stains, like red wine stains, coffee stains, and Kool-Aid stains. Blot up as much of the liquid as you can, then combine 1/2 teaspoon of Dawn, 1 tablespoon of vinegar, and 2 cups of warm water. Dab the solution onto the stain with a clean cloth until the stain is gone, then dab with a clean, damp cloth to rinse.

(Enzyme laundry detergents can also work well on organic stains like these. Just add a capful to 2 cups of water, then follow the directions above.)

DIY Carpet Stain Removers & Carpet Cleaning Solutions

To get stains out of carpet, attack them as soon as possible. Keep some homemade carpet stain spray on hand for instant use.

1. All-Purpose Carpet Stain Remover Spray

Back when my kids were little, new carpet stains would crop up so often that they became part of my daily routine, like watering the flowers or getting the mail. Eventually I started keeping my carpet cleaning supplies at the ready, because I knew that the best way to remove a stain was to get to it quickly and not let it dry!

If you find yourself frequently trying to keep a clean carpet, I highly recommend trying my DIY carpet stain remover spray! With powerful stain fighters like white vinegar and borax, it’s an effective all-purpose carpet cleaning solution that will help you deep clean just about any stain.

After cleaning stains out of carpet, I like to shampoo the entire carpet so it's all fresh and clean.

2. Cleaning Solution For Carpet Cleaners

Before the last decade or so, the only options we had for cleaning large areas of carpet were professional carpet cleaning services, or renting a carpet machine at the grocery store. But today, home carpet cleaners are much more affordable and much more effective, making them an attractive alternative to rental machines!

Another advantage of owning a carpet cleaner is that you can use whatever cleaning solution you like, including my favorite homemade carpet cleaner solution. My homemade solution contains just water, white vinegar, alcohol, and a capful of Lysol disinfectant concentrate, and like other DIY cleaning formulas, it works like a charm and will save you money too!

Renting and using a carpet cleaning machine can help you get stains out of your carpet.

3. Natural Carpet Cleaner Solution

If you have a carpet machine and want to freshen up your carpet or rugs, try this natural cleaning method. Sprinkle baking soda over the carpet, then fill your machine’s reservoir with equal amounts of water and white vinegar (plus a few drops of lemon essential oil for extra freshness, if desired!)

When the vinegar hits the baking soda, the fizzy reaction will lift dirt, grime, and odors out of the carpet fibers, leaving the room smelling clean and fresh.

10 Tips That Make It Easier To Remove Stains From Carpet

Always blot a carpet stain, never scrub it.

1. Treat Stains ASAP

The sooner you treat a stain on your carpet, the better chance you have of being able to get stains out of carpet completely. So don’t put it off — treat any type of stain as soon as you possibly can, and definitely before it has a chance to dry!

To remove carpet stains, scrape off any solids first.

2. Scrape Up Solids & Absorb Liquids

Regardless of what was spilled on the carpet, it’s important to remove as much of it from your carpet as you can before putting anything else on it. Scrape up any solid bits with a butter knife, and soak up excess liquid with a cloth or paper towels so it doesn’t soak through the carpet pad.

Try water first when removing carpet stains -- club soda is effective.

3. Try Water First

Before reaching for your cleaning product of choice, try to clean the stain with water first. Just blot the stain with a clean, damp cloth — depending on the stain, that might be all you need to get it out! (Club soda works great here, just like Grandma used to use!)

Always blot up the cleaner and the carpet stain. Rubbing can spread the stain or force it deeper into the fibers.

4. Don’t Scrub

With every stain, it’s important to blot the area, rather than scrub or wipe it. Scrubbing at stains can spread them around or push them deep into the carpet fibers, making them even more tough to remove than they were before you started!

When cleaning carpet stains you want to use enough water, but you don't want to make the carpet soggy.

5. Use Liquids Sparingly

Be mindful of the amount of liquid you apply to a stain while cleaning it. Over-wetting your carpet can damage the backing, so apply a small amount of liquid at a time and be sure to have absorbent towels handy while you work.

For oily stains on carpet, try baking soda to absorb the oil.

6. Use Powder To Absorb Oil

If you’re tackling a greasy or oil-based stain, the first thing you should do is cover the grease-stained areas of the carpet with baking soda, cornstarch, or powdered chalk. Leave the powder on the oil spot for an hour or two, and the powder will absorb a lot of the excess grease and make it easier to get rid of the stain.

When cleaning carpet stains, be sure to follow the care instructions for your carpet or rug.

7. Follow Directions

Don’t forget to consult the care instructions for your carpets or rugs! There may be a tag on your rug that offers directions for cleaning or stain removal, and as for carpeting, the manufacturer’s website may have that information available.

It’s also important to follow the instructions on any commercial carpet stain removers you use. Applying too much of these products can leave behind a residue in your carpets that will actually attract more dirt over time, leaving your carpet looking worse than before!

Before applying a lot of cleaner, do a spot test and make sure no color is coming off on your cloth.

8. Do A Spot Test

Before using any cleaning solution, do a spot or patch test first to test the colorfastness of your carpet. Start by applying a small amount of the cleaning solution to an inconspicuous area of the material. Hold a damp, white cloth against it for one minute, then check the cloth for color transfer, bleaching, or other changes. If you don’t notice any, you can proceed to cleaning with confidence!

Keep your carpets fresh by frequent vacuuming.

9. Vacuum Regularly

Regular vacuuming helps to remove loose soil from your carpet and protect against wear from ground-in dirt. Frequent vacuuming will keep your carpet looking great and go a long way toward making your carpets last longer. It will help you avoid unfortunate “reverse stains” (where the recently cleaned area looks cleaner than the surrounding carpet) down the road.

Having your carpets professionally cleaned once a year can help keep carpet stains at bay.

10. Have Your Carpets Professionally Cleaned

Spot cleaning is great for minor spills, but you should still aim to have your carpets and rugs cleaned by a professional carpet cleaning company every couple of years. You will be amazed at what a huge difference it makes, and it can help make future stains easier to remove too.

Carpet Stain Removal FAQs

  • Does white vinegar discolor carpet? I’ve never seen white vinegar change the color of anything, let alone a carpet or rug, but you can always do a hidden spot test if you’re worried about a particular cleaner or cleaning agent. If an area of your rug or carpet looks discolored after you’ve used vinegar on it, the “reverse stain” effect may be to blame, which occurs when a previously stained area looks cleaner than the area surrounding it.
  • Will WD40 take stains out of carpet? According to their official website, you can treat carpet stains by saturating them with WD40, then blotting with a damp sponge or rag. I use WD40 for many household tasks, but it does have a strong smell, so I prefer to clean up stains with the tried-and-true methods outlined in this post.
  • How long do you leave baking soda on carpet? When removing pet stains, I’d suggest leaving the baking soda there until it it’s dry enough to vacuum up. (If you’re just using baking soda to freshen up carpet, half an hour to an hour should be plenty!)
  • Can I remove a carpet stain with bleach? The only situation where I’d consider using a diluted chlorine bleach solution is if I were trying to remove a stain from a completely white carpet or rug — and even then, only as a last resort. There are enough risks involved (potential damage and reverse stains, for starters) that I’d sooner call a professional before resorting to bleach!

What’s your best tip for removing carpet stains?

cleaning carpet - collage: hand holding an iron on a white terrycloth rag on the floor, woman's hands sprinkling baking soda on a rug, carpet cleaning machine being used on a striped rug

How To Remove Tough, Old Carpet Stains (Step by Step)

Jill Nystul
Carpet stains are no fun at all, but in just a few easy steps you can clean carpet so it looks like new!
5 from 7 votes
Prep Time 5 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes
Yield 1 clean carpet

Equipment

  • Clothes iron
  • spray bottle
  • clean towels

Ingredients
  

  • 1 cup ammonia
  • 1 cup hot water

Instructions
 

  • Plug your iron into the closest outlet to the stained area (or use an extension cord, if necessary) and allow it to heat up for a minute or two.
    Carpet Stain Remover
  • Fill a spray bottle with a mixture of equal parts ammonia and hot water, then replace the spray top and shake to combine.
  • Spray the ammonia mixture liberally over the carpet stain, then spread a clean towel over the top of it.
    Carpet Stain Remover
  • Place your iron onto the towel, moving it around slowly to avoid singeing the carpet. After a few seconds, pull back one edge of the towel and have a look. You should see that quite a bit of the stain has transferred to the cloth.
    Carpet Stain Remover
  • Spray more of the diluted ammonia onto the stain to keep it moist, then continue ironing, switching to a clean towel as needed. (You may have to use a few towels depending on the severity of the stain.)
    Carpet Stain Remover
  • When the stain is gone, let your carpet dry completely before walking on it again.

Video

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Jill Nystul (aka Jillee)

Jill Nystul is an accomplished writer and author who founded the blog One Good Thing by Jillee in 2011. With over 30 years of experience in homemaking, she has become a trusted resource for contemporary homemakers by offering practical solutions to everyday household challenges.I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

About Jillee

Jill Nystul

Jill’s 30 years of homemaking experience, make her the trusted source for practical household solutions.

About Jillee

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Homekeeping Tips

  • Great technique. Would using a rag, like an old t-shirt, work instead of the towel? I image the towel will be stained and it might not be worth trying to remove the transferred stain.

    • The recipe just calls for equal parts of each water and ammonia. So if you use 1 tablespoon of ammonia, mix it with one tablespoon water. This way you can make as much as you need, and no more. :-)

  • Thanks for sharing such an informative blog post. All of us know very well that Keeping carpets cleaned can be one of the most difficult tasks. I must say that we should choose an Eco-friendly solutions for carpet cleaning that not only work better than chemical cleaning, but also safe for you, your family, your home and environment. Steam Cleaning would be great for dirty and dust carpets and rugs.

  • Great way to get rid of stains! I like that you used the white towels to tell how much of the stain was coming off. I have seen some people use this method, but they’ve used colored towels instead. I had to mention that they should use white towels so the dye doesn’t soak up on the carpet. Thanks for the post!

  • Would this work on mildew stains (caused by a leaking house plant dish) on a light colored carrpet? Nothing I’ve tried has worked so far to my extreme frustration. Thank you!

  • I did this today on my very gross dining room carpet–it worked like a charm! I set the iron on dry heat (I figured since I was wetting the stain it would create its own steam) on wool setting. For the record, my stains were old and set in, and it took a bit of spraying and repeating, but the nasty stain (I don’t even know what it was!) is gone! Try it!!!

  • Has anyome tried it one printer ink? I spilled a little ink on the carpet from the printer ink cartridge when I opened it and still can’t get all of it out. I used baking soda mixture, salt and a few other things the manufacturer suggested nothing worked.

  • You must be a mind reader! I was just staring at my light beige carpet with frustration, thinking, “How can I get these stains out?” They were remnants of puppy training. Of course, I did the usual, I read my email first. Soooo glad I did! Can’t wait to try this.

    These stains kinda re-appeared after the carpet was steam cleaned, which tells me the stains soaked clear through to the padding, despite my best efforts of desperate dabbing, spraying and swabbing, etc. I’m hoping that this cleaning method will be superficial enough to just clean the top layer, thereby leaving old stains to stay buried on the padding, and for clean surfaces to be resurrected to the top!

    I’ll let you know how it goes! I’m very excited to try this.

  • “preheat iron” – to what setting? and dry heat or steam? Or does either dry or steam work fine? Need a bit more info on this procedure in this regard.
    Thanks.

  • How can you remove a very dried wax stain from a carpet. A melted candle spilled on it and we never got all of the stain up. It was a dark grey candle.

    • I have placed a brown paper sack over the stain and used and iron. Placed the iron on top on top of the sack. Use a pressing motion. Your stain may require several paper sacks. This method will lift candle wax.

    • You can actually use this same method, but without the water and ammonia. Just place a dry towel over the wax, and iron over the towel. You’ll melt the wax and absorb it into the towel!

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