Whether you’ve just spilled red wine on the carpet, or you’ve finally decided to tackle that strange brown stain that’s been on the floor since you first moved in, it can be hard to know where to start with carpet stains. Should you scrub the carpet? Do you need a special cleaning solution? Will it ever come out?

Don’t worry—this guide to the worst carpet stains has you covered.

Ten of the worst carpet stains

Before diving into how to clean carpet stains, it can be handy to know which substances are behind the worst carpet stains. That way you can take extra care to avoid spills and you’ll know which ones you want to clean quickly. Here are ten of the worst carpet stains:

  1. Red wine
  2. Other coloured drinks
  3. Blood
  4. Pet urine
  5. Cooking oil
  6. Coffee
  7. Mud
  8. Paint, ink or marker pens
  9. Bleach
  10. Milk

How to remove stains from carpet in three simple steps

Now we know what the main culprits are for stubborn stains, here are our three simple steps for removing stains from carpet.

1. Soak up excess liquid

Time is of the essence when it comes to preventing spills from turning into stains. If you’ve spilled a liquid, always try and stop the spread by removing excess liquid with a sponge, paper towel or tea towel. That’ll minimise the amount of liquid in the carpet, help prevent it from soaking deep into the fibres or spreading out across a larger area, and mean there’s less to remove when you’re cleaning it.

The same principle applies when it comes to food or dirt. Pick up solids right away, taking care not to rub them into the carpet or move them around too much.

The one exception to the ‘clean it fast’ rule is mud. Sometimes with mud it can be a good idea to let it dry before touching it. That way you can vacuum up the dirt, and you run less of a risk of pushing it further into the carpet.

2. Choose the right cleaning product

Most stains can be removed with a mild cleaning solution. Dishwashing liquid mixed with a little bit of water makes for an effective, inexpensive option and is particularly good for removing oil-based stains. Detergent-based products like dishwashing liquid use surfactants to dislodge oil, making it easier to remove.

Other useful cleaning products include:

  • White vinegar – being acidic, white vinegar helps to break down common stains and offers an affordable, natural alternative to chemical-based cleaning products. Simply mix one part of vinegar with two parts of water. White vinegar is also great at neutralising odours from certain stains like those caused by urine or milk.
  • Carpet stain remover – commercial carpet stain removers typically come in spray bottles and can be handy if you don’t feel like mixing your own. Just make sure to read the instructions carefully and check that it’s suitable for your carpet material.
  • Ammonia solution – ammonia is commonly used to clean tile floors and bathrooms, but it can also be used to clean stubborn carpet stains. The trick is to only use a small amount, and make sure it’s ok to put on your carpet—we strongly recommend you don’t use it on wool carpet, as it can damage the wool. Mix two tablespoons of ammonia with one cup of water and add to a spray bottle for easy application. The idea is to spray the stain, leave it for a few minutes and then blot the area with paper towel.
  • Rubbing alcohol or non-acetone nail polish remover – both of these can be handy for removing paint, nail polish and pen stains from the carpet. Make sure to only apply a small amount directly to the stain, and never apply acetone-based nail polish remover.

3. Blot, don’t scrub.

We’ve all had moments cleaning carpet when we’ve panicked and accidentally made things worse by scrubbing the stain. The trick to removing the worst carpet stains is to apply the cleaning solution directly to the stain, using a cloth soaked in the cleaning solution, or a spray bottle.

Apply enough solution to make the carpet damp, but not sopping wet. Once you’ve done that, wait up to 15 minutes to let the cleaning solution work its magic, before using paper towel or a dry cloth to remove the stain. A little bit of gentle rubbing is fine, but avoid vigorous scrubbing—you don’t want to spread the stain further.

Depending on how stubborn the stain is, you may need to repeat this process several times. You may also need to try a few different cleaning solutions.

Other tips for tackling the worst carpet stains

As well as trying the three steps above, here are some things to keep in mind when it comes to removing stains from carpet:

  • Know what material your carpet is made from. It’s important to know whether your carpet is made from synthetic or natural fibres as some cleaning products are designed for one material, and not the other. Using the wrong cleaning product for your carpet can risk damaging the fibres. It’s particularly important to take care if you have a wool carpet.
  • Clean the carpet regularly. We recommend vacuuming your carpet to remove dirt and dust roughly once a fortnight, and cleaning your carpets at least once a year. This helps to prevent particles lodged in the carpet from leaving stains over time. It can also be a good idea to clean the carpet after you’ve removed the stain, so that the rest of the carpet matches the freshly cleaned patch.
  • Avoid bleach or chlorine based products. Bleach might be great for using in the bathroom, but it can easily stain your carpet just as badly as wine or coffee—particularly if it’s a dark colour.
  • Call a professional. If you’ve tried to get the stain out yourself and it just won’t budge, it’s worth calling a professional. They can tackle the stain, and steam clean your carpets while they’re at it!