- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The first thing homeowners do when their carpet, drapes or love seat gets a stain is try removing it themselves. Chemically speaking, that’s the wrong path to travel, says Pat Fauntroy, president of Chem-Dry of Northern Virginia in Fairfax.

The best thing to do with a freshly made stain is nothing. Trying to chase it away with cleaners such as Resolve either won’t completely lift the stain or could make it worse, he says.

The only time a person should act swiftly on a stain is if the material could harden if left alone or if the stain in question is freshly spilled paint. For the latter, he recommends using a wet/dry vacuum with plenty of water.

“Don’t let it dry,” he advises.

Some may think a stain will get worse with time, but that isn’t necessarily the case, he says.

“For chemical stains, it doesn’t matter when we get to it. It’ll take a chemical change to reverse it,” he says of splotches caused by materials that alter the properties of the rug or upholstery in question, such as dyes. His company’s patented process involves a chemical treatment that works, in part, by applying both heat and moisture to the stain.

Mr. Fauntroy says the bulk of his customers are trying to wipe away the signs of too much foot traffic in their carpets.

The rest of the household stains come from spilled dyes and pet accidents, with considerable heartache caused by ink, candle wax and Jell-O spills, Mr. Fauntroy says.

Of course, Chem-Dry’s business relies on people giving up on fighting stains themselves. Some hands-on types prefer to take stains on without professional assistance.

Sarah Aguirre, the Housekeeping and Organization editor for About.com (https://housekeeping.about.com), says homeowners have plenty of homemade stain remedies at their disposal.

Mrs. Aguirre, a mother of four, says the most common stains she deals with involve spilled drinks. And whether the spill is a sugary blend such as Kool-Aid or a fancy merlot, she says the key is to act quickly.

She suggests blotting the stain with a clean white cloth dipped in cold water, starting from the outside of the mark and working inward.

“Otherwise, it will spread and start rings around it,” she says. “If you get to it quick enough, you can get it up.”

If the stain can’t be attacked immediately, she says to sprinkle salt on the area, which will absorb some of the staining agent.

Grease stains, whether it’s a glob of mayonnaise or makeup, can be treated with standard liquid laundry detergent, she says.

“Rub it into the stain and rinse it. Keep repeating until you get it up,” she says.

Traditional baking soda is another weapon to fight stains, particularly marks left by the family pet.

Baking soda can be applied in paste form, using a ratio of three parts baking soda to one part water, to help remove some stains. The paste also helps combat odors left by the stain, a considerable bonus for pet owners who must deal with their creatures’ cranky bladders.

Mrs. Aguirre says a good resource to fall back on is the store where the stained carpet or chair was purchased.

Mike Morris, president of Absolute Carpet Care in Sterling, Va., says any substance containing dyes, even natural dyes such as those found in coffee or tea, cause the most commonly found stains.

The best way to keep stains from ruining one’s home is to purchase protectants such as 3M Scotch Guard, Mr. Morris says.

“That can buy the homeowner some time before it penetrates the carpet,” Mr. Morris says.

If the carpet is au naturel, then the first line of defense should be just soap and warm water.

The big exception here is when dealing with bloodstains. Warm water can actually set bloodstains into the fibers, so use cold water when scrubbing these stains clean, Mr. Morris says.

Spot removers can sometimes work, but if used together, they can create new problems for the material being treated, he says. Read the directions carefully — mixing spot removal agents can cause permanent damage plus color loss, he warns.

“Follow the instruction to the T,” he says.

Hugh Mobban, owner of Hew’s Carpet Care in Lorton, Va., says his customers come to his shop to fix grease stains more than any other staining woe.

“Years, ago, there was a lot of Kool-Aid [spills],” Mr. Mobban says.

Joyce Abdallah, president of Love My Home cleaning services in Alexandria, says a homeowner can try steam cleaning a nasty stain away.

“I usually suggest steam cleaning, but sometimes that doesn’t help either,” Mrs. Abdallah says. The steaming process can damage carpet fibers or a sofa’s upholstery over time, making it good for only limited solutions at best, she says.

Mrs. Abdallah finds coffee and wine stains to be the hardest to remove around the home.

“I’ve tried every product out there and nothing seems to help, especially because coffee, wine and juices have dyes in them,” she says.

No home gets the kind of foot traffic Metro’s trains endure. Their carpeted floors get a thorough shampoo treatment every 60 days, says Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel. The carpeted cars are vacuumed and swept daily to reduce the overall dirt levels on the floors.

Homeowners can rent steam cleaners or other such industrial devices, but for day-to-day stains, that option would seem excessive, if not cost prohibitive.

Mrs. Aguirre says homeowners too often make critical blunders when dealing with household stains.

“The number one mistake is thinking we have time,” she says, proving not everyone is of the same mind when it comes to stain-fighting techniques.

If someone is throwing a cocktail party, it seems rude to stop everything and drop to one’s hands and knees to address a fresh stain. That’s less rude than having an ugly stain on the carpet for every party thereafter, she says.

Often, homeowners also neglect to read the directions of over-the-counter cleaning agents.

“It will say, ‘don’t use on wool,’ but they go ahead and don’t test them first,” she says.

The key is not to lose one’s cool.

“Be patient. Sometimes, it may take some repetition. You may have to repeat the steps,” she says.

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