While more and more homeowners are replacing their wall-to-wall carpeting with real or synthetic hardwood flooring, there are still many who prefer to cover their bare floors with luxurious-feeling carpeting. However, because carpets consist of a bunch of absorbent fibers, it is very easy for carpets to get visibly dirty or discolored.
While regular vacuuming helps to remove dust and debris, it’s a whole different ball game when it comes to cleaning the liquids or wet solids (hello, slime) that land on your carpeted floors. Those with kids, pets, or messy hobbies are very much aware that removing carpet stains requires special cleaners, a sponge or a clean cloth, and a whole lot of elbow grease.
So to cut through the veritable cornucopia of carpet stain removers on the market, we extensively tested more than a dozen cleaners and found only a few can actually tackle tough stains. Based on our test results, the best carpet stain remover is Woolite Instaclean Permanent Pet Stain Remover(available at Amazon), but we found a few others that also perform well.
These are the best carpet stain removers we tested, ranked in order:
Woolite Instaclean Permanent Pet Stain Remover
Biokleen Bac-Out Enzyme Stain Remover
Bissell Professional Power Shot Oxy Carpet Spot
Angry Orange Enzyme Stain Cleaner & Pet Odor Eliminator
Hoover Oxy 22 oz. Stain Remover Carpet Cleaner Pretreat Spray
Rocco & Roxie Supply Professional Strength Stain and Odor Eliminator
Nature's Miracle Advanced Stain and Odor Eliminator
When it comes to cleaning impossibly tough stains, Woolite Instaclean has your back. Out of all of the carpet stain removers we tested, this carpet spray had the best stain removal performance; it removed almost all of the chocolate stain and easily dispatched the rest of the stains, including the tomato sauce stain. Even better, it removed nearly all of the odors that accompanied each stain.
To apply this spot cleaner, you simply spray it on the stain, give it a few seconds to soak in, blot the stain with a clean cloth, and reapply as needed. After the stain is gone, dry the stain with a second, clean cloth.
Best of all, Woolite Instaclean is billed as safe for kids and pets. While you should obviously prevent small children and animals from ingesting any sort of cleaner, this carpet stain remover is safe as long as it is used (and dried) appropriately.
As we become more aware of our impact on the environment, more people are looking for eco-friendly alternatives to the products we use every day. Biokleen Bac-Out Enzyme Stain Remover did a killer job of removing our tough test stains; when applying this carpet stain remover to the chocolate sauce stain, it only left behind a slightly darker-colored stain halo. Where the Biokleen was applied multiple times (i.e. on our two most difficult stains, chocolate sauce and tomato sauce), the stain odors were almost entirely eliminated and instead replaced by the light scent of lemon.
This spot cleaner doesn’t need to set in for any length of time; you just spray it, blot the stain, and repeat as necessary.
The Biokleen carpet spray is non-toxic, phosphate-free, and primarily consists of plant-derived ingredients.
As a pet owner and someone who likes to eat dinner on the couch in my carpeted apartment, I’ve had mixed luck when it comes to removing stains from carpeting. While I wasn’t really looking forward to the manual labor part of testing, I was excited to see which cleaner did the best job getting rid of tough stains.
As you might expect, our testing of various carpet stain removers mostly focused on actually getting stains out of carpets. We applied five different stains to a gray, medium-pile carpet square: chocolate sauce, milk, tomato sauce, fox urine, and dirt. In this case, we used fox urine as a proxy for household pet urine (since there's no easy way of getting our hands on cat or dog urine, while fox urine is often used to keep critters out of backyards, and can be purchased on Amazon).
Each carpet cleaner had its own stain-covered carpet square. After letting the stains sit on the carpet square for days untouched, we then followed the application directions on the label of each carpet stain remover.
For the carpet stain removers that are meant to be applied and reapplied continuously until the stain is gone, we sprayed and blotted the stain four times in a row. For those that need to sit undisturbed for more than 10 minutes before blotting and reapplication, we sprayed and blotted the stain three times.
After the carpet square had completely dried, we then vacuumed each carpet square and evaluated the stain and odor removal performance of each carpet stain remover. We also scored the cleaners on their ease of use, scent, and special features (e.g. safe for use around kids and pets, eco-friendliness, etc.).
What You Should Know About Carpet Stain Removers
How Do I Clean My Carpets?
If you get a stain on your carpet, it’s always better to try to remove the stain as quickly as possible. The longer the stain sits in your carpet, the more the stain can be absorbed into the carpet fibers.
As soon as the stain lands on your carpet, the first thing to do is to wipe up what you can with a clean dry cloth. If the stain is wet or liquid-like, dampen the cloth before trying to swipe up the stain.
Once you’ve manually removed as much of the stain as possible, follow the directions on the bottle and apply the carpet cleaner to the carpet. Very recent stains should come up with one or two applications, but older or set-in stains may require many more applications of the carpet spray.
In general, the most effective way to clean something is to rely on both chemical (i.e. cleaning products) and mechanical (i.e. scrubbing) action. The cleaning products are typically made of chemicals that help to separate the stain from the surface, while the scrubbing physically lifts and removes the stain from the surface. With carpets, the same logic applies, but the scrubbing has to be done a bit more carefully that it would on a sealed floor surface.
The directions on most carpet cleaners tell you to blot the stain after applying the carpet spray; the term “blot” is often used in place of the word “scrub” because the word “blot” implies that you should be gently pressing the dry or damp cloth into the stain, rather than applying pressure to the carpet in a circular motion (e.g. scrubbing). While blotting is usually enough to remove a very recent stain from a carpet, it might not get the job done on older stains.
The “blot” vs. “scrub” language choice is important because if you apply a carpet cleaner to a stain and then scrub the stain with a sponge or a brush, you run the risk of increasing the footprint of the stain on your carpet, since there’s a chance the brush or sponge motion will actually push the stained material into the previously unstained carpet fibers surrounding the stain.
After you’re done removing the stain, it is best to either dry the carpet manually or to cordon off the area until the carpet dries. As with all cleaning supplies, it is best to do what you can to limit the likelihood of the carpet cleaner being ingested by a child or a pet.
If, however, you'd prefer to own a product that does a lot of the scrubbing for you, you can purchase a carpet cleaner. While vacuum cleaners are geared towards removing dry debris such as dirt and dust, carpet cleaners have built-in water tanks and shampoo dispensers and are meant to tackle liquid or wet stains on carpet surfaces.
When Should I Call a Professional Carpet Cleaning Service?
As long as it falls within your budget, time, and room constraints, it’s rarely a bad idea to use a professional carpet cleaning service. From a more practical perspective, though, most people tend to call in the professionals only when faced with very difficult stains or when the carpet discoloration is more widespread than a few spots. Carpets that experience heavy use, such as those at doorways or in hallways, can often take on a dingy appearance over time; this type of staining would be prohibitively time consuming for a normal person to take on with a bottle of carpet cleaning spray. Carpet cleaning services use professional-grade equipment to tackle the accumulated dirt that has been sitting in your carpet for months or years.
One thing to keep in mind is that professional carpet cleaning often requires that the room(s) with newly-cleaned carpet should be left to dry for a minimum of 6 hours; if you’re getting your carpets cleaned, be sure to figure out ahead of time how the traffic patterns in your home will change to accommodate one or more rooms being inaccessible for hours at a time.
For those who have an abundance of patience and want to save some cash, it is also possible to rent a carpet cleaner at most major home improvement stores. Again, though, once you’ve finished the carpet cleaning process, you’ll have to let the carpets dry for at least six hours.
How Often Should I Clean My Carpets?
Because carpets are fibrous, the amount of dust, pollen, and other smaller particles that collects in carpets is much higher than it is on sealed floor surfaces such as hardwood and tile. As such, it is recommended that you vacuum your carpets at least once a week, with more frequent vacuuming for high-traffic areas. While vacuuming helps to remove debris from your carpets, it also plays a key role in improving your air quality; this is especially important in households where residents have allergies, asthma, or other respiratory issues.
However, carpet manufacturers do not consider vacuuming to be enough when it comes to cleaning your carpets; they recommend that you have your carpets professionally cleaned once every 1-2 years in order properly maintain the integrity of your carpet and the cleanliness of your air.
Are Carpet Stain Removers Dangerous for Kids and Pets?
Many cleaning solutions contain ingredients that are poisonous. If anyone or any pet in your household has ingested cleaning chemicals, call 911 or your regional Poison Control center immediately.
It can be difficult to protect kids and pets against carpet cleaning products because in addition to the danger of them accidentally being ingested, these products can linger on your carpet while they dry. While no floor cleaning product is ever 100% safe for kids and pets, certain cleaning solutions are billed as “pet safe,” which indicates that the number and/or amount of the toxic ingredients are much lower than they are in typical cleaners.
In general, if you’re concerned about carpet stain removers being ingested or licked by children and pets, we recommend that you avoid carpet cleaners that ask you to let the product dry over a period of hours. In this case, it is better to use carpet sprays that dry quickly or that can be blotted with a cloth until they are dry.
If you have more serious concerns about the ingredients in carpet stain removers, we recommend checking the EPA’s Safer Choice products database for household products (not just cleaners) that have to meet certain standards in terms of their ingredients, packaging, and performance.
Other Carpet Stain Removers We Tested
Bissell Pro Oxy Power Shot
The Bissell Professional carpet stain remover did an outstanding job removing our test stains; after four rounds of cleaning, only faint hints of both the chocolate sauce stain and the tomato sauce stain remained. It was still possible to smell the related stain odors, but further applications of this product would likely remove those odors altogether.
Even better, this product comes in a spray can; those with limited hand strength will appreciate how much less effort it requires to aim and spray this cleaning solution onto a moderately-sized stain than it does when using a carpet stain remover in a normal spray bottle. As the cherry on top, this Bissell carpet spray is labeled as safe for kids and pets.
If you’re looking for a carpet cleaning spray that can tackle tough stains and smelly odors, Angry Orange is the way to go. This orange-scented cleaner didn’t just cover up the odors accompanying the test stains, it removed them altogether (one of the only tested products to do so).
While it’s excellent at odor removal, Angry Orange struggled a bit when it came to our tests stains. This spray managed to remove almost all of the tomato sauce stain, but there was still a distinct halo of chocolate sauce left behind after our scrubbing attempts.
One last thing to keep in mind: if you have pets at home, do your best to prevent them from accessing areas where you’re using the Angry Orange cleaner. A warning on the label states that “Cats and birds may be sensitive to concentrated levels of certain ingredients [in the Angry Orange carpet spray].”
Hoover Oxy is one of the more effective carpet stain removers we tested. While the chocolate sauce stain was still visible, most of the darkest part of the stain had been removed. The tomato sauce stain was mostly removed as well. After multiple applications, only a slight scent of chocolate sauce remained.
One thing to note: The directions on this cleaning product recommend that you let the stain remover sit for 10 minutes after applying it to the carpet; we got pretty good results by following those directions. However, if the stain is in an area where it cannot be left unattended or blocked off from kids and pets, we instead recommend using one of the carpet stain removers that can be reapplied immediately.
Rocco & Roxie Professional Strength Stain & Odor Eliminator
While the Rocco & Roxie carpet cleaner wasn’t able to defeat the tomato stain on our test carpet, it was one of the few carpet cleaners we tested that almost entirely removed the chocolate sauce stain. Similarly, we were still able to smell the tomato sauce in the carpet fibers, but the scent of chocolate was almost gone.
Rocco & Roxie is safe to use around kids and pets, so you should be able to remove even the toughest set-in stains after a few applications.
Nature’s Miracle is a brand that pet owners have sworn by for years; as we found out during testing, that brand loyalty is well earned. This carpet cleaner removed almost all of our two toughest test stains: chocolate sauce and tomato sauce. It was mostly successful at removing the stain odors as well, although the tomato sauce smell lingered a bit.
This carpet spray has to sit for 15 minutes before you can start to blot it away. Furthermore, the directions on the back of the bottle say that after you blot the sprayed section of the carpet, that it should be left to dry for 24 hours. This could be fine, except that there’s a warning on the bottle that states that pets should be kept away from that section of the carpet while it's drying. So, if you’re unable to keep your pets away from the stained area for 24 hours, it may make more sense to use a product that doesn’t have to dry for such a long period of time.
Everyone loves freshening up fabrics with Febreze spray, but unfortunately, the Febreze Heavy Traffic Carpet Foam falls short of the mark when it comes to stain removal and usability. While a spray foam sounds good in theory, the foam often obscures the stained part of the carpet during the cleaning process, making it unclear as to whether the stain is removed or not. Additionally, the dirty foam has to be mopped up separately, and, in our experience, may linger in your carpet longer than you’d like it to.
While the Woolite Instaclean carpet stain remover tops our list, the Woolite Carpet and Upholstery Cleaner didn’t fare as well. In addition to not doing great when it came to stain removal, the fact that the included brush is attached to a spray can makes it awkward to use. Additionally, the brush, which cannot be removed from the spray can, has to be cleaned in between each use.
If you have a TV, chances are that you’ve heard about OxiClean. The brand’s laundry additive is a fan favorite, but the OxiClean Carpet Stain Remover doesn’t get high marks in our books. With its mediocre stain removal performance and warning that states that it can be “harmful to aquatic life” and that you should "avoid release to the environment," it may be best to skip this cleaner in favor of something further up our list.
Julia is the Senior Scientist at Reviewed, which means that she oversees (and continually updates) the testing of products in Reviewed's core categories such as televisions, washing machines, refrigerators, and more. She also determines the testing methods and standards for Reviewed's "The Best Right Now" articles.
Our team is here for one purpose: to help you buy the best stuff and love what you own. Our writers, editors, and lab technicians obsess over the products we cover to make sure you're confident and satisfied. Have a different opinion about something we recommend? Email us and we'll compare notes.