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The 5 worst carpet stains and how to clean them

You'll want to tear your hair out—and your carpet.

Cleaning stains out of carpet Credit: AndreyPopov / Getty

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Carpet owners know: Not all stains are created equal. Sure, muddy footprints can be a real headache to remove, but nothing strikes fear into the heart of a homeowner like a glass of red wine tumbling to the floor or a new puppy popping a squat right on a patch of pristine plush.

Since not every rug is machine washable, you'll need to get creative with how you tackle each new blotch. Some stains are easily removed, while others require ample elbow grease and special cleaning solutions. Then there are the nightmare stains, the ones that send you down a 2am rabbit hole of pages before you cave and just hire some professionals. (Personal experience, here.)

These are the stains that will have you tearing out not only your carpet, but also your hair.

We’ve compiled a list of the five worst carpet stains, how to best address them, and when to simply give up. It’s a messy world out there, and no carpet is safe from the grime of everyday life. Please accept our sincere commiseration.

5. Red Wine

Ah, red wine. They say a glass a day is good for the heart, but it's definitely not good for your carpet. Whether you’re sipping alone in front of The Voice or hosting a dinner party, there’s bound to be a party foul at some point. And in all likelihood, your carpet is going to take the brunt of it.

Splashing wine
Credit: Flickr / beepbooprobot

Wine spills are a common stain—and a frustrating one.

Good Housekeeping recommends first blotting a fresh spill, then using a clean cloth to dab away the stain with either plain water or a solution of one tablespoon white vinegar, one tablespoon hand dishwashing liquid, and two cups warm water.

If you use the solution, make sure to sponge the carpet with water afterwards—no one likes a vinegar-scented floor.

Last-ditch effort: One part hand dishwashing liquid, two parts hydrogen peroxide, and a burst of manic determination. Spot test first to make sure it doesn’t bleach your carpet. Wipe it off with a damp cloth after use.

Just give up: If you bring in professionals and they can’t dislodge the stain, you’re out of luck. But unless the wine has had a long, long time to set, that shouldn't be the case.

4. Pet Stains

We love our pets, but we don’t exactly love their... byproducts. Especially when they find their way onto our clean carpets.

Credit: Flickr / tambako

New puppies are cute, but urine stains are not.

Fresh pet stains are usually easy to remove. Just soak up as much liquid as possible with newspaper or towels, then wash the area with cold water and dry it again. We’d recommend following up with a store-bought cleaner or odor neutralizer. But even when this is done, some stains will require additional effort.

Avoid any removal tools that heat the carpet, as these will only set the stain. Try rewetting the area, then spraying an enzymatic cleaner (available at pet stores) on the spot. Let it sit overnight, then soak up the liquid with paper towels. It’s important to use a cleanser that will neutralize the scent if you don’t want your pet to develop an unfortunate habit.

Last-ditch effort: If the stain just won’t budge, the Humane Society suggests a good wet vac may prove useful.

Still no luck? Call in the professionals; we can’t help you anymore.

3. Blood

A wound—no matter how small—is bad enough without the added stress of staining your carpet in the process. Talk about adding insult to injury!

Credit: Flickr / photobunny_earl

Blood isn't too difficult to clean when it's wet, but once it's dry, you're in trouble.

Good Housekeeping suggests dabbing the stain with a solution of one tablespoon hand dishwashing liquid and two cups cold water. When you're done, absorb the liquid with a dry clot. Repeat until the stain is gone.

Last-ditch effort: If you’re still not seeing results, you can dampen the remaining stain with a small amount of hydrogen peroxide. (Again, do a spot check to make sure it doesn’t lighten your carpet.) You can leave the hydrogen peroxide on the spot for up to an hour, then dab at it with a cloth. Repeat as many times as it takes.

We've also had some good success with enzyme cleaners. These are a little expensive, but they work wonders cleaning up anything that originated inside a living body.

2. Old Stains

Any stain can prove impossible to remove if you leave it alone long enough.

Credit: Flickr / corneveaux

Have your stains been there for a long time? Good luck getting rid of them.

Hydrogen peroxide or store-bought cleaning products can go a long way, as can wet vacs or professional cleaning services, so at the end of the day it really comes down to what the nature of the stain is, how long it has been there, and how hard you are willing to work.

Last-ditch effort: Professional cleaners. Otherwise, tear it up, hide the stains with rugs or furniture, or simply learn to live with them. Old stains aren’t easy.

1. Bleach

So you’ve spilled bleach on your carpet. Be prepared for the worst, because this likely isn’t going to go your way.

Credit: Flickr / jeepersmedia

The sooner you clean up bleach, the less it will damage your carpet.

The quicker you can jump into cleaning action, the better your outcome will be. Protect your hands with gloves, soak up the stain with a cloth, then use the aforementioned dishwashing liquid/water combo to dab at the stain from the outside in.

Unlike most other stains, bleach physically lightens the shade of your carpet, so if it’s already started to work its magic, the best you can hope for is the ability to hide the mark on the carpet with a strategically placed couch.

Last-ditch effort: There isn’t one. Learn to live with your bleach stain, or tear up the carpet. Bleach is the worst stain for a reason.

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