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Cleaning Challenges

By Michael Hilton

Common Carpet Cleaning Challenges

No other flooring material looks, lasts, or performs like Carpet. Premium fibers provide excellent cleanability. State-of-the-art soil and stain treatments provide added insurance against appearance degradation. With proper carpet cleaning, carpet should provide many years of faithful service. However, improper carpet cleaning can present certain carpet care challenges that can easily be corrected. Following are some of the most common correctable cleaning challenges associated with carpet care:

Recurring soil after cleaning- Often as cleaning takes place, the cleaning results appear to be satisfactory. However, following drying, soil seems to reappear. Often this can be attributed to dry soil that has been carried to the surface by the water during evaporation. As drying occurs, this soil "wicks" back to the surface with the evaporation process. Repeated cleanings will reveal the same result. Thorough vacuuming should be performed prior to cleaning to remove dry soil. Thorough soil removal prior to cleaning can lessen the effect of soil wicking. By limiting moisture with the use of a dry absorbent compound, such as Host, following complete drying, wicked soil can be extracted from the surface.

Resoiling following cleaning- Resoiling is different from recurring soil in that resoiling takes places over a number of days or weeks following cleaning rather than immediately following drying. Often resoiling can be attributed to detergent residues left behind during cleaning. Detergents, by design, attract soil. By leaving detergent in Carpet after cleaning, detergents rapidly attract soil. To limit this occurrence, we discourage the use of detergent in the extractor rinse tank. Detergents only should be used as a prespray and should be rinsed with an extractor using fresh water only.


Have you ever heard the expression "Don't clean your carpet because it gets dirtier faster after it is cleaned". Its true! in many cases. Most cleaning solutions leave an oily or sticky residue on carpet fibers that attracts soil like a magnet. The same is true for many grout cleaners, kitchen vinyl cleaners, and other floor cleaners. Once you clean these surfaces, they seem to become dirtier, faster.

Now there is a test method to evaluate this resoil potential. The photo to the right shows three carpet samples cleaned using three different detergents. The samples to the right were then soiled using a soiling drum and vacuumed. The product tested in the center offered little or no resoiling, while the sample to the left exhibited significant resoil potential. These samples are then compared to samples cleaned with water only (no detergent). A product that offers the same resoil potential as water is a wise choice.

Also, to prevent chemical manufacturers from bottling water for cleaning, a cleaning efficacy test has been designed using a similar procedure. A standard for cleaning results has been established and products are compared to this standard. Few products meet both of these cleaning efficacy and resoil potential standards.

Spots that return - In most instances, spots that return can be attributed to incomplete removal of the original spill. These spills wick up from the vinyl backing during drying. Many spills may leave oily, sugary, or sticky residues that may attract additional soil. Incomplete removal of these residues may encourage new soiling rather than a reoccurrence of the original spill.

Some spotting solutions may encourage additional soiling because of oily residues used in the formulation. Most spotting agents are very good cleaners, but never should be used for wide area cleaning and always should be thoroughly rinsed to limit resoil potential. Many spotting solutions that contain d'limonene cause heavy resoiling and should be avoided.

Inability to remove spots - Carpet, today, offers the finest soil and stain treatments available, but no flooring product is stain-proof. In addition, there is no single spot removal product that can be used universally to remove all spills. If available spot removal solutions are ineffective in removing a spill, select other solutions on the spot chart.

Yellowing - Yellowing can be caused by a number of chemical and environmental factors. In general terms, when yellowing has occurred, apply an acid rinse, first, such as white vinegar. Some yellowing, caused by heating sources, environmental pollutants, or improper cleaning agents may not easily be reversed.

Color Fading/Yellowing - Some cleaning agents may affect dyes causing a gradual loss of color over an extended period. Optical brighteners never should be used in any cleaning solution used in Carpet maintenance. Optical brighteners can cause Carpet color to fade or yellow and the use of any cleaning solution containing brighteners may affect warranty coverage.

Loss of Color in small areas - Color loss in limited areas almost always may be attributed to bleaching or oxidizing agents used in the home. Some bleaching agents may be latent intruders, such as acne medications, that require several months and moisture to be activated. Others may affect dyes immediately. Typically, these color changes are permanent and cannot be reversed.

Soiling along walls/baseboards - Some facilities exhibit heavy soiling around baseboards, under doors, or adjacent to areas of constant airflow. This condition, called filtration soiling, is caused by airborne particles that are deposited on the surface of Carpet as a result of concentrated airflow. This soil accumulates along walls because of exit sources under walls. Color Loss along walls/baseboards- Color loss along baseboards can be attributed to a number of factors including wall cleaners, window cleaners, or aerosol sprays that enter the air stream as a result of convection. However, the most common cause of color loss along baseboards is through the application of pesticides. Some pesticides may require weeks or even months to produce a color change

Asphalt track-off - Various sealers require different approaches for adequate removal. As a first step select, a product containing limonene or other citrus solvents. Several applications and agitation may be necessary. Keep in mind d'limonene causes heavy resoiling and must be thoroughly rinsed. Optical Brighteners (See color fading/yellow) Optical brighteners should never be used on any carpet product.

Bonnet Cleaning - Bonnet cleaning should never be used on residential carpet products.

Blood Removal - To prevent setting the stain, always use cold water on blood spills. For stubborn bloodstains, apply an environmentally friendly rust remover such as Rust Subtractor. Home Depot sells products in the paint department for etching concrete containing oxalic acid (read label for content), both oxalic acid and hydrofluoric acid are used in rust removal and both should work for blood removal.

Did you know?

Some carpet cleaning challenges occur quite frequently. Recognizing these normal carpet cleaning occurrences and understanding how to correct them may save you thousands of dollars to prevent carpet replacement.

About the Author
Michael Hilton was the original creator of Carpet Buyers Handbook. Having owned and operated a carpet wholesale company, Hilton has a vast knowledge about all-things carpet related as well as other types of flooring.

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