Skip to navigationSkip to main content

It is critical to the life and appearance of your facility’s carpet to identify and remove a stain as soon as possible. If your facility has carpet, you will eventually have stains, but with proper identification and removal, you can avoid lasting damage and costly restorative procedures.


How to Identify Carpet Stains

The first step in removing a carpet stain is identifying the type of soil that caused the stain.

It is important to identify the origin of the stain (as best you can) so that you can select the best carpet spotter. Knowing the origin of the stain will help you determine the pH of the soil which will be used to select the best carpet spotter. If you don’t use the proper cleaning agent and spot removal process, the soil can reappear or become a more permanent stain.

Sometimes you will be told what type of soil caused the stain enabling you to skip right to stain removal. More commonly, you will not know when the stain occurred or what soil type it is.

The best way to determine what type of stain you are dealing with is to analyze the location, appearance, and smell. The best tools to do this are your sense of sight, smell, and touch.


The area where the stain is located can often narrow down the possibilities.

RoomCoffee Stain

Areas which serve food, like the cafeteria or the dining hall, are most likely going to experience carpet stains from food or soda.

Break rooms with dark spots around the coffee machine are likely coffee or tea stains.

Traffic Pattern

In each room or area, you should monitor the level of traffic and traffic pattern. Traffic patterns can help you understand which areas are most heavily soiled from foot traffic, and the stains are likely from soil tracked inside. Outside soils are harder to identify because of the numerous possibilities.



Sometimes the color of the stain will be able to tell you the source of the stain.

A “shiny” appearance often means the spot or stain is synthetic or manmade.

A “dull” appearance often means it is organic.

Common stains that are identifiable by color include yellow mustard stains, dark soda stains, or white milk stains.

Thickness or Depth

The thickness or depth that the stain is penetrating the carpet is important in determining how long the stain has been on the carpet, as well as how long it is going to take to remove it.

Discoloration that is only appearing at the top of the fibers may be from a previous stain that was improperly cleaned. Soils that were not completely removed from the carpet backing can experience a wicking action.

PRO TIP: What is wicking?

Wicking is the result of an improperly cleaned stain. As carpet begins to dry, wetted soil that was not fully removed from the carpet backing is drawn up to the top of the carpet fibers. This “wicking” action causes recurring or reappearing stains. The best way to prevent wicking is to ensure that the stain is fully removed from the carpet fibers and carpet backing.

The deeper the carpet stain, the more likely you are going to have to use restorative carpet care procedures to remove the soil.


The texture of a stain can help you identify the type of soil. Common textures are hard, soft, oily, or waxy.

Oil-based stains will usually appear shiny and smooth while waxy stains will be more dull and hard.


The smell of a stain can be the easiest way to identify the source. Fresh spills will usually still produce an odor.

For older stains, you can try to restore some of the odor by applying a small amount of water to the spot to draw out the scent. Be careful not to over soak the stain to avoid further damage to your carpet.

Selecting a Carpet Spotter

The second and most important step of removing soil from a carpet is choosing the correct carpet spotter. The most basic rule for removing any carpet stain is to balance the stain’s pH with the selected carpet spotter.

PRO TIP: Commercial cleaning products are measured based on the pH scale. The pH scale measures the acidity or alkalinity of a substance. The scale ranges from 0 (extremely acidic) to 14 (extremely alkaline).

After identifying the source of the stain, you will likely know if you are dealing with an acidic soil such as soda or alkaline soil such as rust. Acidic soils require alkaline carpet spotters. Alkaline soils require acidic carpet spotters.

If you were not able to identify the stain, you can test the pH of the soil with a pH litmus test strip or use an all-purpose spotter.


Types of Carpet Spotters

Bio-Enzymatic/Protein Spotter

Organic matter such as urine, feces, or vomit should be removed with a Bio-Enzymatic spotter.

Reducing Agent

Synthetic, man-made stains such as red dyes should be removed with a reducing agent.

Solvent Spotter

Petroleum-based or solvent-soluble stains such as ink, adhesives, or paint, should be removed with a solvent spotter.

All Purpose Spotter

If you were unable to determine the type of soil, use an all-purpose spotter.

For some of the most common stains, check out our carpet spotting guide:

ChocolateAll Purpose Spotter
Grape JuiceAll Purpose Spotter
SodaAll Purpose Spotter
MustardAll Purpose Spotter
OilAll Purpose Spotter
WineAll Purpose Spotter
Red DyeReducing Agent
CandyReducing Agent
Coffee/TeaCoffee Stain Spotter
MilkBio-Enzymatic/Protein Spotter
UrineBio-Enzymatic/Protein Spotter
FecesBio-Enzymatic/Protein Spotter
VomitBio-Enzymatic/Protein Spotter
BloodBio-Enzymatic/Protein Spotter
Chewing GumSolvent Spotter
Heavy GreaseSolvent Spotter
TonerSolvent Spotter
InkSolvent Spotter
Shoe PolishSolvent Spotter

When selecting the appropriate carpet spotter, make sure you know what type of carpet fiber you are dealing with. Not all carpet materials are tolerant of the same cleaning agents.

The most common carpet fibers are nylon, olefin, polyester, or wool. In commercial facilities, there is a 90% chance that you will be dealing with a synthetic carpet. Synthetic carpets are usually tolerant of most commercial cleaning chemicals but check with your carpet manufacturer’s guidelines to make sure.

Carpet Stain Removal

Once you have identified the stain and chosen the proper carpet spotter it is time to remove the soil. For best results, follow these Steps to Spotting a Carpet.

Final Thoughts

Identifying and removing soils as soon as possible will reduce permanent stains and the need for restorative carpet care.

Imperial Dade offers a variety of commercial cleaning supplies to help remove soils and restore your carpet.     

Contact an Imperial Dade Specialist today for help selecting the right spotter to remove stubborn or recurring stains. Whether you’re located in the United States, Puerto Rico, or the Caribbean, we can help you find the right solution for your carpet cleaning needs.