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Carpet Wicking 101: What Is It and How to Avoid It?

Carpet Wicking 101: What Is It and How to Avoid It?

Do you notice stains reappearing on your carpets, even if you and your cleaning team just extracted them?

Recurring stains are often due to carpet wicking. 

Carpet wicking can be an expensive problem when time, labor, and cleaning products are continually spent on the same stain, only for it to keep reappearing. 

That’s not to mention the effect it has on building occupants and visitors, who may be judging the facility’s cleanliness.

Today, we’re going to go over the basics of carpet wicking, its causes, and most importantly, how to avoid carpet wicking altogether. 

What is Carpet Wicking?

Carpet wicking is when a carpet is improperly cleaned, leading to recurring or reappearing carpet stains.

Recurring stains happen when dirt becomes deeply embedded in the carpet backing. As a result, a deep clean is required. When the carpet gets cleaned, the backing becomes flooded with water and cleaning agents. 

Then, as the carpet dries out, the moisture and cleaning agents move from the base to the tip top of the carpet fibers. This is because carpets dry from the tip down, drawing moisture from the backing. During this upward draw, previously trapped dirt and soil particles move to the carpet surface as well. 

So, in short, you can think of carpet wicking as the upward flow of dirt and soil to the surface of the carpet fibers during a drying process. 

Having gone over the basics, let’s take a look at some of the common mistakes people make that result in carpet wicking. 

Carpet Wicking After Cleaning: Why Does it Happen? 

There are a couple of reasons why a stain would recur after cleaning, but they all stem from improperly following carpet cleaning procedures

Using Too Much Moisture and Cleaning Agent 

The usual reason is that too much moisture or cleaning agent is used when spot cleaning. Any excess moisture that touches a carpet will seep into the base and backing, which will kick off the wicking process after being left to dry.  

Long Dry Times

Another reason you may experience wicking is that the carpet may be taking too long to dry. Carpet wicking can only occur when the carpet is still wet. The longer it takes to dry, the longer the carpet remains wet, allowing plenty of time for dirt and soil to travel up from the carpet backing to the tip of its fibers. 

Not Cleaning Thoroughly Enough 

The last reason we’ll cover that carpet wicking can occur is also the most straightforward; your carpets may not be receiving a thorough enough cleaning. 

This happens when the carpet surface appears to be clean, so the custodian cleaning thinks that their job is done. In reality, carpets are designed so that when a liquid hits the surface it settles into the backing and spreads out from there. So, while appearing clean, a carpet can still be loaded with dirt and soil.

Now that we’ve discussed the most common causes of carpet wicking, we can go over the solutions for it. 

How to Avoid Carpet Wicking 

We’ve come up with a handful of solutions to the carpet wicking problem. Alone, each of these methods can be effective at preventing carpet wicking, but when used together, they create a highly effective program. 

Clean Wet Spills Immediately

The most effective way to prevent carpet wicking is to clean a wet spill immediately after it happens. That way, there isn’t enough time for the spill to soak deep into the carpet backing.

Most times, if you’re able to blot with a chemical absorbent and cloth, you can remove most of the spill before it settles into the carpet backing. Even though it’ll require additional cleaning, the worst of the problem will be out of the way. 

In this scenario, a good follow up to blotting with an absorbent is to use spot cleaner, followed by a thorough rinse. Then, you want to remove as much moisture as possible with a spotting machine, extractor, or wet/dry vac. Finally, set up an air dryer so you can speed up the drying process as much as possible.

If you’re unable to clean the spill immediately, that’s okay. You can still take measures to prevent carpet wicking in that case. 

Utilize Interim Cleaning Procedures

Another great way to avoid carpet wicking is to rely on some solid interim cleaning procedures. Let’s look at two of the best interim cleaning methods for this situation.


Before you do any cleaning, the first step is to thoroughly vacuum the carpet, removing any dry dirt and soil. Then you can do the encapsulation procedure. 

Encapsulation carpet cleaning is the process of removing contaminants from carpeting using a chemical solution that contains acrylic polymers.

We recommend encapsulation cleaning as it’s a highly effective low moisture carpet cleaning method. Encapsulation cleaning leaves behind little to no residue and uses a very low amount of moisture during the cleaning process, making it a great way to avoid two of the biggest causes of carpet wicking. 

Pro Tip: If you want to learn more about the encapsulation carpet cleaning process, check out our article, How to Perform Encapsulation Cleaning in 7 Easy Steps. 

Everything you need to know about carpet extractors including types, sizes, specs, & more!


If you don’t have an encapsulation carpet cleaning machine, absorbent powders are another effective alternative solution.


Absorbent powder is a catchall term for cleaning agents that use an absorbent chemical in powder form to clean liquid spills from a carpet. The powder is extremely absorbent; once applied to the wet area of a carpet, it absorbs all the liquid and leaves behind a dry, easy to vacuum mess. 

Start by vacuuming up as much dry dirt and soil from the carpet as you can. Afterwards, generously apply absorbent powder to the carpet. Then, using a brush or carpet rake, thoroughly work the powder into the soiled area of the carpet. Once you’re done with that, cover the absorbent powder with a weighted towel or other cover. 

The point of using a cover, a weighted towel in this case, is to prevent people from walking on the carpet and tracking the absorbent powder all over the place, while the benefit of a weighted towel is that it helps press the powder deeper into the carpet. 

The powder will absorb the moisture and soil that otherwise would have caused carpet wicking to occur. After the powder has absorbed the moisture/soil and dried, you can proceed to vacuum it up. 

If you still deal with carpet wicking after trying these interim cleaning procedures, it’s time to resort to a restorative cleaning method. 

Utilize a Restorative Cleaning Procedure

You know you need to do a restorative cleaning if liquid soil has dried deep into the carpet backing and if the interim cleaning procedures aren’t able to tackle a stain that keeps recurring. The best procedure for this job is a carpet extraction. 


Carpet extraction is performed to restore the appearance of your carpet and remove deeply embedded stains that interim procedures cannot. It is the most time and labor consuming method we go over, which is why it is saved for the toughest carpet wicking stains. 

A carpet extractor is a single machine that can perform all the necessary procedures to clean a carpet; it applies chemicals and water to the carpet, then it scrubs them in, and removes the dirty solution.

As with the previous cleaning methods, the first step is to vacuum as much dry dirt and soil from the carpet before beginning.

After vacuuming, apply an alkaline pre-spray to the carpet. You want an alkaline product because dirt is acidic, so the product will effectively remove deeply embedded dirt. Make sure to apply evenly across the carpet, so you don’t miss any deeply embedded stains that may not be visible on the surface.

Then, fill the carpet extractor with the proper rinse product. Extraction rinse is acidic, and will neutralize any residue left behind by the alkaline cleaner. Now, thoroughly rinse the carpet; the goal here is to remove as much soap and water residue as possible.

Last, and most importantly, the carpet needs to dry off. To ensure it is efficiently dried, and to avoid any chance of wicking, use blowers or air dryers for this step. Make sure it is completely dry before you return the carpet to use.

Final Thoughts

If you notice stains popping up in the same spot, especially after you do a deep cleaning, you may be dealing with carpet wicking. 

Carpet wicking can be an expensive problem when it costs cleaning staff to repeatedly waste time and product on inefficient methods of dealing with the real issue. 

The best way to avoid carpet wicking is to clean up wet spills as soon as they happen, if that isn’t possible, then your next best bet is to utilize low moisture cleaning methods in dealing with recurring stains. 

When all else fails, consider using a carpet extractor. This method is intense enough that it should be able to solve your wicking problems, provided you ensure the carpet is properly rinsed and dried out afterwards.

If you continue to have issues with carpet wicking, consider reaching out to us. 

At Imperial Dade, we have the equipment and knowledge to perform an array of commercial cleaning services that will get the job done. Our industry experts aim to exceed client expectations, using their on-the-job experience and best-in-class equipment to perform the highest quality cleaning services. 

Feel free to reach out to one of our 100+ facilities, located across the US and Canada, for a free consultation, or to set up an onsite evaluation. 

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