Anatomy of a Carpet Stain: How Do Stains Affect Carpet?

Anatomy of a Carpet Stain: How Do Stains Affect Carpet?

Everyone has heard stain-removing “tricks” over the years, often involving strange concoctions and home remedies. They’re passed down over generations and throughout social circles, whether or not they actually work. Here’s the not-so-mysterious truth: carpet stain removal comes down to basic science.

It’s all about understanding the chemical and physical components of various stains as well as the components of different types of carpet and how the two interact. Let’s take a closer look at the various types of stains and how they affect different carpets in your home.

5 Types of Carpet Stains

We will narrow our list and focus on the five types of carpet stains below. Each has their own properties and best ways to deal with them. But what they all share is the fact that they make our carpets look worse than they should! When all else fails, carpet cleaning services will more than likely be your best bet when the carpet stain gets the better of you.

Water-Based Stains

Most stains fall into one of three categories: water-based, oil-based, or protein-based stains, depending on the makeup of the liquid or item that caused the stain. For example, most beverages like milk, soda, wine, and juice are water-based. Most inks are water-based, as well as latex paints.

While water-based stains don’t typically adhere to carpet as quickly or severely, the problem is that they tend to spread easily because the liquid doesn’t adhere to itself the way oil-based materials do. To see a demonstration of this, take an old piece of cloth and put a few drops of water in one area and a few drops of oil in another area. You’ll see the water spread far wider than the oil.

Fat-Based and Oil-Based Stains

Some stains come from products that are oil-based or fat-based instead of water-based. The most common oil-based stains include grease, peanut butter, cooking oils, and crayons.

There is a unique bonding that occurs with oil-based stains. If you have a carpet with synthetic fibers, those synthetic fibers contain petroleum. As you saw with the drops of oil that clung together rather than spreading out, oils like to cling to fellow oils. For that reason, an oil-based stain will adhere to the petroleum in your synthetic carpet fibers.

Protein-Based Stains 

While there are certain ways water-based and oil-based stains affect carpets, there are other factors that affect each stain too. Protein-based stains, for example, bring added challenges. Protein-based stains come from either bodily fluids like blood or urine as well as animal products like meat juices.

The unique challenge with protein-based stains is that they become both darker and more adhesive to the carpet fibers when they’re exposed to heat or acidic materials. That means using certain cleaning products or methods could actually make them worse.

Keep in mind that protein-based stains can also be oil-based or water-based, or they can have both water and oil components. That adds another layer of complication to the stain.

Adhesive Stains

It’s not surprising that some of the most difficult stains to remove are those from adhesive materials like glue, gum, or wax. Their job is to stick to materials they touch, and that includes your carpets.

When these materials reach the deeper layers of your carpet, they adhere to the structure of the carpet itself rather than individual fibers. That makes it extremely difficult to remove them without damaging the carpet, so it’s especially important not to try to remove these stains on your own.

Recurring Brown Stains

Do you have a brown stain on your carpet that you keep trying to clean but it continuously comes back? If so, it may be a unique type of stain called carpet browning. Unlike most stains, carpet browning doesn’t come from foreign particles clinging to your carpet fibers. It’s discoloration in the fibers themselves. 

Browning happens when the carpet gets wet and doesn’t dry quickly enough. When the moisture reaches and sits on the deepest layer of the carpet, it travels upward toward the top of the fibers through a process called wicking. That process causes discoloration in the tops of the fibers, creating a recurring stain.

Carpet browning is one more reason not to try to clean or de-stain carpets on your own, because it often comes from improper carpet-cleaning techniques. It’s always best to call a professional who can give your carpets a more thorough cleaning without causing new damage. 

Natural Fibers vs. Synthetic Carpet Fibers

There are numerous types of fibers and materials that manufacturers use in carpets. For better or for worse, the type of carpet you have will affect its vulnerability to stains and to specific types of stains. While there are nearly endless options for specific carpet materials, they fall two categories: natural and synthetic fibers.

Each type of fiber has its own challenges when it comes to stains. As we noted above, synthetic fibers make oil-based stains particularly difficult to remove because the oils in the stain are adhering to the oils in the petroleum within those fibers.

Natural fibers, on the other hand, contain cellulose. The cellulose makes them more prone to discoloration from moisture, even from clear water. Natural-fiber carpets have a higher likelihood of browning compared to synthetic-fiber carpets. 

The Best Way to Treat Any Carpet Stain

As you can see, there are many factors that affect each carpet stain and how it adheres to or affects your carpet fibers. Efficiently and safely removing a stain requires you to know what made the stain and whether that material is oil-based, water-based, protein-based, or a combination of several of them. It also requires you to know what type of carpet you have and how that carpet interacts with the specific stain you have.

Clearly, home remedies don’t account for these many factors, and if you choose the wrong one, you could do permanent damage to your carpet. Instead, call a carpet cleaning and stain removal professional. We have the in-depth expertise to know the science behind your stain and the best way to remove it from your specific carpet.

To learn more about how we can help or to schedule you carpet stain removal visit, call our carpet specialists today.

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