In our old house, our basement had oddly stained carpets. I was determined to clean the stains without having to rent any large tools, or buy any special cleaners. So I spent a bit of time testing DIY stain cleaners to see what would work best. I’m sharing the pros and cons of each method I used to clean unknown carpet stains. So let’s get up close and personal with some stains!
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Our old basement living room carpet had stains that we inherited and some stains that the Husband let sit because he figured we would eventually replace the carpet. Spoiler: we never did. My original idea with testing DIY stain cleaners was to get the carpet clean enough so that we could leave it.
This post was originally written May 28, 2016 and titled “Clean Unknown Carpet Stains”. It has been refreshed with new information and tips, and republished January 14, 2022.
Before you go mixing and testing different stain cleaners on your rugs and carpets, know that they may not help. I’m no expert, but some things could potentially set the stain in more, or react weirdly. I didn’t have any adverse reactions, but just a disclaimer in case :)
I first tried going over the stain using a general cleaner…
Washing Soda + Borax for Cleaning Fabric Stains
Back when I wrote this post, I was really into making DIY laundry soap. Remember those days!? Anyways, I always had some washing soda and borax mixed together to use for general cleaning. SO, I figured, if laundry soap can wash clothes stains… wouldn’t it also work on carpet stains?
First, I vacuumed any loose dust/dog hair on the carpet. This unknown carpet stain was right in front of our couches, and was probably something that the husband spilled.
I simply sprinkled some of the Borax/Washing Soda mixture directly on the stain.
Then used a scrub brush dipped in plain water to get the powder mixture deep into the carpet bristles (and form almost like a paste). Sometimes it was easiest to do a few layers of water and the Borax/Washing Soda mix. I let it sit until it dried, then used my normal vacuum hand brush attachment to clean up any loose mix.
The stain was mostly gone, but I was feeling kind of lazy and thought – there must be a better way! (Maybe a magical carpet cleaning method that didn’t involve so much work).
Testing DIY Stain Cleaners for Fabric/Carpets
All of the stain remover ideas came from Extraordinary Uses for Everyday Things by Reader’s Digest. There were multiple ways to clean carpet stains, so I picked all the ones with ingredients I had on hand (which was most of them) and performed a little experiment.
Here is one of those inherited stains, and I’m going to say it was another pink/reddish liquid spill (there is a much bigger pile at the end, just out of the photo) and I knew this would be the perfect candidate to test the other DIY methods.
I separated the stain with little pieces of painter’s tape, then gathered all my supplies and labeled the areas. The full list of DIY stain cleaners is below.
Some of the mixtures were more effective than others. Keep in mind, I tried to separate any concoctions that might not do so well if mixed together, and you always want to be extra careful if you’re planning on mixing household chemicals.
There were some solutions (the pastes) that required additional follow up. I waited a few hours/days so they could dry fully, then I just went back over them with some water and used my scrub brush to clean them up.
On the right is the same stain with all the little pieces of tape removed. You can still see the original stain on the left side where the Windex, beer and rubbing alcohol mixtures were, but the solutions on the right were better. See that scrubby up-and-down area just below my logo/watermark? That’s where the vinegar/cornstarch mix was, and for some reason, that was the toughest one to clean out.
DIY Stain Cleaners
Here is a breakdown of the different solutions:
Windex: The book says you’re supposed to use clear ammonia. I don’t have any of that, so Windex was my next closest option. Spoiler, it didn’t really work.
Beer: The book says that beer works great for removing coffee or tea stains. The beer I chose was medium/dark and I was scared that it would leave a bigger stain than what I started with! This method also didn’t work too well.
Salt and Rubbing Alcohol: (1 part salt to 4 parts rubbing alcohol) is supposed to be great for removing greasy stains from carpets. Apparently you can also sprinkle salt on a red wine spill (that you’ve soaked with white wine) and it will clean that too. As far as getting rid of this unknown stain, this mixture wasn’t very effective.
Shaving Cream: Maybe the fact that I used a pink shaving cream, but this didn’t really seem to do much on this stain. It’s probably one of those “right-away” stain cleaning solutions.
Hydrogen Peroxide and Cream of Tartar: These are supposed to be mixed into a paste and wiped away with a cloth. They worked pretty good – but was another one of those methods that involved some work.
Baby Wipes: I figured that baby wipes are to remove stains that just happen and are still fresh (the book mentions they are great for coffee). But surprisingly they worked like magic to lift whatever set-in, unknown stain this was!
Vinegar and Salt: Vinegar is a cleaning powerhouse, and I tried 3 different mixes to clean this carpet stain. The first was 2 tablespoons of salt to 1/2 cup white vinegar, pour on the stain and then vacuum when dry. Easy.
Vinegar and Cornstarch: Equal parts vinegar and cornstarch, this paste worked similarly to the salt/vinegar mix, but did involve a few more steps of cleaning. (The cornstarch solution was the one that took the longest to clean afterwards, so I didn’t really like that).
Vinegar and Borax: I did use my Borax/Washing Soda mixture with the vinegar, and felt it did a good job. However, I couldn’t tell if the vinegar added anything extra compared to just using water.
DIY-Tip: While waiting for the solutions to dry, I covered the area with an empty laundry basket (upside down). The air still got through the holes, but it helped block curious children/pets from getting in.
Since writing this post a few years ago, I’ve updated my fabric stain cleaning methods. I’ll share a new post on that very soon! I did want to update and republish this one because I regularly use one of these methods.
Think you can guess which one!?
Cleaning unknown stains isn’t always a fun task, so make sure to treat the stain right away. Unless of course you inherited some fabric/rugs/carpet with stains like us :) Either way, I hope that you find these tips and methods useful if you’re testing DIY stain removers. And, don’t forget to check out my post about how to remove all fabric stains!
Wasn’t this blast from the past fun!? I liked seeing photos of our old basement. Even before we painted the panelling! It was always such a cozy space, and the split-level layout worked really well for our family.
Let me know if you’ve tried any other DIY stain cleaners – and how they worked :)
Heather @ The Deans List BlogMay 31, 2016 at 7:03 pm
SAY WHAT?! We have a few reoccurring stains (no matter how many times we shampoo the carpet), so i am definitely going to try this method. I’ll let you know how it goes! :)
NicoleJune 1, 2016 at 10:00 am
Haha, no problem! And if all else fails you can always do the whole “hide the stains” under a rug or piece of furniture!
MargaritoJuly 9, 2017 at 12:47 pm
Thank you for sharing your experience! I find that water and vinegar work very well, but it takes multiple attempts before you start seeing results. Just demystify some of the things you tried, salt is not a good way to take care of red wine. Sounds logical that salt soaks fluids, but it also soaks the stains deeper into your carpet fibers. Vinegar works better on that as well as cleaning up excess fluids with a cloth. Better to have contained stain than one that got turned worse. Hope that helps!
NicoleJuly 10, 2017 at 11:30 am
Thanks for the extra tips! I think the best solution would be to clean up the spill/stain as soon as possible so it doesn’t have a chance to set in, but water could definitely help loosen it in case it has :)