Carpet Cleaning: What to Do When Stains Keep Coming Back

Sharon Greenthal
Written by Sharon Greenthal
Updated April 20, 2015
Father plays with his little girl on the carpeted floor
Photo: Olesia Bilkei / Adobe Stock

 Don’t let stubborn carpet stains make you do a double take

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There can be hidden and unwelcome surprises lurking in the depths of your carpeting, and, unfortunately, cleaning it can bring those stains to the surface. Forgotten spills, unidentifiable substances, ground-in dirt, and other culprits can make carpet stains challenging to remove

So what can you do to get rid of carpet spots once and for all? Let’s take a look at what’s causing your persistent stains and how to remove them.

What Causes Carpet Stains to Return?

So, you cleaned a stain out of your carpet, but then, a few days later, the stain returned. It’s not your eyes playing tricks on you—there are two primary reasons for the reappearance of carpet stains. 


Wicking occurs when the spilled substance soaks into the padding and backing of the carpeting, down to the floor. It may look like you've cleaned up a pet accident or a knocked glass of wine, but in fact, the liquid had time to seep down to where you can't reach it. 

When you clean your carpet, you’re only scrubbing the surface level of the carpet, while the stain gets trapped in the backing, or even the underpad. The hidden stain can be reabsorbed  

and bring the original stain back up to the surface through those fibers that you just cleaned. 

Stains due to wicking can be hard to remove since the problem lies deep below the carpet’s surface. The best method to keep wicking from happening is to clean spots and spills as quickly as possible, especially pet stains, which can also carry odors.


You meant well when you used a carpet-cleaning solution to wipe up a spill or stain in your carpet. But you may have unknowingly left behind some residue of the cleaning product. If it’s not completely removed, the residue can attract and trap dirt and debris to the same spot, causing a similar-looking stain to occur.

This residue can also remain when professional carpet cleaning companies use detergent-based cleaning products and don't wholly rinse them out. Other things that may can cause soiling in your carpet include:

  • Adhesive tape

  • Grease

  • Oil

  • Hair spray or other hair products

  • Sugar

  • Body lotion

  • Tanning oil

How to Prevent Reappearing Carpet Stains

Person cleaning carpet with cat nearby
Photo: Kristina Blokhin / Adobe Stock

Now that we understand what causes carpet stains to reoccur, what can you do to prevent them from happening? Luckily, there are a few measures you can take to ward off these pesky spots.

How to Prevent Wicking

To prevent wicking stains, follow these steps:

  • Don't let spills sit for any length of time, especially coffee, soda, or other dark liquids.

  • Vacuum regularly to keep your carpet as clean as possible.

  • When spills occur, use as little moisture as possible when cleaning them to prevent soaking the pad and backing.

  • Only use white towels (to prevent color bleeding) to gently blot the spill area. 

  • If there's a lot of moisture, leave the white towels on the carpet overnight and weigh it down with something heavy. This tactic helps sop up the liquid that’s below the padding.

  • Vacuum the area once the carpet is dry to clean off any residue.

A more extreme measure to avoid wicking from happening again is pulling up your stained carpet and letting it dry out. If that’s the case, you will need to hire a carpet installer to complete the job.

How to Prevent Soiling

It can seem nearly impossible to keep substances that cause soiling off your carpet, especially when you have pets, children, or teenagers. Remind your family members to wipe their feet and wash their hands to minimize residue on carpeting and other surfaces in your home.

You can also prevent soiling by hiring an experienced and respected local carpet cleaner. Professional carpet cleaners will use top-of-the-line equipment so won’t have to worry about residue being left behind or self-scrubbing a persistent stain.

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