Winter Woes: How to Clean and Prevent Road Salt on Carpet

Kate Fann
Written by Kate Fann
Updated March 28, 2022
A carpeted bedroom painted in light tones
Photo: PC Photography / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

Highlights

  • Road salt reduces road and street dangers caused by ice.

  • Road salt damage is caused by a buildup of dirt.

  • Clean road salt stains using materials you have at home.

  • Prevent road salt damage with a shoe organization system.

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With winter’s arrival, you can expect one thing for certain: The roads and sidewalks will be salted to keep drivers and pedestrians safe. While road salt prevents accidents by melting the accumulation of snow and ice, tracking it into your home or car can wreak havoc on your carpet.

Road salt stains are one of the largest contributors to carpet deterioration—but it doesn’t have to be that way. We’ll show you how you can clean and prevent road salt from damaging your carpet.

What Is Road Salt? 

Road salt, which is sometimes referred to as rock salt, is halite, a mineral form of sodium chloride. This substance is used during the winter months to reduce the dangers of ice on roadways and sidewalks. Road salt lowers the freezing point of water, which prevents ice from forming and creates safer conditions for drivers and pedestrians.

How Road Salt Damages Carpet

There are two main contributors to salt stains: salt and calcium chloride. Salt pulls moisture from the air, which can make your carpet dry slower, making it easier to collect dirt. Calcium chloride quickens soiling like salt but can also leave an oily film that further contributes to dirt buildup.

Due to having a high alkaline content, the dangers of road salt go beyond staining. If the carpet goes uncleaned, the fibers will break down, causing permanent damage.

How to Clean Road Salt From Your Carpet 

When it comes to cleaning a stain, the sooner, the better! Don’t fret if the stain has been set for a little bit; you’ll still want to be proactive in cleaning it. Follow these steps to clean your carpet.

1. Clean the Area

In your home, start by vacuuming your carpet or rug to remove any loose pieces of salt. If you’re cleaning your car, use a nylon brush to get rid of debris. Many window scrapers have a brush so you likely already have this handy tool.

2. Spray the Area With a Vinegar Solution

Mix equal parts of distilled white vinegar and hot water in a spray bottle. A spray bottle helps avoid saturating the stain, as this can contribute to further damage. If you find the smell to be too pungent, consider adding an oil like lavender or vanilla. 

Spray the area and let the solution sit for about 5 minutes. Then, blot the area with a paper towel or a white cloth towel to sop up any remaining moisture.

Tip: If you’re cleaning the carpet in your car, be sure to avoid spraying the solution near any electrical wires.

3. Allow the Carpet to Dry

Let the area air dry completely. Vacuum over the area again to lift any remaining salt and dirt. Repeat the steps above as needed or consider doing a deep clean for stubborn stains.

How to Deep Clean Tough Road Salt Stains on Carpet

A carpeted bedroom with a large canopy bed
Photo: PC Photography / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

If the road salt stain remains, try doing a deep clean of your carpet. Follow the steps below to begin your deep clean.

1. Clean the Area 

Similar to the above, you’ll want to vacuum the area again to lift any dirt that may have been collected since your initial cleaning session.

2. Mix and Apply the Solution

Mix together one part baking soda and three parts water. Rub the solution into the salt stain using a hard bristle brush or an old toothbrush. Leave the solution on the carpet for a few hours to let the baking soda do its work. (Tip: Baking soda works as a deodorizer as well.)

3. Vacuum the Area

Use a wet-dry vacuum to remove the baking soda solution and salt residue. If you don’t own a wet-dry vacuum, you can rent one from your local home improvement store. The wet-dry vacuum allows you to pull up any residue that’s deep within the fibers of the carpet.

If, after trying both cleaning methods, the salt stain continues to be stubborn, hire a local carpet cleaner to assist you.

How to Prevent Road Salt Stains on Carpet 

Prevention is the best strategy for keeping your carpets clean and pristine. Put the following practices in place to avoid road salt coming into contact with your carpet.

Remove Shoes at the Door

Shoes of various sizes sitting near the front door
Photo: William Andrew / Moment / Getty Images

Designate a spot in your home near the primary entryway for shoes. Keep a rug by the door to scrape the shoes and then use a shoe rack or bench to organize the shoes. Request that your guests remove their shoes as well. This will drastically reduce the amount of road salt that makes its way into your home.

Vacuum Regularly

Regular vacuuming will help remove any salt that finds its way into your home. During the winter months, you can increase the frequency you vacuum to further avoid road salt buildup.

Hire a Professional Carpet Cleaning Service

Regularly giving your carpets a deep clean will help prolong the life of your carpet and continue preventing salt stains from wreaking havoc.

Place Rubber Mats in Your Car

Rubber mats are easier to clean than carpet and help protect the carpet from road salt stains. For the winter months, consider placing these mats on the floor of your vehicle. These mats will make it easier to clean your carpet, which you may still need to do. Be sure to remove the mats regularly to clean them and clean the carpet as well. 

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