Why does a stain reappear after carpet cleaning?

Michael Mckenzie
November 8, 2023
 10 mins read
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Why does a stain reappear after carpet cleaning?

Why does a stain reappear after carpet cleaning?

We have all been there, right? From clumsily walking past a table with a drink on and knocking it over, or putting it on the floor, telling yourself that there is a drink there and not to kick it over, then 3 seconds later doing just that! To a pet having a toilet accident somewhere they just shouldn't! However the accident occurs, the result is the same, you have an unwanted spill on your carpet!

Our main focus here isn't to tell you how to deal with a spill, you can find that in our other blogs, but to tell you why the spill comes back even after cleaning it up (or so you thought) But if you are here look for the 'how to', here are a few quick tips:

  2. Get a clean towel or kitchen rolls and blot as much of the spill up as possible.
  3. If the spill is colourless, get a stack of tissue or a towel and place it on the spill. Weight it down with something non absorbent and all the tissue/towel to absorb and remaining spill.
  4. If the spill has a colour, for example a juice drink, blot on some clean warm water to dilute the spill to make subsequent cleaning more effective. then back to tip 3.
  5. Never scrub the carpet, this can damage the pile.

What actually happens when you have a spill?

Depending on the fibre type, a couple things occur. If you have a wool carpet, the exterior of the fibre is hydrophobic, which tends to repel water while the interior of the fibre is hygroscopic, which absorbs water. This means that initially the spill will sit on the surface. If you act quickly you can blot up much of the spill. Over a short time the spill will be absorbed into the fibre. If you have a synthetic carpet, the spill will pass over the fibre quickly and soak into the backing as a synthetic fibre cannot absorb moisture.

Size matters!

The bigger the spill, the bigger the problem. A small spill such as a few sips of juice left in a class can be easily dealt with. With larger spills come bigger problems that often result in a stain reappearing after being cleaned up. But why is this?


A large spill can penetrate the surface fibres, through the backing (what the fibres are woven into) and even as far down as the underlay and subfloor. So you have followed the steps mentioned above and stand back admiring your handy work. You can even go as far as pouring yourself a celebratory drink (which you hopefully will not spill). Off to bed you go, a wonderful nights sleep dreaming of your amazing cleaning abilities. You come down the next day, and to your horror, the spill is back with a vengeance! (insert evil laugh).

Wicking getting on your wick?

What is wicking? When a spill occurs and you have cleaned it up as much as possible, you may think you have dealt with the problem. Unfortunately with those bigger spills that we mentioned that penetrate further down, they are laying in wait. As the carpet begins to dry, the moisture that was hiding in the backing, underlay and sub floor begins to rise up. The tips of the carpet fibre dry first, and when something dry touches something wet (the remaining hidden spill) it pulls the moisture into it. So if you had a coffee, juice, pet stain that has a colour, it looks as if the stain is reappearing. Of course its not magically reappearing, its just that you only dealt with the spill you could see on the surface. If the spill was colourless, the only way it can reappear is if it brings to the surface contaminates in the carpet to the surface, such as dust, dirt, dander etc.


How do i fix it?

The only effective way to truly eliminate wicking is to get rid of the spill that is causing it. As long as it is there, it will continue to come back. To do this without damaging your carpet is your number one priority. You can continue to use the dilute and blot method mentioned earlier. This can however be time consuming and tedious and you may  inadvertently cause damage.

The easiest way to deal with the problem of course is to call a professional. But what can they do?

Flush Flush Flush!

A professional cleaner will use a process called flushing. They can use either, or a combination of fresh water or cleaning agent to saturate the area with as much as, or more fluid than the initial spill. The cleaning solution will help dislodge any staining and, using a powerful vacuum and a tool called a water claw, pull any remaining spill from deep within the carpet, backing and underlay. In severe cases the carpet may need to be lifted and underlay replaced in cases such as pet staining.

Water claw flushing a spill

Drying The Carpet

Getting the carpet dry is a priority after flushing out a spill. We want to eliminate the risk of mould spores growing and to prevent any further wicking from other contaminants within the carpet, although these would likely of been flushed out also. Once the area is dry and all of the spill removed, no more wicking!

We hope you have found this information useful and if you have any further questions, don't hesitate to reach out here

Michael Mckenzie
Owner, Paramount Cleaning Company
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