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How to clean stubborn stains on carpet and upholstery

Expert John Kilkenny from carpet and upholstery cleaners Advanced Clean suggests ways to tackle stains on your carpet and soft furnishings.

In this article

Kids, pets, chocolate, red wine … you name it, it’s all tough on your carpet and upholstery. If you’ve got a stubborn stain, such as tea, coffee or tomato ketchup on your favourite sofa, don’t despair. Which? Trusted trader John Kilkenny from Advanced Clean tells us his tips to save your soft furnishings from stains.

John’s first piece of advice is to act fast. If you deal with stains immediately, you improve the chance of removing them completely.

If you feel a stain is too tough to shift yourself, or you want to refresh your soft furnishings, you could try calling one of our Which? Trusted Traders endorsed carpet and upholstery cleaners. All our Which? Trusted traders have been through a thorough assessment process so you can find a trader you can trust.

Carpet and upholstery cleaning: general advice

If you're going to tackle a stain yourself, be aware that different stains will require different treatment. Never scrub too aggressively as this can make matters worse.

Water-soluble stains

Some stains are water-soluble, so if you add a dash of white vinegar (one quarter teaspoon) to two pints of water, you can use that solution to gentle blot away stains such as:

  • alcohol
  • excrement
  • fizzy drinks
  • food dyes
  • gravy
  • ice cream
  • jelly
  • milk
  • mud
  • red fruits and berries
  • washable ink
  • wet or latex paint

Tough stains

Everyone's favourites, the stains that make you wince as the fluid hits the carpet, such as:

  • blood
  • chocolate
  • coffee
  • mustard
  • tea
  • vomit
  • wine

For these tough stains, try a solution of a large spoonful of ammonia mixed with 1 cup of water, unless you have a wool or wool-blend carpet, in which case use mild detergent and water.

How to remove stains

  • Carefully scrape, remove and blot away as much of the spill as you can.
  • Test a carpet cleaning substance, shop-bought or DIY, on an inconspicuous area of the fabric before use to prevent damage, discolouration and bleeding of dye.
  • Some cleaning products can irritate and aggravate breathing difficulties. Wear quality rubber gloves and use in well-ventilated rooms. If you get it in your eyes or on skin, follow manufacturer instructions.
  • Small stains on a carpet may be removed by dabbing with a baby wipe.
  • Don’t rub a stain aggressively, as this can damage the fibres.
  • Be wary of using hot water. This can sometimes make a stain permanent.
  • If using a cleaning substance, work from the outside of the stain toward the middle to avoid spreading it further. Don’t use more than recommended.
  • Don’t spray a cleaning product directly on carpet or upholstery. Use a clean cloth to work it into the stain.
  • Try to blot away all the moisture with towelling when finished.
  • If you plan to hire a carpet cleaning professional to remove a stain, cover the area with polythene or a damp towel to try to keep it moist.
  • Silk and oriental-style rugs will need specialist cleaning.


These tips may help tackle stubborn stains, but of course they can't be guaranteed and are carried out at your own risk.

If you would like a professional to come and take care of your stubborn stains, find a Which? endorsed professional cleaning company in your area with Which? Trusted Traders. 

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