What I’m about to show you is terrifying. Well, it was to me. We’d decided refinance our house since mortgage rates are so low. Our bank, being super awesome, informed us they’d be sending an appraiser to visit just two days later. Now, if guests were coming to visit, I’d have been fine. The common areas in our house (living room, family room, kitchen, etc.) get my attention on a regular basis, so I rarely even have to engage in crisis cleaning. But an appraiser looking in every room, including my daughter’s old room that I closed off when she went to college? The very room that breaks my heart, not because she’s gone, but because the carpet was so stained? Oh no!
Some background: this carpet was spotless when we moved in, but it didn’t stay that way for long. My daughter, who was in her early teens at the time, was often careless with her makeup and nail polish. I’d spent many an hour getting rid of those stains, and was glad when she got old enough to be more careful with her things.
Then we went on vacation and invited some artist-type people we used to know (note the past tense) to house sit for us since they were between apartments at the time. In return, we asked them to design and paint a kitschy, girly mural on the wall of the hallway leading into my daughter’s room. (At the time, the walls were white.) “No problem,” they said. “We’d love to!” And, after looking at several sketches of their planned design, we left for vacation.
You know where I’m going with this, right?
The mural was anything but girly. In fact, it looked more like some drunken chimpanzees had mixed their feces with paint before flinging it against my walls. Only, it didn’t all make it to the walls. Oh, no. There was plenty on the carpet… along with beer stains, coffee stains and several other stains I never want to know the source of.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: Katie, how on earth could you knowingly allow such stains to stay in your carpet? Aren’t you Mrs. Clean Freak? And the answer is that, yes, ordinarily I am… except when there’s no point in cleaning something. Like these nasty stains.
See, of the first things we plan to do after refinancing the house — and getting cash out — is replace the 19-year-old carpets throughout the house with wood floors, which are not only allergy-friendly but easier to clean. That’s been our plan for quite a while, so I’d dismissed these stains as irrelevant and ignored them…until I realized that the appraiser would be consider them reasons to deduct from our home value. That’s when I panicked.
Nice, eh? Let’s get a closer look at a couple of those spots, shall we?
I don’t know if you’ve ever tried getting old coffee stains out of carpet — much less dried paint that’s been there for, oh, 6 years — but it’s always been a miserable, almost futile task in my opinion. And yet… we can’t afford to replace these carpets without the refinancing going through. It felt like a cleaning Catch-22, to be honest. But I had to do something.
And here, for your education, is the result of what I learned: how to clean carpet stains, even old ones.
First, I went down to Home Depot and bought a bottle of some awesome stuff called Goo Gone (Amazon link). I’d used it in the past to clean paint brushes that my husband hadn’t washed well enough after using, so I thought I’d give it a try on the carpet. After spraying it on, I got out a putty knife to lift up as much of the dried on paint as I could.
After the dried stuff on the carpet surface came off, it was time to start working on the stained carpet fibers themselves. I sprayed a mixture of hot water and Dawn on the carpet — but not too much, because I didn’t want the pad getting soaked — and dabbed at it with many, many, many white cloths, transferring the stains from the carpet to the cloth. Like so:
An hour later… the paint was pretty much gone, although the coffee stains were another matter.
Then it was time to tackle the tougher, less readily-identifiable stains. Hot water and Dawn didn’t cut it with these, so I had to resort to using one of my least-favorite (and yet one of the most effective) household cleaning chemicals: ammonia. Let me just tell you, open your windows before opening a bottle of ammonia, ladies and gentlemen. Now, I’d have preferred using clear ammonia, but our store didn’t have any in stock. And don’t let that label saying it’s lemon-scented fool you. It still smells like cat pee. In less than five seconds, that room smelled like the Crazy Cat Lady and her Fifty-Five Feline Friends had been living in it for years!
Anyway, I mixed 2 tablespoons of ammonia in one cup of very hot water and sprayed it on to the unidentified spots. Then I waited. And waited. In fact, as you can tell by the shadows in these photos, I waited quite a while… because I got hungry. After a quick lunch of cold pasta puttanesca, I got back to work with the stiff-bristled scrub brush.
Then it was time to use my very favorite trick for getting tough stains out of carpet: ironing them. That’s right, I said iron those stains! Make sure your iron is filled with water, and set it to steam. (I have wool carpets, so I used the highest setting. If yours are nylon, or a synthetic blend, use the LOW setting.) Then, place a clean white cloth over the stain and iron it, keeping the iron in constant motion, for 20 seconds or so. Lift, rotate the cloth to a clean spot, and repeat.
Be sure to change your cloth frequently, because as the heat and steam combine with the ammonia, it will lift that stain out of your carpet and transfer it to your cloth. See what I mean?
After lifting as much of the stain as possible using the iron, it was time to go back to the hot, soapy water. After all, I didn’t want the carpet to smell like ammonia when Mr. Appraiser Man showed up. That meant more blotting, and more white cloths, but I could see light at the end of the tunnel. (Well, not really. I was losing sunlight, but you get the point.)
When I was satisfied all of the ammonia was gone, I broke out the big equipment: my trusty steam cleaner. (You can find it, along with other cleaning devices from Amazon that I recommend, in my store here on HWHT. Be sure to compare prices with local retailers, though, since you may get a better deal elsewhere.)
This time, I used just plain hot water since I figured there was probably still some ammonia residue, and I’d already sprayed soapy water on the spots. By this point, I was just wanting to lift out any remaining moisture.
By this point, it was time for dinner and I was very hungry. Besides, I know that stains often look darker after drying, so I decided to let the carpet dry before deciding whether to make a second pass. Sure enough, when I came back a couple of hours later, I realized it needed another. So out came my trusty steam cleaner again, this time with 1/4 cup of white vinegar added to the hot water.
Do you see that? DO YOU? No, it’s not perfect — it’s still 19+-year-old carpet, after all. But as Mr. Appraiser Man walked through the room the next day, he didn’t find any fault with the carpet. In fact, if I weren’t so sick of my allergy problems, I’d probably think it’s good enough to last a couple more years.
Oh, who am I kidding? I want my wood floors. I do, I do, I do!