A paint brush sits in a puddle of wet and dried paint on a carpet

How I Got Dried Paint and Mystery Stains out of 20-Year-Old Carpet

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I learned how to get dried paint out of carpet, along with other stains, the day before an appraiser visited as part of our refinancing process. When you see the results below, you’ll know why I just had to share it with you!

Now, before we get too far into this, I want to make something clear: the photos below of the dried paint and other stains on my carpet are from 2012 when my kids were still young.

Phone cameras were even more awful than the wall color back then, but I’m not updating the pics because as soon as my youngest started college I replaced all of our carpets with hard flooring. The carpets were 20 years old, so it was time for them to move out, too.

Cleaning Fresh Paint off Carpet

If it’s a fresh paint spill, scoop up as much as you can from your carpet using a paper plate or dust pan, then lay some paper towels over the spot to absorb more. If you have a wet/dry vac, this is a great time to use it.

Don’t rub or try blotting at this point — you don’t want to drive the paint into the carpet pad. Instead, sprinkle the mess with baking soda and let that absorb the wet paint for an hour or so then scoop up the clumps. Now, you’re ready to continue.

Getting Dried Paint out of Carpets

1. Spray the area. To remove dried paint from carpet, you need to first to loosen the paint. I sprayed it with a product called Goo Gone, but warm vinegar or a 50-50 mixture of fabric softener and warm water can work, too.

Pro Tip

Use a light touch when removing carpet stains: if you get the area too wet, the stain will travel to your carpet pad then wick its way back up as your carpet dries.

2. Wait and lift. Wait about 5 minutes to start loosening the dried paint, then gently lift away what you can with a putty knife, rubber spatula, or something similar. Don’t fight it, though: if it doesn’t come up easily, wait a little longer and try again.

3. Wipe. Once you’ve got all the dried paint spots out, either shampoo your carpet or wipe the area with a warm, soapy rag then a clean damp one to get rid of any remaining residue.

Get Old Pet Stains out of Carpet

At this point, it was time to tackle the cat yack, coffee spills and wine splatters that soapy water hadn’t touched.

1. For this, I used household ammonia. This is my least favorite cleaning product but, since ammonia is alkaline and a solvent, it does a brilliant job removing acidic stains like those from food, coffee and pet messes. But first, I threw open the windows because household ammonia reeks.

2. Spray it on and work it in. I used a mixture of 2 tablespoons ammonia to 1 cup of hot water which immediately started lightening the stain. Then I got to work with my scrub brush so the ammonia coated all the carpet fibers, top to bottom. After that, I let it sit for an hour while I went outside for some fresh air.

3. Blot and wipe. Next, I grabbed another white cloth to blot the area and pressed it in with both hands to lift away the mess. Several changes of cloths later — plus a few times when I stood on the rags just to get up as much moisture as possible — and the stains were basically gone. A soapy cloth followed by a clean damp one got up the ammonia residue, and it was onto the next step.

Removing Old Mystery Stains from Carpet

Last but not least, it was time to remove the lingering mystery stains. I’d already tried cleaning these with soapy water, and that’s a key thing to remember: that step starts the stain loosening process. Without it, you run the risk of setting the stain as soon as you apply heat.

  1. Get the iron out. While the area is still damp with soapy water, turn your iron on and set the steam on low.
  2. Put a wet cloth on it. Spread a damp white washrag over the spot and start ironing it, keeping the iron constantly moving. Every 20 seconds or so, turn the cloth to a fresh spot. This basically works like a steam cleaning your carpet, transferring the stain to the cloth.
  3. Repeat as needed. Reapply soapy water as needed to keep the stain loose and work your iron until the discoloration is gone.

Next, time to wrap it up and remove any cleaning residue, so your carpet looks fresh as new.


Stick with plain water in your carpet cleaner’s tank for the first pass. This step helps rinse away any Goo Gone, soap, or water left in the carpet. Repeat suction passes and do them slowly to extract as much moisture out of the carpet as possible. Let it dry overnight, or speed it up with fans if you’re in a hurry.

Then shampoo your carpet again with a 50-50 solution of hot water and white vinegar. Go over your carpet at a right angle to your first pass, and work slowly during extraction to get as much moisture out of the carpet as possible.

The next day, vacuum your carpet to fluff the fibers and enjoy how great it looks!

Admittedly, it was a lot of work getting all the old stains, including the dried paint out of my carpet. It took most of a day to do one room, but a lot of that involved waiting for products to do their job or waiting for the carpet to dry.

But in a sign of how well these steps worked, the guys who laid the hard floors in 2018 suggested I sell the old stuff to the used carpet store. It took finding a date tag on the bottom for them to realize the carpets were older than them, and in better shape, too.

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  1. Tosh Lewis says:

    Thank you for these tips and tricks! Accidentally dropped paint and thought there was no hope…will be trying this goo gone method tomorrow! I have hope 🙂

  2. 5 stars
    I hope this works, I’ve been living in my townhouse for 8 months. And I was allowed to paint my oldest daughter’s room. my 2nd oldest happened to get into the room, and painted the carpet, I haven’t got to the point of getting it off yet.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      It worked for me, as the photos show!

  3. Clare @Oh These Are The Good Old Days says:

    katie this is fantastic! it looks very doable. i’m heading to amazon now. 🙂

    1. Katie Berry says:

      It’s definitely doable. Enjoy your stain-free carpets!

  4. I wish I could add a picture to my comment. But your trick for paint worked wonderfully! It took me 6 hours. I had a huge paint mess. But it did all come out! Thank you so much!!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      So happy to hear of your success!

  5. Jennifer Dagi says:

    This is an awesome guide to removing carpet stains. Thanks for sharing this free advice! Now, I don’t have to cringe at stains on my carpet or rug. Just wonderful!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Thanks! You’re going to love how your carpets come out. 🙂

  6. olumide Okebunmi says:

    Hi, thanks for the enlightenments… But I was wondering if one could substitute ammonia for white vinegar in the procedure

    1. Katie Berry says:

      White vinegar didn’t do it for me. Ammonia did.

  7. I once spilled an entire quart of teal green paint on the taupe carpet of my first rental apartment. In a panic, I called my mother, an artist, to ask if she knew how to get paint out. She told me to dab up as much of the paint as I could using dry paper towels (dab not rub) then to go to the store and buy a ton of rubbing alcohol. Then pour the rubbing alcohol on the paint spill until the whole area was saturated with rubbing alcohol. Then put a rag or a stack of paper towels down over the whole spill. On top of the paper towels put a plastic bag, and on top of the plastic bag put a heavy object (I used a couple of my college text books). I had to reapply the alcohol a couple of times, but it worked like a charm and got even the completely dried on paint out.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Great tip, thank you!

  8. Hi Katie,
    I was just wondering if Goof Off would ruin coloured carpets. My boyfriend dropped white eggshell paint on our brand new grey wool carpet and I’m looking for a way to get rip of it without damaging the colour of the carpet. Thank you x

    1. Katie Berry says:

      There’s nothing in Goof Off which would lighten carpet, but you’ll want to be sure and shampoo the carpet afterward to remove any residue.

  9. Very impressive! When I bought my home, there were some small bleached spots near the laundry room. Do you know of any solutions? Thanks! 🙂

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Shannon! Unfortunately, once carpeting is bleached there’s no easy solution. If the carpeting is in otherwise good shape, and it’s nylon or wool, you might try looking for a carpet dye that matches the rest of it. Regular clothing dye doesn’t work, though! Best of luck.

      P.S. I should also point out that there are companies who will dye your entire carpet for you. So if it’s in good shape, and you’re interested in a color change, it might be worth the expense!

  10. Thank you for this post! I used Goof Off followed by Dawn mixed with hot water. I am wondering if I should try Ammonia too in order to get the last flecks of paint out of the carpet. I really wish I had pictures. This method worked wonders on the basement carpet of the house we bought. I haven’t cleaned the carpet yet due to still being in the process of removing paint stains. Thanks again!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Glad to have helped, Kristy. Getting those last bits of paint flecks out is tedious but it sure beats having to pay for new carpet!

  11. in awe. thank you SO MUCH. maybe i’ll be able to get my security deposit back after all haha

    1. Katie Berry says:

      It should definitely help!

  12. My husband and I bought a house with white carpet. We replaced most of the carpet with hardwood floors before moving in but couldn’t afford to do the entire house (as it is 4058 sq ft). I’ve tried everything to get the small stains here and there up and nothing has worked. I’d seen this cleaner recipe before and always thought it was too simple to be true. I finally tried it today and am amazed at how well it works. Not only did it clean up coffee stains in my office and cat puke from the den it also removed the sticky residue left behind on my pedistals (from the tape the movers used to keep the doors closed during transport) with a quick spray and very little elbow grease. I’m using this clener for everything! Thanks for posting!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      You’re welcome, Keri, I’m so glad I was able to help!

  13. elishajoy1@gmail.com says:

    Hi Katie,
    Sorry about second posting. I have a stove and the wall around the stove looks disgusting from as you can imagine from old cooking stains. I have tried everything to clean this area. There are what appear to be permanent brown marks whish won’t shift. There is actually wall paper which was painted over. I recently discovered this. How and what do I use to get this area clean again please. maybe I will be able to start cooking again soon.
    Many thanks


    1. Katie Berry says:

      It is very difficult, if not impossible, to remove grease stains from wallpaper. My best advice is to replace the wallpaper with a different one, or with tile.

  14. elishajoy1@gmail.com says:

    Hi Katie,
    Great stuff here. I have tried the ammonia mixed with dishwashing liquid and white vinegar. Got most paint out but the deep embedded paint just will not lift. This must have been where paint spilt onto the carpet in blobs and was not blotted but left to set in and dry. I am at my wits end as this needs to be done before someone moves in and furniture delivered. I live in the UK and cannot get Goo Gone, Borax or Dawn. Any idea what I can use which is readily available in the UK and cost effective. I even hired a carpet cleaning machine to give the carpets a new lease on life. Please help with what I can do with these dried blobs of set in white paint. Not sure if t was oil based paint. What is your book called? Ever in your debt. Patience

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Hello ElishaJoy1,
      Either “Sunlight” or “Fairy” dishwashing liquid will work; they’re the UK equivalent of Dawn. (Same company, I believe.) Borax is a bit more difficult but baking soda (bicarbonate of soda) is an acceptable substitute in many DIY cleaning recipes. Also, “Goof Off” is the UK version of “Goo Gone” and should be readily available in hardware stores. Based on your description of the paint stains, I suspect you’ll have the most luck with the ammonia and ironing trick. Best of luck!
      P.S. I have several books out, but the one you’re probably referring to is “30 Days to a Clean and Organized House” which is available on Amazon in the UK here. Thank you for asking!

  15. Katie,

    Thanks so much for this! I’m moving out of my apartment and have spray paint stains in one corner of the whole room. I was told that since I’ve been living here for 10+ years the landlord shouldn’t freak out, and just get new carpet.

    But he freaked out.

    Will the ammonia help with these paint stains? I tried the Goo Gone and the Dawn/Water mixture, but even after 15 minutes of scrubbing nothing was coming out.


  16. Amanda Newbould says:

    I can do this on any colored carpet? It won’t affect it right?

    1. Katie Berry says:

      You should always spot test cleaning solutions in an inconspicuous area, Amanda. That said, I’ve done this in my car on dark gray carpet and on my multi-colored entry rug and didn’t have fading problems in either area.

  17. Cindy Quinn says:

    Hi Katie. I’m from Australia. Is Goo Gone known by any other name?? Or what would be a similar product? Just can’t find it. Thanks in advance. Cindy

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Hi Cindy! Goof Off is similar and available at Bunning’s. Dylon also makes a line of products that might work. Best of luck!

  18. wouldn’t the ammonia bleach the carpet?

    1. Katie Berry says:

      No. Ammonia has no bleaching properties. Bleach or hydrogen peroxide would bleach the carpet, by ammonia does not, as you can see in the many photos above.

  19. Does this help with dry spray paint? Not wall paint.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      It should, but I don’t have first-hand experience with using it on spray paint. I can’t see why there would be any difference, though.

  20. Katie you are my hero! I am selling my house with area rugs strategically placed to cover a multitude of stains that no matter what I did in the past never went away. I wish I had taken a before picture of the paint stain that is no longer in my upstairs hallway so you could show people that your tip really does work. If I can get Urban Putty (Sherwin Williams color that is a dark greyish brown) out of my off white 18 year old carpet it will work on anything. Yes it takes time but I was sick thinking that I was going to have to buy carpet for the new owners to enjoy.

    Next step… tackling the pet stains from my ex husband’s dog that had a dainty disposition….

    You are a lifesaver. Thank you so much!

  21. I used to be the Interior Designer for a hotel chain that serves a Continental Breakfast. Our cleaning people were having a difficult time removing coffee stains from the carpeting. Our Operations Dept. asked me to contact the manufacturer to find out how to best clean these stains. When I called, the woman there asked me if it was regular or decaf. Lol. Apparently, when the coffee bean goes through the decaffination process it bleaches the bean. Dye is then added to make it look like coffee. Of course brown dye would be very difficult to get out of carpeting!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I had no idea they added dye to decaf coffee! That’s yet another reason to dislike it as far as I’m concerned.

  22. Would this work on green food coloring? I made “slime” with my son and ended up finding a dried up glob of it in his floor. Thanks!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      It should. The ammonia and iron trick gets out many dyes. Be sure to scrape up and vacuum away as much slime as possible first.

  23. Thank you so much for this, I know its an old post but you came up as the second site on Google and I bless you for this! I just got done painting our hallway and lifted the sheets to find many spots of paint as they had seeped thru my sheets I layed down! Also we had Stanley steamers come in a few weeks ago, ladies save your money, no stains were removed just top level soil n dirt, stains that took me sixty seconds to scrub out myself with a tooth brush and some soapy water were not even removed by them. I have four boys so I have a feeling ill be banking this knowledge in my head for future use, thank you so much for sharing this, your a life saver!!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      You’re quite welcome, Melissa! Be sure to check the other carpet stain-removal entries I linked within this one for additional tips. With my pets and family, I have to rely on these all the time!

      P.S. I wholly agree about Stanley Steamer. Plus, once you have them visit they call you every month to try and convince you they need to come clean your carpets again — and your air ducts. Grrr.

  24. primer spilled on our colored carpet. I am excited to try your method but curious if the googone will discolor the carpet?

    1. Katie Berry says:

      It didn’t discolor mine, but it’s important that you follow the other steps and get the Googone out. 🙂

    2. I use Goo Gone all the time on our clothing when we get mysterious set in stains. It’s not discolored anything yet.

    3. Katie Berry says:

      Goo Gone is fantastic at removing stains. I haven’t tried it on clothing yet, but now I’ll have to!

  25. esperanza G says:

    I admire your tenacity but for me……I’m gonna replace the carpet….Not that I have money…I just don’t have that kind of energy…Thanks for the suggestions though

    1. Katie Berry says:

      We just can’t afford to replace it at this point, though I sure would love to!

  26. You are amazing. We are military and the housing charges for every little thing. I just got paint and gummy fruit snacks out of the carpet right before I move!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      We’re retired military. Guess how I learned these tricks? 😉 Glad to have helped!

    2. That’s my current dilemma. We’re in military housing and I recently painted our bedroom a dark gray color, but the roller brush jammed and left drops of paint all around the perimeter of the room. I knew trying to wipe it up would make it worse so I just let it dry. We have about a year before we move out so I’m going to try to get it out asap. I’ve heard horror stories about how much housing cost to cover a small carpet stain I could only imagine how much they would charge for the entire room.

    3. Katie Berry says:

      Ugh, military housing charges a small fortune for carpet stains. I remember that all too well from my past. In the future, try to get as much fresh paint up as you can with a putty knife (or even a Tupperware lid or some other flat thing). That’ll leave you FAR less to deal with once it dries. But, yep, this method will get old stains out. Best of luck to you, and thank you for your service!

  27. Ginger Estep says:

    I`m going to try this and i so hope it works.The only thing is i dont know is what kind of red paint it is. I got the rugs from a friend that,got them from a older house she was remodeling. I want to clean them and use them because they match and that would work great for what i have in mind. Thank you for the ideal ! Ginger

  28. Amazing!! Great tip!! I was desperate since we are going to put the house up for sale and we recently painted the house and of course paint got on the carpet (a lot of paint) and was going to resort to getting new carpet put in because I had no idea what else to do! Thanks again you have saved me from spending pointlessly!!

  29. Christina says:

    Fantastic tips! I am now going to attempt the spill of purple paint I found on our carpet on Easter. My niece was over the day before and went downstairs to look for something of hers and either ‘forgot’ to tell me she accidentally knocked over a cup full of house paint or didn’t know she did it, then didn’t pick it up, or wipe it up. Now, I have an inch thick pile of paint dried on my 1 year old carpet (in a room we just had redone and haven’t gotten the opportunity to even use yet)! I was so upset that I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and decided to not even talk about it until today because it was already dry and I didn’t want to ruin our family time. But now, it must be dealt with, so I am praying that some of your solutions work, because the other ones I’ve come across I know wouldn’t cut it! Any other suggestions would be appreciated!

  30. Katie Berry says:

    I know what you mean, Virginia. If we hadn’t had the appraiser coming, I wouldn’t have bothered. At some point, a carpet is simply so old that it makes more sense to replace it than try to fix it.

  31. Katie Berry says:

    You’re quite welcome. I’m glad someone can learn from my miserable day of cleaning carpet stains!

  32. Katie Berry says:

    Thanks, Danyelle! Dried paint seemed like one of those stains I’d never get out. I’m so happy that my carpet looks good again!

  33. Old Married Lady says:

    I have some pet stains in our carpet, this is very timely for me. How in the world do you know how to do what you do? Genius!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Thanks, Lina! I just read this stuff ALL the time. 🙂

  34. Impressive. Most Impressive.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Thank you, Jan!

  35. We have a stain in our living room carpet that the previous owners giant dog left. When you clean it the stain goes away but returns after a couple of weeks. Has me puzzled why it takes so long to reappear and how to get rid of it for good!!!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Hi Michele! Stains come back on carpets for one of two reasons. Either there’s soap residue still in the carpet (attracting dirt) or the stain got all the way down to the pad and is wicking back to the carpet surface again.

      To deal with the first cause, vacuum the carpet thoroughly then use a steam cleaning machine. Skip the soap, and add 1/4 c. white vinegar gallon of hot water instead. Go over the spot repeatedly, making sure to suction the liquid up well. (Even better, follow the steamer with a wet vac to really get the cleaning solution out.) Repeat as needed until the stain stops returning.

      Dealing with wicking requires getting all of the stain out of the carpet, all the way down to the pad below. Use the vinegar cleaning method described above, then dab at it with a white cloth like I show in the picture in this entry. Keep the spot moist while you’re working, and change cloths repeatedly. (Alternatively, fold up a fluffy white towel and put it on the spot, cover the towel with plastic, and put something heavy on top of it. Let sit for an hour before changing the towel for a clean one.)

      You may have to clean the area repeatedly, and you’ll probably go through a lot of cloths, but eventually you’ll get the pet stain completely out.

      Good luck!

  36. I’m in awe of your skills. Seriously.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Thank you, Donna, but I’ve got to admit: I awed myself on that one. If I’d had even the tiniest notion the stains would come out that well, I’d have done this a long time ago!

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