Even for the most prudent of us, accidents can happen. Whether you’re running a household with kids prone to spilling their juice in your car’s backseat or pets you can’t keep off the couch or carpet, it’s all but an inevitability that you’ll come across a stain you can’t just throw a whole armchair, rug, or that fancy white dress you accidentally got some spaghetti sauce on away for.
This is where spot cleaning comes in. Pick up the right tips, tricks and tools, and you’ll save yourself the heart-attack of banishing a blouse or scarf into the darker corners of your closet, and keep your upholstery and carpets looking good as new rather than contend with unsightly stains staring back at you.
As the name suggests, spot cleaning involves just treating the area experiencing a stain or spillage – especially handy when you’re dealing with something large and bulky, like a rug or the stitched-in upholstery of an armchair. When it comes to clothes, a good spot cleaning can either help hold you up until you can get to the dry-cleaners, especially when you’re on the way to or at an occasion you don’t want to be walking around at with a stain on your outfit, or save you from having to spend those extra couple bucks you’d have to spend for a professional cleaning service.
What do you need?
A few laundry room essentials, and you’ll be ready to rise to the occasion in a jiffy the moment a mishap occurs – which is essential, because the trick to spot cleaning is acting quickly.
You might already have oxygen bleach or all-fabric bleach in your laundry arsenal – less corrosive and more slow working than chlorine bleach, oxygen bleach is a gentle cleanser, its chemical components working to not only remove stains from your clothing but also leaving it brighter and whiter in the process. Since this bleaching agent is not harsh, you won’t have to worry about shortening the longevity of your clothes and fabrics.
What you might not have in your laundry arsenal, on the other hand, if you’re totally new to the concept of spot cleaning, are stain removers. Specifically, enzyme-based stain cleaners. We’re going to rewind back to high-school biology class for a quick, if over-simplified, breakdown of what enzymes do – as proteins which act as biological catalysts for speeding up chemical reactions, it’s enzymes that are, for instance, responsible for breaking the food we eat down to their basic molecular structures so they can be absorbed into the bloodstream.
Applying this logic to the stains and spills on our clothes or elsewhere, and an enzyme-based stain remover essentially works to break down the rigid molecular structures of the stain in the same way, so it’ll come off the fabric easily. A good stain remover should contain protease, lipase, amylase, cellulase, mannanase and pectinase, to help tackle stains from anything from protein- and starch-based to fruit-based stains.
Other cleaning agents you might want to keep handy could be rubbing alcohol and acetone and laundry soap bars, and off coarse brushes with soft bristles so you can tease out the stains without damaging the fabric and white cloths to soak up the stain without it transferring elsewhere.
While this set of tools may be enough to help you handling stains on upholstery and carpets too, for tackling age-old, tough stains on your carpet and upholstery, you might want to invest in a spot cleaning machine. We’ll go into that a bit more later in this article.
Spot cleaning clothes
Getting down to the specifics, the first step is to respond quickly, before the stain dries up and becomes a permanent part of your favorite shirt. Before going in with a stain remover, remove any solid matter from the stain, like sauce, using a spoon or knife. A common mistake many make is attempting to rub the stain away – don’t. Doing this only pushes the soiling matter deeper into the fabric and harder to wash off. If you’ve spilled some juice, wine, gravy or other liquid, use a white cloth or paper towel to soak as much of it up as you can – avoid using colored fabrics or paper towels at any stage of the process, because color might transfer on to the fabric you’re trying to save and make an even bigger mess.
On a different white cloth, or some paper towels, lay the stained fabric stain-side down. This is a precaution, because a) it’s easier to push the stain out of the fabric from the inside-out, rather than trying to get it out from stained side, since this might just force the stain deeper b) this separates the stain from the rest of the fabric, to minimize chances of it spreading.
Then, using a bit of clean cloth, cotton, or soft-bristled brush and a little bit of your weapon of choice, be it detergent or a stain remover, gently pat the stain, working your way from the outside towards the middle, again to prevent it from spreading out. As you do, the stain will absorb into the cloth/towel it’s pressed against. Remember to move the cloth/towel to a clean spot as you work, to make sure the stain doesn’t just transfer back from where it’s being absorbed. Keep going until the stain is completely removed, then air-dry.
Before attempting to spot clean your clothes, remember to check the wash labels – some will survive the washing machine (but spot cleaning ensures the stain won’t get anywhere else on the fabric), some need to dry-cleaned, while others are exclusively specified for spot cleaning only.
Spot cleaning Carpets and Upholstery
The tips here, or at least the principles behind them, are very much the same as we’ve covered for spot cleaning fabrics. Act quickly, remove solid matter without rubbing it into the material, blot up any moisture using a paper towel or cloth, and then use a white, terry-cloth towel or soft-bristled brush and a spot remover to gently coax the stain off, blotting as you go to remove the matter that comes loose. Again, work from the sides to the middle to keep the stain from spreading, and avoid using too much of the product – you might end up damaging the material otherwise. You’ll also need to ensure you’ve picked the right stain cleaner for the right types of stain, too – knowing what caused the stain can give you an idea of what type of detergent or stain remover you’ll need to remove it.
If you’re tackling very tough stains, or just want to give your upholstery and carpets the occasional thorough once-over, you can choose to invest in a spot cleaning machine. These combine the powerful suctioning power of vacuum cleaners with a stain removing solution and hose attachments like brushes, working to scrub off the stain with a deeply-penetrating chemical solution breaking it down from the inside, and then sucking it all up, eliminating the need for you to constantly scrub and blot at the stain manually.