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How to remove stains from carpet

(and get your security deposit back!)

Moving out of your apartment and don’t know how to begin dealing with your gross carpet? Don’t give up just yet: With the right carpet stain remover products, some elbow grease, and a little know-how, you can remove stains from carpet and get your security deposit refund back

How to remove stains from carpet 101: The basics

You do your best to keep your apartment tidy, but over the course of a lease, carpet inevitably gets a little, well, funky. There was that morning you sleepily spilled coffee in the hallway, the time you dribbled marinara sauce on the living room floor while eating in front of the TV, and (not to mention) the unidentified pet stains. 

Basic supplies you’ll need to remove stains from carpet:

Before you dive into attempting to remove a stain from your carpet, make sure you’ve got everything you need on hand:

• Vacuum cleaner

To remove any excess dirt or debris before attacking the stain.

• Old towels or dish cloths

These work better than paper towels (which tend to disintegrate when they’re exposed to moisture and friction). White or another light color is preferred over a bright color or pattern in order to prevent any color transfer to your carpet. 

• Rubber or latex gloves

For safety when working with cleaning chemicals.

• Carpet cleaning solution of your choice

This will largely depend on what type of stain you’re dealing with, and you can buy a commercially made product or make your own from common household ingredients. Dish soap and white vinegar work well. Read on for specific suggestions for the five most common types of carpet stains.

Time is of the essence to remove stains from the carpet!

This obviously won’t help with that three-month-old spaghetti sauce stain (hindsight is 20/20, huh?). Keep in mind that when it comes to removing stains from carpet, Speed is key — especially as a renter aiming to “leave no trace.” If at all possible, clean up spills immediately rather than giving them a chance to set in.

• Remove any debris first

Before going to town with stain remover, be sure to remove any excess dirt or debris from the area first. A vacuum (regular or handheld) or a broom and dustpan combo work well for this, depending on the mess.

• Do a spot test

To ensure you don’t make a bigger mess than you started with, it’s a good idea to do a small test spot first. Choose an inconspicuous area (think behind a door) and apply a bit of your chosen stain remover. Wait a few minutes to ensure it doesn’t bleach the color out of your carpet.

• Patience and persistence are key

Some carpet cleaners need a few hours or even overnight to do their thing, and many stains will require multiple treatments before they budge. Keep your eye on the prize: getting your full security deposit back!

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The 5 most common types of carpet stains

Now that you know the basics of getting the funk out, here’s how to remove the five most common stains from carpet.

Roost Tip! Remember: Whatever the stain may be, dab, don’t rub. Rubbing a mess into your carpet will simply drive it deeper into the carpet fibers, while dabbing will soak up excess liquid and help the stain remover penetrate so it can get to work.
Roost Tip! Roost tip #2! We don’t normally double up on our Roost tips but here we go: Put a whole big wad of paper towels on any spill to soak up as much yuck as you can before trying any cleaning product.

1. Pet stains

We love our furry friends, but they sure can do a number on apartment carpets. Whether it’s cat vomit, dog poop, or a urine stain from your not-quite-potty-trained new puppy, look for an enzyme-based carpet cleaning product. And, cat pee can be particularly challenging.

These clever carpet cleaning concoctions use enzymes and live bacteria to break down stains and odor-causing compounds, helping prevent pets from “revisiting” the same area (don’t you just love science?).

Remove any excess mess from the area first, then spray on the enzyme-based cleaner. Using a clean, damp towel or cloth, work the solution into the carpet by dabbing firmly, then cover it with the same cloth and let it sit overnight. Check it out in the morning and repeat the process again if necessary.

2. Red wine stains

On the carpet is obviously the last place you want that glass of Merlot to end up, but sometimes clumsiness can’t be helped. To remove red wine from the carpet, first, blot up as much of the wine as humanly possible; try covering the area with a clean towel or cloth and either standing on top of it, applying pressure with your feet, or placing a heavy object on top, like a pot, to soak up all the liquid.

Then spray on a carpet cleaning product specifically intended for wine stains and let it sit for a few minutes. Blot the area with a clean towel or cloth until the stain disappears (kinda like that entire bottle of wine).

3. Coffee stains

We’re as committed to our morning caffeine ritual as anyone, but that precious elixir can be a real beast when it’s spilled on the usual cream or beige apartment carpet. Thankfully, coffee stains can typically be removed with a quick DIY carpet cleaning solution using ingredients you probably have on hand.

First, soak up any excess coffee with a clean towel or cloth.

Second, fill a cup or small pitcher with warm water, adding a tablespoon each of dishwashing liquid (the kind you wash dishes by hand with, not the detergent you put in the dishwasher!) and plain white vinegar.

Next, using a clean towel or cloth, dip a corner into the solution and apply it to the coffee stain, dabbing firmly to help the mixture soak into the carpet. Repeat as necessary until all the coffee has been lifted.

Finally, treat yourself to another cup of well-deserved java.

4. Ink stains

Whether your dog got a hold of a permanent marker or you dropped a printer ink cartridge on the floor, ink stains on carpet can be a real nightmare. But ink can generally be removed from your carpet with something most renters already have on hand: rubbing alcohol, which works like a champ at breaking down the pigments in ink.

Simply pour a small amount of rubbing alcohol directly onto the stain. (Don’t have rubbing alcohol on hand? Try hairspray or hand sanitizer.) Then begin to blot the stain gently with a clean dry cloth; the ink should gradually transfer from the carpet to the cloth.

5. General funk and carpet odor

So your apartment carpet isn’t stained per se, but it’s also not smelling very… fresh. A simple refresh might be all it needs: Try sprinkling a generous amount of baking soda on your carpet, then vacuuming it up. The deodorizing properties of the baking soda will help banish any residual funkiness and leaving you primed and ready to get that precious security deposit refund.

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What to do when you can’t remove stains from the carpet

If you’re moving out and you’ve got stubborn carpet stains that just won’t budge, try talking to your landlord.

There’s no law that states how often carpet must be replaced in rentals, but most corporate-owned properties will have a set schedule for doing so — say, every 3 years — so if it’s due to be replaced anyway, they may cut you some slack. (Also, know that landlords cannot withhold your security deposit for ordinary wear and tear — although what exactly that entails always seems to be a matter of debate).

If your DIY efforts fail and your landlord isn’t interested in negotiating, many grocery stores, hardware stores, and pet supply stores rent out carpet steam cleaners that can battle older, more persistent carpet stains.

Rentals are typically around $30-40 for a few hours, plus the cost of the steam cleaning solution (around $25 or more). If that all sounds like a huge hassle you’d rather avoid, hiring a professional carpet cleaner is also a viable option.

Prices vary by area but expect to pay around $150 to $200 for such a service, and you can also try searching online for a Groupon or other discount deal in your area. It may seem like a big expense, but ensuring that you get your security deposit refund back could be worth it.

A quick note! Our goal is to gather and share info that’s up-to-date and helps you make great decisions as a renter. That said, the information you get directly from a provider could be a little different. Make sure to review their terms and conditions directly; and, if you see anything here that needs to be updated, please let us know! Advertising disclosure
Last Updated: August 17th, 2023