How to Remove Stains From an Area Rug

Jane Douglass September 26, 2018

If you own an area rug, just accept that it won't remain pristine forever. Eventually someone will spill on it or a pet will relieve itself on it - and you'll need to clean it.

Instead of running out and hiring a professional carpet cleaner right away, you can try to handle that stain yourself using this short guide.

Warning! Rugs come in various types of materials, and you should follow the manufacturer's recommended instructions for how to clean your specific product. The methods described in this guide, while mild, could potentially damage your rug if soap or water are not permitted on it. Check your rug's care tag before proceeding. When in doubt, contact your rug manufacturer or ask a professional carpet cleaner about how to clean your rug.

Craftsman style dining room with area rug.
Photo from Zillow listing.

Wet stains

The best time to clean wet stains is when they’re still moist in the carpet. If you let it dry, the stain can be much harder to get out. Follow the step-by-step directions below to remove a wet stain.

  1. Lift up the edge of the rug and place a folded bath towel or paper towels under the location of the stain. Fold the rug back into place over the towel.
  2. Take a second folded towel and place it over the top of the stain.
  3. Press down on the top towel, and the liquid stain will be pulled into the towels. Rookie tip: Do not perform this procedure with your best towels, as they will absorb some of the liquid that stained your carpet.
  4. Once most of the fluid is absorbed out of the rug and into the towels, fill a small sports bottle (or any bottle with a squirt top) with warm water and a small amount of laundry detergent.
  5. Hold the tip of the bottle over the stain and squirt the detergent and water mixture through the rug so that the bottom towel collects the fluid. This will help wash out or push through any discoloration. If necessary, use a stiff, plastic bristle brush to agitate the rug.
  6. If the rug appears sudsy from the detergent mixture, you can replace the detergent in your squirt bottle with warm water and repeat the process to remove the soap.
  7. If the stain appears to be removed, replace the wet towels with dry towels and allow the moisture to absorb into the towels overnight.

Persistent stains may need to be removed professionally if this process didn't work for you.

Modern home with large beige area rug.
Photo from Zillow listing.


If your rug gets a stain from a goopy, runny or solid product, like baby food or pudding, you'll need to remove those solids before you try to remove the stain. For example, don’t take a cleaning brush to a mound of pudding on your carpet, since you'll end up driving that food further into it.

  1. Ideally, you should use a heavy-duty shop vacuum to pull up the spill. If you don't have one, use a wet paper towel or baby wipe to gently remove it.
  2. Be sure that as you vacuum, scoop or wipe up the solid, you are using an upward motion to avoid driving in any of the stain. Rookie tip: Don't use a regular home vacuum for this step, since the stain material can get caught up in the rotating vacuum brush and ruin your vacuum.
  3. Once most of the solids have been lifted off the surface of the carpet, you can follow the procedure for removing wet stains as described in the paragraph above.
Transitional living room with Greek key patterned area rug.
Photo from Zillow listing.

Pet stains

Dog and cat stains can be very tricky to remove. You can easily address the visual evidence, but the smell can linger for quite some time. Even worse, some dogs and cats will re-mark their stains or the stains of other animals if they find those smelly spots.

To clean pet stains, like cat or dog urine, you'll follow the same procedure for removing wet stains. However, you'll need to take an additional step to remove the odor.

After cleaning your rug, apply a product specifically designed to treat pet odors. After one or two quick applications, you’ll eliminate the pet smell for good.

Dog lying on a rug.

Dry stains

Stains that have dried into the carpet can be considerably more difficult to remove. Whatever caused the stain might have bonded to the carpet fibers or chemically discolored the rug. Before calling a professional or getting rid of the rug entirely, try following these steps.

  1. Try soaking the stain using a warm water and detergent mixture, as described above.
  2. Once the stain has been soaked through with the detergent, gently agitate the area with a stiff, plastic bristle brush.
  3. If this technique is working, then rinse your rug through again with the detergent mixture, and repeat the process until the stain is gone.

If the stain won't fully lift out, you may need to hire a professional carpet cleaner.

Modern Craftsman style kitchen with area rug.
Photo from Zillow listing.


Originally published November 16, 2016.

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