How to Remove Reappearing Carpet Spots

How to Remove Reappearing Carpet Spots Residues remaining after carpet cleaning can wick up to the tips of carpet fibers during the drying process.

All too often, we remove a carpet spot only to find it has reappeared (through wicking) after the carpet has dried. Many would call wicking their greatest challenge when it comes to carpet cleaning. Most would also say they have no guaranteed system to prevent wicking from happening.

What Makes Wicking Spots Different?

Soils that make up the wicking spot collect at the tips of the carpeting tufts, compared to traveling the entire depth of the yarn as in regular spots.

The liquid source of the wicking spot has penetrated the carpet backing, and perhaps even the substrate, making these spots more likely to have moisture readings prior to cleaning. This means we often can identify wicking spots with a moisture meter.

Wicking spots are more likely to occur on hydrophobic fibers, such as polypropylene/olefin, triexta, and polyester. However, nylon fibers are not exempt from wicking.

Transfer the Spot

Since this kind of spot only temporarily disappears with cleaning, one wonders if anything permanently removes it. The answer is: maybe.

Some find limited success with browning treatments and oxidizers. Many manufacturers and suppliers recommend following this treatment up with the application of an encapsulant. However, if the carpet fiber is hydrophobic and there has been an over application of moisture, encapsulants will not work.

After applying the encapsulant, recleaning the carpet with an absorption method will significantly improve success. Press a dry terry towel on the affected area to remove additional moisture or use vertical fans for quicker drying.

Since application of other wet products compromises the overwetting dilemma, the ultimate fix is not to stop the wicking but rather let the spot wick into something else, such as another textile or an insoluble powder. The best textile is an ordinary terry towel that is slightly damp. However, absorbent powders are preferred because damp terry towels need to be weighted down onto the fibers to be effective. If using a terry towel, place it on the spot and place a heavy object on top of the towel. Wait for the towel to absorb the liquid from the spot.

Most carpet cleaning product manufacturers make absorbent powders for this purpose. Apply the powder to the affected area and the spot wicks out of the carpet into the powder. Then remove the powder with dry vacuuming.

Not a Fail-Proof Method

Sometimes stains will reappear after the absorbent compound treatment. However, not all the reappearing spots are the result of wicking. If a spot returns after a few weeks, it is likely due to a sticky residue. A pH meter will determine the sticky residue you are dealing with. Food and beverage sources have pH readings between 3 and 6, detergent residues have pH readings between 8 and 10, oils generally have no contrast in pH from the surrounding carpet.

If you are dealing with too many reoccurring spots, then start leaving an absorbent towel or powder over them to capture the spot. If the post-encapsulation sprays are working, then stay with them. In addition, try minimizing your moisture on hydrophobic fibers. Using less moisture will sometimes involve using products at the higher allowable concentrations, making repeated applications unnecessary.




Posted On September 28, 2018

Jim Smith

ICRC-Approved Instructor and a Senior Practicing Inspector.

James “Jim” B. Smith is an IICRC-approved instructor, a senior practicing inspector, and part of the voting consensus of the IICRC S1OO cleaning standard. He has been in the cleaning industry since 1975. For more information, visit or email


Topics Tags

Also in Carpets

10 Tips for Vacuuming Success
August 1, 2019 Laura Patock

10 Tips for Vacuuming Success

July 11, 2019 Laura Patock

12 Simple Steps for Better Deep Cleaning

June 7, 2019 Anthony Velez

Carpet Spots vs. Stains: Like Oil and Water

June 7, 2019 Gary Clipperton

Learn the Limitations of Absorbent Compounds

Sponsored in Carpets

ProTeam® FreeFlex® Cordless/Corded Upright Vacuum
November 26, 2018 Sponsored by ProTeam

ProTeam® FreeFlex® Cordless/Corded Upright Vacuum

November 6, 2018 Sponsored by Sanitaire

Get Ready for a Season of Challenges

September 28, 2018 Sponsored by Sanitaire Commercial

Look for Certifications to Guide Vacuum Selection

July 12, 2018 Sponsored by Sanitaire

Improve Indoor Air Quality in Schools with Better Vacuuming

Recent News

mold in a petri dish
February 18, 2020 CMM Daily News

Seventh Child Dies Due to Hospital Mold

February 18, 2020 CMM Daily News

New Toilet Design May Shorten Restroom Waits

February 18, 2020 CMM Daily News

Weekly Advocacy Recap—EPA Certifies First Products to Fight Deadly Fungus

February 18, 2020 CMM Daily News

Attend CBE for a Chance to Win an iPad

How to Remove Reappearing Carpet Spots
Share Article
Subscribe to CMM