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Is it a spot, a stain, or a discoloration and can it be fixed?

We'll share with you what causes certain discolorations in a carpet, which can be removed with cleaning, and which of them are permanent and need color correction.


There is a saying in the professional carpet cleaning services industry, "the difference between a spot and a stain is 24 hours". In reality, there's a lot more science involved that determines whether you will deal with a spot, stain, or discoloration. Let's take a look at what makes up each of these.


Spots are areas on the carpet or rug that have had a fresh deposit of foreign matter. Typically, a rule of thumb is that you can feel a spot but not a stain. Therefore, you can usually immediately blot, scrape or vacuum up most if not all of a spot.

If you are lucky enough to be aware of the accident when it happens, it is easier to mitigate for several reasons. First, you'll usually know what caused the spot making it easier to remove. Second, a spot, usually the result of a fresh accident, will come out with relative ease if removed right away because the substance has discolored only the outside of the carpet fibers.


Stains are spots that have been left for a more extended period giving it more time to not only cling to the outside of the fiber but embed itself in the carpet fibers. Stains on rugs can be tricky to identify, making it harder to determine how to clean or correct them.

Customers will sometimes point out stains on their carpets or rugs that are actually permanent discolorations. What is discoloration?


Discoloration is a permanent change in color. A number of factors will play into what color manifests on your rug, such as what was deposited or spilled on the rug, the fiber that makes up the rug, and the dye used in its creation. Nylon, wool, polypropylene materials can each react differently to the same agent. Often, the color of the area will identify what type of discoloration we are dealing with, as there are different types of discolorations when it comes to carpet and rug cleaning.


The first type of discoloration is basic color loss. Color loss may be caused by elements in nature, such as ultraviolet rays from the sun or atmospheric gases. For example, exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays will cause color loss in carpet, upholstery, and drapery fibers. These are generally referred to as natural color losses.


Other types of color losses are referred to as chemical color losses, usually caused by chemical products with either high acidity or alkalinities like chlorine bleach, benzoyl peroxide (commonly used in skincare products), and many household cleaners and even insecticides. Unfortunately, the damage is almost always irreversible, meaning it can't be reversed through cleaning. However, dye correction can be done to correct the damaged area.


The second most common discoloration is dye transfer. This happens when a compound with artificial or natural pigment gets on your carpet and not only coats the outside of the fiber but actually work its way inside the fiber. Generally, if the color has worked its way into the fiber, professional carpet cleaning will be necessary to remove it.


These can also be tricky to identify sometimes because the color that appears on the carpet may not resemble the substance that caused it. For example, furniture polish and floor polish can have a serious effect on red dyes in the carpet. If a red-dyed carpet is exposed to furniture polish, it can cause green or blue spots. For red carpet owners, never polish your wood furniture without protecting the carpet first.


Sometimes discolorations seem to appear out of nowhere. For example, if you used a DIY carpet spot cleaner previously, then a new chemical is added to that same area, even if it is years later, a reaction to the chemical can occur and turn that spot purple. Making it appear that purple spots appeared on a perfectly clean carpet. But the carpet had underlying invisible issues. This may happen if you used a spot cleaner and then later a professional carpet cleaning service cleans the rug using a pre-spray; purple spots may begin to appear in the places that you sprayed earlier. Always best to let your carpet cleaner know as much as possible to avoid such mishaps.


How discolorations manifest

To understand how a discoloration manifests and why you see what you do, you'll need to understand a little science. Generally, color loss happens one primary color at a time, especially for natural color loss. The general order is for blue to go first, followed by red and then yellow. This means that a brown carpet will first turn orange, then yellow, and finally white. There are some exceptions, i.e., Alkaline in polypropylene will remove yellow first, leaving a purple area, and there are specific substances that destroy only one color. For example,

· Formaldehyde destroys red dye. Formaldehyde is in wooden floor products.

· Freon destroys yellow dye.


Acid discoloration-Acidic substances can leave spots that appear pinkish or orange on the carpet. This can occur from such things as hydrochloric acid found in products such as tile cleaner, toilet bowl cleaner, but one of the most common is from the stomach. Stomach acid or gastric acid contains hydrochloric acid and can cause permanent color loss to your rug or your carpet.


If a pet or child vomits, often the discoloration we see initially is dye transfer or a color-add on the carpet due to pigments in the foods or beverages consumed. Those dyes can more than likely be removed with professional cleaning, but removing the stain will not restore your carpet or rug. The color loss caused by the acid will now visible once the colored stain has been removed.


Pet urine starts in an acid state. As the urine begins to oxidize and react with the carpet, it creates a color change that removed the blue dyes that make up your carpet color, leaving a yellow, orange, and even a reddish color that many assume is a stain.


Alkaline discoloration-Alkalis can vary in the color it turns depending on the carpet color and the type of fiber from which the rug or carpet is made.


Some common alkalies

· Bleach is a well-known alkaline cleaner. Again depending on the fiber type and the color of the rug, bleach spots can show up in different colors. Most often, they are yellow to orange if the rug is nylon. If you see purple spots, this is an indicator you have polypropylene carpet. Carpets with bleach spots can be dye corrected to restore their original color. Cleaning will not restore the spot because there is a color loss.


· Benzoyl Peroxide is another bleaching chemical found in different medical care products that can cause yellow or orange-colored stains. One common cause for carpet discoloration is the peroxide in foot cream. Walking on the carpet after using foot cream transfers the cream onto the carpet. The effect of benzoyl peroxide is slow and may take months before the discoloration is noticeable. This, too, is a color loss and can only be corrected with dye restoration.


It’s best if you are able to share all the information you have about your carpet with a professional. For example, if you know what has been deposited on the rug to cause the stain, when it happened, and any chemicals or substances used to treat it. If you have a stain that needs professional attention, call McCartin's (215) 860-6955. We are expert stain removers and also have a professional textile restoration specialist on staff that can color correct dye loss that your carpet or rug has suffered. Learn more

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