The Best Homemade Carpet Cleaners for Removing Stains

By
Gladys K. Connelly
As a HouseKeeping Technical Writer, Gladys actively enjoys writing guides and tips about housekeeping for Thehousewire's audience. She's a professional housekeeping specialist with just shy of 9 years' experience to boast. That, combined with seven years prior experience in teaching, helps her create content that is both captivating and insightful.
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Updated April 6, 2022

DIY carpet cleaner hacks to save you from stains

The Best Homemade Carpet Cleaners for Removing Stains

Carpets get a lot of use in busy homes, so stains are bound to happen. But there’s no need to spend a fortune on commercial solutions or use harsh chemicals that make your home smell.

You can make environmentally-friendly DIY carpet cleaners using everyday household items! So if you’ve suffered a spill, there’s a way to fix it without even needing to leave your front door.

These homemade carpet cleaner recipes are ideal for all carpet types, from spot-treating wool rugs to deep cleaning synthetic carpets. There’s something in here to fix every kind of spill.

DIY Carpet Cleaner Solution Comparison Chart

 Types of SolutionCategories of StainsDetails
Detergent
Chemical (Surfactant)
All types of stains
/
Vinegar
Natural (Acid)
All types of stains
Residues of other cleaning solutions
/
Citric Acid
Natural (Acid)
Browning , Discoloration
/
Ammonia
Chemical (Alkaline, Gas)
Oil-based Stains, Protein Stains
Salad Dressing, Gravy, Grease, Egg, Ice Cream, Milk, Vomit, Cheese, Chocolate, Mayonnaise, Blood
Hydrogen Peroxide
Chemical (Acid, Peroxide)
All types of stains
/
Solvent
Chemical (Solvent)
Oil-based Stains, Dye Stains
Oil, adhesives, paint, gum, inks, shoe polish, tar, many cosmetics
Nail Polish Remover
Chemical (Solvent)
Plastic-based stains
Adhesives and plastic glues such as construction adhesive or liquid nails, nail polish, paint, lacquers and polyurethane stains and finishes
Commercial Carpet Cleaning Solution
Chemical & Natural
All types of stains
/

Homemade Carpet Cleaning Solutions

From steam cleaner to dish soap, there’s mixed information on how to clean your carpets. So what goes into the best homemade cleaners for busting stains and spills?

Before you go any further, it’s important to know the different kinds of cleaners you can use in your homemade carpet cleaner:

  • Alkaline cleaners. These have potent bases to dissolve grease, fats, oils, and protein-based deposits
  • Solvents. These cleaning chemicals tackle greasy and oily dirt
  • Surfactants. This is a short way of saying “Surface Active Agents”. These chemicals are used in detergents to help water bond to grease. It makes it easier to wipe the stain away than it is with just water alone

We’ll cover these types of cleaners, along with certain acids, in this list. So get ready to whisk up a carpet cleaner and get rid of smelly stains and pet odors in no time!

1. Detergent Solution

Dish soap

Detergents are chemical cleaning solutions for getting rid of grease and grime around your home. They use surfactants to help make cleaning your home easier.

Surfactants bond water to dirt, so it can cut through the grease and then you can wipe it away. This means detergents are ideal for tackling oily and greasy messes.

And if you’ve got pets and children, liquid dishwashing detergent is pet-friendly and safe to use around them. It’s also approved by the Carpet Rug Institute and it won’t damage the carpet fibers.

Ingredients

You only need a few simple things for this homemade carpet cleaner:

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How to Use

  • Use a quarter of a teaspoon of detergent per cup of lukewarm water and mix them together. Pour into your bottle for easier application.
  • Spray a small amount onto a white cloth and gently work it into the stain, but don’t rub! Dab from the edges into the middle, so you don’t spread it further.
  • Leave the carpet cleaner to do its thing for a few minutes and then blot.
  • You’ll see the stain coming off onto the white cloth, so keep blotting until no more stains transfer from the carpet to the cloth. It takes a while but it’s worth it!
  • When the spill has gone, rinse the area with cold water or an acid rinse (more on this later). Use a fresh dry cloth to blot again to remove excess moisture.

Warning

Stick to this level of concentration! Don’t be tempted to make it stronger, or you could damage your carpet.

Stick to simple dishwashing detergents, like dish soap, for your homemade carpet cleaner. Automatic dish washing and liquid laundry detergent or fabric softener could contain chemicals that will damage or dye your carpet.

And make sure you rinse thoroughly at the end to remove any detergent residues. It might take more than one rinse to get rid of it all.

If this carpet cleaner doesn’t work, try it again or move on to the next one on the list.

2. Vinegar Solution

White vinegar

White vinegar is a natural stain remover that also helps to remove lingering odors that are embedded in carpet fibers. This makes it an ideal homemade carpet deodorizer for smelly messes like vomit or pet accidents.

It lowers alkalinity too, so it helps to correct the browning caused by alkalines. When used properly, it even manages to clean stain-resistant fibers without damaging them.

An acid vinegar rinse is also a good idea on quite a few occasions. It will balance out any alkaline cleaners, such as ammonia, and it helps to remove carpet cleaner residue.

While vinegar is safe to use around children and pets, they might not like the smell too much! The scent will disappear when it dries, or you could try adding a few drops of your favorite essential oil.

Vinegar is a stain removal method approved by the Carpet Rug Institute. Even with lavender essential oil added in.

Ingredients

What you’ll need for this homemade carpet cleaner:

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How to Use

  • Use one cup of white vinegar to two cups of water and mix it into a spray bottle.
  • Spray onto the stains.
  • Cover the area with a thick layer of paper towels and weigh them down. Just make sure you use something that won’t get damaged by the cleaning solution.
  • Keep changing the paper towel until the carpet is completely dry.

3. Citric Acid

You find citric acid in citrus fruits, like lemons and limes. This natural cleaning solution doesn’t contain any harsh chemicals and it has antibacterial and antiseptic properties, much like vinegar does.

It’s better for spot cleaning tough stains such as pet urine rather than the entire carpet. It’s powerful enough to cut through things like pet stains, tea or coffee stains, and for reversing browning.

After using it for some DIY carpet cleaning, it dries to a fine white powder. But this is completely normal and you can vacuum it up with no problems.

Ingredients

You only need three things for this homemade carpet cleaning solution:

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How to Use

  • Use 8-10 tablespoons per gallon of hot water and mix together. Pour into a spray bottle.
  • Apply a light mist of the DIY carpet cleaning solution to the stains. Use as little as possible rather than soaking the area.
  • Leave it to dry and then vacuum up the dried deposits. Ideally, you should use a vacuum with a bristle brush to remove stains from the carpets.

Warning

Citric acid isn’t verified by the Carpet Rug Institute, but lots of professional carpet cleaning companies use it to clean carpets.

4. Ammonia Solution

Ammonia

Ammonia is a gas that’s classed as a “reducer” type of bleaching agent. A “reducer” removes oxygen from the stain, which changes its colour and makes it invisible rather than removing it.

Ammonia is often added because it helps to cut through grease. So it’s ideal for any food colored stains that get spilled onto your carpets.

It’s safe and is Carpet Rug Institute approved, but you should test a discreet patch first to see how it reacts with your carpets. It dries clear but it can be unpredictable, so you always want to check first.

Ammonia is a quick stain remover that has its uses for cleaning carpets. It’s more efficient on synthetic (manmade) stains, less aggressive to natural colours and acts faster than an oxidizer.

But the harsh and potent smell is the biggest downside to using this cleaning solution.

Ingredients

You can treat stains in a flash with this mixture:

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How to Use

  • Mix one tablespoon of ammonia per cup of warm water into the spray bottle. Spritz a bit onto a clean white cloth to dampen it.
  • Apply this to the stain from the edges to the middle, so it doesn’t spread the spill further into the carpet. Leave it for a few minutes and then gently blot.
  • Keep doing this for as long as you see the stain transferring from the carpet onto the white cloth. It might take a little while, but the results are worth it!
  • When no more dirt is lifting, rinse the carpet and blot again with a fresh cloth to dry it.

Warning

It’s best to try other stain removers to remove dirt before using ammonia. But make sure they’ve been fully rinsed out and the carpet is dry before adding ammonia, or it will dilute the cleaning mixture and it won’t be as effective.

If you decide to try an ammonia-based carpet cleaner, keep in mind that it works better on light-colored carpets. And use it sparingly so that it doesn’t damage the surface.

It’s also recommended to test your homemade carpet cleaning solution on a small patch of carpet first. If the color doesn’t change, you’re safe to use it.

And last but not least, never mix ammonia with chlorine or bleach products. It can release a highly toxic gas!

5. Hydrogen Peroxide

Hydrogen Peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide is another bleaching agent, but it adds oxygen rather than removing it as ammonia does. The end result is similar though, in that it hides a stain by changing the color of it rather than removing it.

So it’s ideal for old stains that you just can’t budge with other methods. The hydrogen peroxide breaks up chemical bonds in the stains and makes them invisible in your carpets.

While it does a fantastic job on just about anything, this carpet cleaner works best on food stains. But it is a bit slower than other methods, so be patient.

Ingredients

You can bust nasty carpet stains with just three ingredients:

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How to Use

  • You need 1 tablespoon of Hydrogen peroxide per 3 tablespoons of warm water. Mix together and pour into your bottle.
  • Apply the mixture to the stain and leave it to work for at least an hour. When the time’s up, blot with a cloth until the mess is removed.
  • Rinse the section of carpet with water and blot again to dry it completely.

Warning

Make sure the Hydrogen peroxide solution isn’t any more than 6%. If the concentration is too strong it can bleach out colors and damage natural fibers, like cotton.

Most household mixtures are 3% and should be safe. But always do a spot test first.

Hydrogen peroxide is best saved until you’ve tried other cleaning methods, especially if you’ve got dark carpets. As it’s a bleaching agent, it’s most effective on light-colored surfaces.

If you do want to try it, make sure you’ve removed any other cleaning products from the carpets first. And dry the area as much as you can before applying it.

Finally, this product isn’t recommended by the Carpet Rug Institute. But it is the main ingredient in a lot of products they recommend, and many carpet manufacturers say it’s ok to use.

If you’re in any doubt whether or not to try it, check with the manufacturer of your carpets.

Alternatives to Homemade Carpet Cleaner Recipes

If you’re not keen on going down the homemade carpet stain remover route, there are some other things you can try. You can buy pre-made solutions that you use as they are.

All of these products are recommended by the Carpet Rug Institute, carpet manufacturers, or carpet cleaning companies. So you can use them with real peace of mind.

1. Commercial Carpet Cleaners

Carpet shampoo on a carpet

When spills happen, the CRI suggests you turn to a commercial carpet cleaning solution. They’re effective and have been tested as safe to use.

Not only this, but they’ve also earned green-certified status, so they’re good for the environment too.

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How to Use

  • Check the instructions on the bottle before using the carpet cleaner.
  • As a general rule, pour a little onto a clean white cloth and work it into the stain. Always work from the edges into the middle, and don’t scrub at the spill.
  • Once the dirt is removed, rinse the area with clean water to remove any residue. Finish off by drying the carpet.

Some commercial carpet cleaners work best when used with a carpet cleaning machine. You can rent industrial carpet cleaning machines for a short period to save money.

Warning

Even though these cleaners are tested, you don’t want to damage your carpets. So always do a spot test on a bit of hidden carpet first.

If you’re using a carpet cleaning machine, test it on a small patch of carpet that’s out of the way before doing a whole room.

2. Dry Solvent

Rubbing Alcohol

The “dry” in dry solvent doesn’t mean it’s a powder. Instead, it means there is very little or no water used in the product.

Dry solvents are ideal for removing oily and greasy stains, like tar, paints, ink, oil, gum, and make-up.

You can find volatile or non-volatile solvents. But don’t be alarmed by the name, it just refers to how it evaporates.

Volatile solvents, like this acetone nail polish remover, evaporate quickly without leaving any residue. So they don’t need to be rinsed – but they can be rinsed with hot water.

Other familiar volatile solvents are rubbing alcohol, Odorless Mineral spirit, or naphtha (lighter fluid).

Non-volatile solvents are slower to evaporate, so they tend to deep clean stubborn stains better.

But they can leave a residue behind that will need rinsing away. Most of the time, you’ll need to use a volatile solvent to rinse.

Most non-volatile solvents are gel solvents. Gel solvent spotters don’t tend to soak into the backing of your carpet, so there’s less risk of delamination.

And if you need to rinse them after cleaning, it’s super simple to do this with hot water and detergent.

D-Limonene is an example of a non-volatile solvent that’s used in lots of homes.

The Carpet Rug Institute recommends dry solvents, so it’s worth keeping some in your cleaning cupboard.

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How to Use

  • First, wet around the stain with water to create a barrier. It stops the solvent from spreading further than you want it to.
  • Then, use a clean white cloth to blot the solvent onto the stained carpet. Keep blotting until it’s all gone.
  • Afterward, rinse any product away with water or a volatile solvent to prevent a ring from forming. The bottle will tell you which one is best to use.
  • Again, blotting with a clean white damp cloth is the best way to do this. When the carpet has dried, run over it with a vacuum to leave it looking fresh and fluffed.

Warning

Always check solvents are safe to use on your carpet fabrics. And remember that solvents are flammable, so keep them away from flames of any sort!

It’s safest to use a cloth to apply it rather than pouring it straight onto the carpet. Too much solvent can reach the backing, which could cause it to peel apart.

In our instructions, we’ve mentioned things like forming a water barrier and removing residue. It’s super important to stick to these to prevent any further damage to your carpet.

If you’re in any doubt, check the label on the bottle. And make sure you’re working in a well-ventilated area and are wearing gloves to avoid any contact with your skin.

3. Nail Polish Remover

Acetone Nail Polish Remover

People are often scared of this household item for cleaning carpets, but it can be useful when all else fails. There are two kinds of nail polish remover:

  • Acetone-based, which is a dry solvent as above.
  • Amyl acetate-based, which sounds similar but works differently. It’s used in a lot of Paint, Oil, and Grease (POG) removers.

We’re focusing on amyl acetate kinds of nail polish remover here. You may have heard of this by the name “banana oil” seeing as it smells similar to bananas!

Amyl acetate is ideal when you’re trying to get rid of plastic spills, like if you’ve dropped your nail glue onto the carpet. But it has loads of other uses for all kinds of spills.

It’s also safe to use with a lot of dyes and won’t damage fibers. But you want to apply it quickly as prolonged contact can damage decorative surfaces.

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How to Use

  • Scuff the surface of the stain first for best results, as it allows the nail polish remover to soak into it.
  • If the spill looks glossy when you’ve applied the amyl acetate, break it up a bit more. Tamp the stain with the backside of a black soft brush.
  • Use a dry clean cloth to soften the stain. Then rinse the carpet with a dry solvent and repeat these steps until the mess has gone.
  • When it’s completely gone, rinse the carpet again to get rid of any product residues.

Warning

You may struggle to find amyl acetate on its own as it’s restricted in the USA. But it is used in POG removers, which is probably your best chance of finding it.

Always do a trial run first on a small section of carpet. And only use amyl acetate with other dry agents rather than adding water.

Amyl acetate is flammable, so keep away from flames and make sure you’re working in a well-ventilated area. You don’t want to breathe in too many of the vapors, after all.

Avoid Using Baking Soda on Your Carpet

To put it simply, don’t put baking soda in any of your homemade carpet cleaners! It can end up doing more harm than good, and it won’t even remove the stain in the first place.

If you need any more convincing, the Carpet Rug Institute strongly warns against using baking soda in your own cleaning solution. So ignore the suggestions of vinegar and baking soda you see on the internet.

Baking soda is actually a deodorizer and it loves to absorb water, so it makes your carpets sticky. You end up walking more dirt into the carpet than you remove.

And when it dries, it turns back into a white powder that’s very difficult to get rid of with a vacuum. Besides, it can damage the plastic parts in your carpet vacuum cleaner.

There’s a chance it will leave your carpet looking lighter than it actually is, and it’s a risk leaving baking soda sitting in the fibers.

It absorbs more water over time, which can damage the latex in the backing. It could eventually lead to delamination, so it’s really not worth using baking soda in your homemade carpet cleaners.

The same can be said about salt or borax, as they’re also abrasive cleaners.

So stick to the tried and tested carpet cleaners above to give your carpets the TLC they deserve!

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