Stain and Spot Removal

The interior of our cars collect anything from dust, soil, moisture, food particles to chemicals just from our daily and normal course of use. And then there are those occasions where we spill something or worst, a friend spills something onto our carpet that require us to take some action to remove those stains and spots.

Let me start by saying that the greatest tool you can have in cleaning is to know what caused the stain in the first place (that's why the dry cleaners always ask what the spot on your tie is from). Some stains require bleaching (we're not talking about Clorox® here). Perborates (oxygen bleaches) and hydrogen peroxide can provide color-safe bleaching action. Some powdered carpet and upholstery cleaners contain perborates that can de-stain as they dry, some can remove stains that other products leave behind because of their controlling oxidizing action. By the way, hydrogen peroxide is effective on bloodstains (watch its oxidizing action by the foaming).

There are also a number of spot removal kits available at varying costs, but you can assemble an acceptable one yourself. For most applications, all you need is a petroleum solvent-based spot remover and a spray bottle of carpet and upholstery cleaner. For protein-based stains, laundry stain sticks can help. To complete your kit, include a bottle of vinegar, some ammonia, nail polish remover, rubbing alcohol and oxalic acid for removing rust stains.

Let's discuss some specific jobs and the techniques required to accomplish them. The first is fabric headliner cleaning. Eventually they all must be cleaned, just don't use water! Headliners are usually glued to the roof and water/excessive wetting can soften the backing and cause the adhesive to fail (I'm sure you've all seen those cars where that has happened and the owners don't even repair them and drive around with the fabric fluttering or just staple it for that custom "Cheech and Chong" look). If vacuuming does not clean the headliner well enough, use a foaming spray carpet/upholstery cleaner with a clean microfiber towel, being careful not to wet or stretch the material.

The next job is cleaning the floor mats. This is the task that is required most often, since the mats collect the most dirt (that's their job). I prefer to remove them from the car, thoroughly vacuum up loose dirt, dampen with water, spray with a carpet shampoo and scrub well with a brush allowing the cleaner appropriate dwell time. Then I pressure wash them to rinse all the dirt and the shampoo, vacuum out thoroughly with a wet/dry vacuum and hang to dry. If there are specific tough spots, pre-treat them with an appropriate cleaner before shampooing. If your mats are made of wool (as is the case in most British cars), you should not get them wet or they will shrink. And by the way, I definitely do not recommend that mats be washed in a washing machine.

Another popular way of cleaning carpets and upholstery is to use an extraction-cleaning machine. The newer models use hot water for improved cleaning action and promise to clean almost perfectly. However, from my experience, even if you use the most expensive model, at best they're for maintenance purposes only. If you have ground in dirt or spots, you still have to pre-treat and mechanically agitate carpets before extracting.

Summary of the steps:
    *      Thoroughly vacuum material to be cleaned.
    *      Before using, test on a hidden area of the material to be cleaned for color removal or color change.
    *      Use only on color stable materials.
    *      Simply apply a generous amount on the soiled area and allow a minute for the cleaner to dwell or follow directions on label.
    *      Agitate with the brush or fingertips and blot with a white cotton towel.
    *      Repeat as necessary.

In the future, we'll classify stains into categories and provide a method to remove each of them.