Expert cleaners offer easy and effective tips for saving your rug after spills happen.
Every host has experienced this moment (even if only in her nightmares): Your party is in full swing, guests are chatting, your charcuterie board is a massive hit, and then you see it—across the room, a glass full of red wine tilts, drips, and splashes all over your carpet.
Instead of letting panic ruin the festivities, have the tools and techniques for getting red wine out of your carpet at the ready. While a set-in red wine spill can be difficult to remove—even for professional carpet cleaning companies—knowing how to tackle it as soon as it happens can save your rug (and your party).
How to Remove a Fresh Red Wine Stain From a Carpet
As with all stains, you'll have the best luck removing the mess if you can get to it while it's still wet. "Always act fast when cleaning up a stain in your carpet," says Rob White, director of cleaning systems at Oxi Fresh Carpet Cleaning. "Getting to it quickly can have a big impact on your ability to produce satisfying results."
However, before you use any cleaning approach on your carpet, you should read and understand the manufacturer's instructions; not all materials can be treated the same way. "The type of carpet you have can have a meaningful impact on your ability to clean carpets," says White. "In particular, we'd recommend extreme caution when cleaning any carpet or rug made from a natural fiber, like wool or cotton. Some natural materials can't be cleaned with water at all. If your carpet is made of a natural material or has specific care instructions, consult a professional."
Step 1: Blot
Use clean towels, washcloths, or paper towels to blot the spill as soon as you see it. Removing as much excess liquid as possible allows you to more effectively treat the stain. "Avoid rubbing the carpet stain," says Katie Dills, senior vice president of The Cleaning Authority. "This will cause it to spread or soak deeper into the carpet fibers or fabric."
To keep the spot from spreading outward, blot from the outside edge towards the center, says White. "Scrubbing a red wine stain in a carpet tends to move the stain around, spreading the wine into surrounding parts of the carpet and making the problem worse," he says. "Instead, blot, blot, and blot again."
Step 2: Rinse With Cold Water
Use a spray bottle to wet the remaining stain with cold water and continue blotting with clean towels to pick up as much of the diluted stain as you can, says White. "Normally, hot water is best for treating spots, but there is a chance it could cause the spill to set, so cold water is the safer option," he says. But don't make the spot too wet; this can cause the stain to reappear later. "Repeat this rinsing and blotting process until no more of the stain comes up; if you're lucky, it may be all you need to do," says White.
Step 3: Spot Treat
If cold water wasn't strong enough to remove the stain, you'll need to spot clean it. Commercial carpet sprays work, but White recommends avoiding any that contain bleach or ammonium. "They can be very potent and potentially damage the carpet," he says. "Ideally, look for products with a sodium carbonate base."
Want to go the DIY route? White and Dills say the following homemade spot cleaners work best on red wine. (Remember: You should always test cleaning products in an inconspicuous spot on your carpet before using them to clean a major spill.)
Hydrogen peroxide and dish soap: White recommends a solution of 3 parts hydrogen peroxide mixed with 1 part dishwashing liquid. "You can spray this mixture onto the spot, then let it sit for 15 to 20 minutes—the dwell time can have a significant impact on your ability to break down and remove any remaining wine," he says. "After that time has passed, once again blot the spot with clean, white towels to pick up as much of the wine and cleaning product as you can."
Dish soap, vinegar, and water: Dills uses 3 tablespoons dishwashing liquid, 1 tablespoon vinegar, and 2 cups of water to spot clean red wine stains. "Dampen a cloth with your solution and gently dab the stain," she says. "Use a second cloth with room temperature water to wipe up and remove the cleaner; ensure you are not leaving behind any cleaner to avoid discoloring your carpet."
Step 4: Rinse Again
Repeat the spot treatment and blotting as needed, until the stain is gone. Then use clean water and clean towels to remove any excess cleaner. If you've oversaturated the carpet or allowed extra cleaning solution to sit on the rug, stains and marks can reappear as the carpet dries and stains are wicked back up through the fibers—so it's important to fully but gently rinse the spot.
How to Remove a Dried Red Wine Stain From a Carpet
To remove a dry stain, experts recommend the same basic process outlined above—with a few minor changes. You won't need to start with blotting a dry stain; instead, dampen the stain with clean water to loosen it before blotting with clean towels. On set-in stains, Dills uses a solution of 1 part dish soap with 2 parts hydrogen peroxide, and notes that you may need to repeat the treatment multiple times to see a difference.
For truly old stains, you may need a professional—but they still can have trouble fully removing the mark. "Even the pros might struggle to get out a stain that has been thoroughly baked into the carpet," says White. "Sunlight, foot traffic, air flow, and other similar considerations can all impact the extent to which a stain will set into the carpet. Always clean up a spill of any kind as soon as possible. Getting right to the task of cleaning should make it significantly easier to get great results."