Photo: Paolo Mandica (Unsplash)
SqualorJolie Kerr is a cleaning expert and advice columnist. She’ll be here every week helping to answer your filthiest questions. Are you dirty? [Email her.](mailto:joliekerr@gmail.com)  

I dumped a lot of tomato sauce on a carpet and looked on the internet for help. I doused the area with water and another section used club soda, tried a foam carpet cleaner, and tried to blot it up without success. This a cup or two of sauce sprayed all over a beige carpet. It has been days.


I’ve got good news and bad news for you. The good news is that all hope is not lost and, with the combination of the right stain removing products and tools, that tomato sauce can be removed. The bad news is that you did almost everything wrong in your first attempt to clean up this mess. I don’t say that to make you feel bad! It’s my job to know proper carpet cleaning techniques, not yours, so this is actually a good thing because it allows me to point out common mistakes so you guys can avoid them if you, too, end up with a vat of Nonna’s finest on your wall-to-wall.

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Because the tomato sauce in question has sat for days, more work is required to remove the stain than would be if you’d gotten it when it happened. That’s okay! But before we talk about what to do about a deeply set-in stain, let’s back this train up and go over the steps to take when you’ve got a fresh spill on carpet or upholstered furniture.

1. Blot

When you have a major liquid spill, the first thing you want to do is blot up as much as you can with dry paper towels or rags. Do this before anything else. In the case of something that’s both liquid AND chunky, like tomato sauce, it may be helpful to begin by scooping up as much of the solids using a large spoon or a big wad of paper towels before you begin the blotting process.

After that, you can blot using water or club soda if that’s all you have access to, but be aware that flooding a liquid stain with water can cause it to spread, making a much bigger mess than the one you started with. Also, generally, be careful not to soak carpeting or upholstery with water, since they’re not quick to dry and mildew can set in

2. Apply a Stain Treatment Product

Our Letter Writer said she used a foam carpet cleaner, which I’m going to guess means she used Resolve. Resolve is a very good choice! It comes in different formulas; the foaming stuff is what you’ll want for general cleaning, but when it comes to BIG MAJOR STAINS like, uhhhh, two cups of tomato sauce, opt for the trigger spray Spot+Stain formula over the foaming stuff. The other super important thing to bear in mind is that after the stain remover is applied, you should leave it alone for at least 30 seconds — though one to two minutes would be better — so that it can penetrate the stain and start to break it down. The idea here is to let the product do some of the work for you.

After the stain remover has had some time to begin breaking down the stain, head back in with a damp rag, an old toothbrush and/or a carpet brush to scrub at the stain. The agitation, plus a small amount of water, plus the stain remover will break the stain up. It may take several passes to fully eliminate the stain, so if you see that it’s lightening up on the first try, know that you’re on the right track and that a little time and patience is all that’s required.

If Resolve doesn’t do the trick, here are a few other stain treatments to try instead: Tide Ultra Stain Release diluted with water (the stuff is like magic, seriously); Shout Advanced Ultra Gel Brush, which has the benefit of being fitted with a scrubber cap, so you won’t need to purchase a separate carpet brush or dedicate a toothbrush to the cleanup job; Wine Away, which works on tough food stains like cranberry and pomegranate in addition to wine, and which may be the ticket to defeating this very large and very red tomato sauce spill.

3. Bring in Machinery

Because the stain in question has sat for a few days becoming one with the fibers of the carpet, it’s very likely that some heavy artillery is going to be needed to convince the stain that it’s time to go, like a party guest who has well overstayed his welcome. Enter power tools! Wheeeeee!!!

There are two ways you can go when you need to really go to town on a stain on carpet or upholstery: A carpet and upholstery cleaning machine, or an upholstery brush attachment designed for use with a power drill. If you’ve already got a power drill, the brush attachment will be the cheapest option; the white soft bristled one is what you for carpet, upholstery and leather.

If you don’t already own a drill, a carpet cleaning machine will be the most cost-effective choice for deep cleaning that carpet. A Rug Doctor rental will run you about $30, and most grocery, hardware and big box stores offer rental services. You can also buy your own machine! Portable models, like the Little Green Machine or Bissell SpotClean Pro are probably the right choice for most homes, but if you have a lot of carpet that gets frequently and egregiously filthy, an upright model, like the Bissell Turboclean Powerbrush Upright Carpet Cleaner Machine is a great buy (and a major back-saver).