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What About Stain Resistant Carpet?

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The wine or cherry pie spills on the carpeting and you quickly clean up that red spot without a problem. That's the hope with the latest stain resistant carpets, but do they really work? Mostly, but no carpeting is really 100% stain-proof. Let's look at what how these carpets are made, how to care for them, and what your other options are.

Although there are many different fibers used in the manufacturing of carpeting, including wool, polypropylene, and polyester, the most common type now is nylon. Some sources estimate that half of all the carpet sold in the United States is nylon. It resists abrasion and mildew, and it's the type most likely to come in stain-blocking or stain-resistant forms.

Manufacturers each have their own mix of chemicals that they use to make their nylon fibers resist stains. They either impregnate the fibers with the chemicals before the weaving and tufting process or they apply them after the carpet is made. Either way, if all goes well, the end product should be fairly impervious to staining from food and drink and even rust and ink.

Cleaning Spills

Even with these new carpets it's best to clean up spills as soon as possible. The ability to resist staining does not make these carpets entirely stain-proof. You might have a day or only hours before the substance seeps into the fiber despite the chemical treatment. Soapy water should get the mess cleaned up, but be sure to rinse the spot afterward to remove any detergent. Soapy residue left behind can attract dirt, and dirt can eventually damage the fibers, making them less stain resistant.

With treated carpets you should be very careful about using commercial cleaning products. Some of them, especially those that have any kind of bleaching action, can remove the chemicals that coat the fibers, allowing staining. If you cannot remove a stain with soapy water, you might want to call a professional cleaner. A truck mount cleaning unit that "steam cleans" your carpet (technically it is called hot water extraction) can remove tough spots due to the high temperature of the water used and the power of the suction.

Should You Buy Stain Resistant Carpet?

Carpets that resist stains tend to last longer, in part because many people change carpeting due to an accumulation of nasty-looking spots rather than wear and tear. There is also some protection from wear provided, since dirt does not enter and damage the fibers as easily. So it is probably worth paying a little extra for treated carpet. You also may not have much of a choice if you like nylon, since most manufacturers routinely treat all of their nylon varieties.

What are the disadvantages of stain resistant carpet? It is possible (although the evidence is mixed) that volatile organic compounds emitted by the treatment chemicals will cause health problems for some people. Symptoms include burning eyes, sinus problems, headaches, nausea, chills and fever. This is an issue with carpeting in general, but may be worse with the addition of stain-blocking chemicals. It also may resolve itself in time as the carpet ages and releases most of the compounds.

Caring for Your Carpet

Both acne medication and mustard can damage even treated nylon carpeting, so avoid any spills of these substances. Some cleaning substances can do damage as well. Before using any product to clean the carpet, test it in an inconspicuous spot, like in the corner of a closet. Watch carefully for any bleaching or discoloring of the fibers. Use a flashlight to look at it if your test is in a dark area.

Other Options

If you want some stain protection but already have carpet that is not treated, you can buy products that are applied in the home. They do tend to wear off after some time, requiring reapplication (read the instructions. Also, a carpet cleaner will usually add a stain treatment for an additional charge when cleaning your home.

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