stain being cleaned

Do You Know the Difference between a Spot & a Stain?

We’ve all been there: a splash of coffee on your favorite shirt, a dollop of ketchup on the carpet, or that dreaded ink blot on your important document. These unwanted marks, often used interchangeably, fall into two categories: spots and stains. While they may seem like two sides of the same coin, understanding the key differences between them can be the difference between a quick cleanup and a frustrating battle.

If you are like most people, you call pretty much every ‘spot’ a stain, but technically you shouldn’t. Did you know that carpet cleaning techs know the difference between spots, stains, wicking, and discoloration (two more kinds of ‘spots’), and can tell which you have just by the look and feel of the area? They also know the different, and best ways to treat each predicament.

A spot is an area that looks and feels different than its surroundings, usually has a well-defined border, and will come clean by rubbing with a towel. You can typically remove spots from carpets and rugs more easily than stains. Imagine a spot as a temporary visitor on your surface. It’s a recent arrival, usually caused by a spill or accidental contact. Spots typically:

  • Sit on top of the surface, without deeply penetrating the material.
  • Retain their original texture and form, unlike stains that can leave a sticky or stiff residue.
  • Have a higher chance of being removed completely if treated promptly.


Think of a raindrop on a freshly waxed car. It beads up and rolls off easily, representing the nature of a spot. If you can physically feel the area on the carpet or rug, it is a spot. If you cannot, it is a stain.

A stain, by contrast, is the addition of coloring to an area. This means the contaminant has been absorbed into the fibers of the carpet or rug. A stain is like an uninvited guest who’s overstayed their welcome. It’s a more permanent resident, having seeped into the material’s fibers or pores. Stains often:

  • Become embedded within the surface, making them more challenging to remove.
  • Change the color or texture of the material, leaving a visible mark.
  • Require specific cleaning methods or specialized products for effective removal.


Picture a ketchup stain on a white tablecloth. It soaks into the fabric, leaving a reddish tinge that won’t simply disappear with water. Some examples of stain contaminants are medicines, sports drinks, tomato juice, or wine. Carpets and rugs can be treated to be stain ‘resistant’, making the contaminant absorption harder into the carpets/rugs. 

When a stain keeps appearing, it is called wicking. This happens when the contaminant gets further into the carpet fabric than what was originally cleaned. When the carpet dries after cleaning, the contaminant gets pulled back to the surface as if reappearing from thin air.

Discoloration is color loss in the fabric of a carpet or rug. Contaminants containing bleach will do this, such as benzoyl peroxide, bathroom cleaner, or plain bleach.

So, if you have any of these issues the best solution is to first, figure out which is this problem, which will lead you to the best solution. If it is a spot, you can most likely handle it by yourself, but the other three may need a call to a professional.

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Quality Care Cleaning, LLC.

585 North County Line Road
Jackson, NJ 08527
Red Bank, NJ 07701 & 07709

Phone: 732.833.1500
Fax: 732.833.1598

[email protected]

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