Stains are a Pain

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The hardest part of conquering a stain is figuring out which product to use. It depends on the stain. It would be nice if there were one product that took care of every stain, but it simply doesn’t exist. So it’s up to you to create your own stain-fighting arsenal with these tips.

Ask Questions

  • Are your jobs usually interior or exterior projects?
  • Do you find stains on hard surfaces like siding or on porous surfaces like wood or concrete?
  • What about carpet stains?
  • Finally, do you usually know what causes the stain, or do you encounter quite a few mystery stains during the course of your project?

Do a Little Research

Stains slow you down. It pays to read the bottle and understand the manufacturer’s suggestions. Doing a little research early on can help you consolidate your collection of stain removers. Otherwise, you’ll end up with one cleaner for each stain you encounter, and there’s a smarter way. Look for a concentrated multitasking cleaner whenever possible. How do you know if a product is formulated for multiple tasks? The biggest giveaway is when a product gives dilution instructions for various applications. That’s how you know you have a multitasking product on your hands.

Most Common Interior Offenders

With interior jobs, the most common stains are oil-based and those consisting of general dust and grime – what we like to call “whoops, I accidently dragged that on the carpet.” It happens.

  • Oil-based stains are sometimes hard to see, but they’re commonly found on walls, light switch plates, door jambs and any areas people frequently touch or handle. It’s important to remove these types of stains before paint application, or the paint won’t stick to the surface properly. To remove oil without leaving a residue, choose a water-based cleaner with degreaser claims.
  • Dust is part of every building and structure; you can’t avoid it. Running a damp cloth over a wall will remove a great deal of dust. Look for breaks in the wetness after the wipe-down; this will identify grease, oils, pen marks, crayon marks and a wide variety of other stains that need to be removed before you paint. Don’t forget the baseboards! The nooks and crevices hide many things, and they’re tougher to clean than the walls. Find a heavy-duty stain remover that can cut through grease, oil, wax, gum, grime, crayon and pen – all things you’re likely to encounter while prepping interior walls.

Are You Covered?

If you haven’t already, it’s time to invest in high-quality floor and surface protection that you can use from job to job. You’re a professional; don’t leave things to chance. Many drop cloths and surface protectors today are durable, waterproof and reusable.

Still, there could come a time when you’re on a job and you see a stain or a spot on the carpet and you think “Where did that come from?” only to realize it came from your shoe.

Will any cleaner work? No. Some stain removers claim to clean wet paint from carpet, but what if it’s mud, oil, grease or something else? Try to identify the culprit. A good multitasking cleaner will be very helpful when you aren’t sure what the stain is.

Look specifically for cleaners that contain the word “carpet.” You want a cleaner that can tackle both wet and dry paint on carpet, while also able to deal with organic stains like food, drink and mud. Always test the product on an inconspicuous area to ensure the chemical doesn’t affect the color of the carpet.

Finally, if you take on a job with fine-threaded carpet or oriental rugs, do yourself a favor and buy a good floor protector, because even plain water can damage some of those fine fibers.

You Need Staying Power

Many products on the market make it difficult to clean vertical surfaces and carpets. You see a stain on a wall, let’s say, so you spray your cleaner of choice and then spend the next few minutes chasing streaks of product down the wall. With carpet, your cleaner may sink in immediately when you need it to stay on the surface. There are now products on the market that are thicker, and some are equipped with special nozzles that dispense fluffy foam. The product clings to the surface, allowing more contact time with the actual stain.

Exterior Stains

These typically fall into two categories – organic stains caused by oils and biological stains caused by mold, mildew or algae.

  • To remove an oil stain, you first must lift it up off the surface, which requires a solvent. The next step is to capture the oil so it doesn’t settle back in; this requires an emulsifier. In addition to those two things, you need a lot of elbow grease for vigilant scrubbing. The average degreaser usually contains both a solvent and an emulsifier, but if it isn’t concentrated enough it won’t be effective.
  • Oil stains on concrete require a two-step process. First, apply an oil-absorbing material like kitty litter. Ground this into the stain with the heel of your shoe for at least five minutes; this will bring the stain closer to the surface. After you sweep away the powder, apply your concentrated stain remover/degreaser and scrub hard. Repeat the process as needed.
  • Biological stains are most effectively removed by bleach-based cleaners. Hydrogen peroxide has been called “the safe bleach alternative.” It may be slower at removing biological stains, but it’s effective and does not have the drawbacks that come from using bleach. The best way to prevent re-growth of mold and mildew is to remove the actual source of the growth. Mold and mildew require moisture. If moisture is eliminated, mold and mildew will not grow.

When Moisture Is a Problem

If the surface of the stain is porous, like concrete or wood, even bleach can’t get all the mold and mildew. At that point, your best course of action is to replace the contaminated material. If that’s not possible, remove the stains and apply a coating containing an EPA-registered product that is designed to inhibit the growth of mold, mildew and algae on dry film; this will help prevent your stain from returning.

If you decide to put an EPA-registered product into paint, stain or other type of coating, make sure the product can be added. Some EPA-registered products are almost paste-like, requiring quite a bit of of manual effort to blend them with the coating of your choice. Others are water-thin and mix in with minimal effort.

The Bottom Line: Prep Properly

Make sure your work will stand the test of time. Put in the prep work, and start with a clean surface. Be prepared for a few bumps along the way – tracking in a little dirt or grease, a slight-of-hand accident.

It’s nothing to stress about if you have the products you need. Choose those that are concentrated and good at cleaning more than one thing. If you can narrow your stain remover collection down to a few excellent products that work fast and satisfy most of your needs, you’ll save both time and money without sacrificing quality. APC

By Brittony Turner and Keith MacRae. Reach Trimaco, LLC, at (800) 325-7356, (314) 534 5005 or Online, visit


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