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Blotting Out Stains and Spills

How To Keep Your Car's Interior Spot-Free
by Robert Sharp,

The United States is a fast-food culture. Even those of us who swear we'll never eat in our cars eventually yield to the modern realities of our fast-paced lifestyle. Food and drink spills on automotive carpet are a reality when we eat and drink on the go.

Cleaning Products
Pro detailers tend to agree that household carpet-cleaning products work equally well on automotive carpet. Keep in mind, however, that auto carpet is usually backed by sheetmetal. In other words, rental-type shampooers can leave the carpet wet for a few days, which can lead to floorboard rust. "Wet" cleaning could be an option if you're willing to remove the seats and carpet from the car and wait for the fibers to completely dry, or cleaning totally grubby floormats after doing your living room.

For small stains and spills, though, spray-on products usually do a decent job of cleaning without having to soak the carpet. A few of the boo-boos that these products are formulated to remove include grease, pet stains, ketchup, motor oil, soft drinks, coffee, lipstick, mustard and milk. Some stain-removers even include deodorizers, and many spray-on auto-carpet spotters will also work on upholstery, seat belt webbing, vinyl and even household stains.

Follow the instructions on the product to successfully blot out stains and spills. Regardless of whether you choose to go the wet or less-wet route, test the product for color-fastness on an unnoticeable part of the carpet. Next, the carpet will need to be vacuumed. Some spray-on products' directions recommend pre-treating and blotting nasty spots before vacuuming while others may specify vacuuming first. Always use the most powerful wet/dry shop vac you can find (at the coin-op car wash if necessary) to suck up as much deeply embedded dirt as possible.

The actual spray-on spotting technique involves applying the product to the afflicted area, then spreading and blotting the wetness with soft terry-cloth towels to remove as much of the moisture as possible. Some car-care companies recommend applying/spreading their cleaner with a clean, white, bath-sized towel that's been moistened with cold water and wrung out as thoroughly as possible. Draw the towel across the stain, turning it frequently as the stain lifts from the carpet. If the towel becomes soiled, continue to use clean ones until the stain no longer transfers from the carpet.

For stubborn stains, use a soft-bristled brush to agitate deep down into the carpet's fibers, using circular, overlapping motions. Finally, blot/buff the moist area with another clean terry cloth towel.

Although most spray-on cleaners leave no residue, vacuum again once the carpet is dry for best results. Finally, some spotters also contain a protector, but applying a stand-alone protector to the newly cleaned carpet will help future stains come out even easier.

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