Skip to content   Skip to footer navigation 

How to get stains out of carpets

From spot cleaning to a full carpet clean, here's what you need to know. 

red wine stain on carpet
Last updated: 16 August 2023

Between pets, kids, spills, and everyday life, we put our carpets through a lot. But there's only so much they can withstand before it starts to show. 

Keeping your carpets looking good requires a multi-pronged approach: vacuuming, stain removal and carpet shampooing. 

The key to keeping on top of stains is to act quickly: soak up the stain ASAP, then use a stain remover on the area. 

Electric carpet shampooers (also known as carpet cleaners) are better suited to removing in-ground dirt, rather than cleaning stains, so they're more of a once-a-year thing. 

We'll talk you through stain removal and carpet shampooing, and reveal the best stain remover we've tested. 

How to get red wine, coffee, sauce, dirt and oil stains out of carpet

peerless jal carpet spotter and deodoriser

Peerless Jal Carpet Spotter And Deodoriser.

The best stain remover

Here's the stain remover product recommended by our experts:

Peerless Jal Carpet Spotter And Deodoriser

  • CHOICE Expert Rating: 76%
  • Price: $14.99 ($2 per 100mL)

Best for: red wine stains, sauce stains, coffee stains and oil/dirt stains.

Read the full Peerless Jal Carpet Spotter And Deodoriser review.

How we test carpet stain removers

So we can make sure which stain removers really do the job, we stain cream-coloured carpet with five different stains: red wine, coffee, sauce, dirt/oil and foundation. We apply the stain remover and leave it on the stain according to the manufacturer's instructions, then use a special device to measure what percentage of the stain has been removed. 

We repeat each type of stain four times (that's 20 tests for each product!) so you can be confident that the stain remover you buy really works. 

The DIY stain remover that works better than some shop-bought products

As part of our testing, our experts whip up a homemade stain remover that contains products that you already have in your kitchen. 

It didn't perform especially well in our testing, but you can use it in a pinch if you don't have a stain remover on hand but need to deal with a stain asap. 

It's far cheaper than anything you can buy at the shops, and it actually performed better than some commercial stain removers. It's also not bad at removing oil and dirt, so is a good option if you're trying to deal with spilt olive oil or the like. 

Home Recipe One:

  • CHOICE Expert Rating: 49%
  • Price: 55c per 100mL

Here's how to make it:


  • 2 tablespoons dishwashing liquid
  • 3 tablespoons white vinegar
  • ¼ cup water


Work the mixture into the stain, being careful not to over-wet the carpet.  Blot the area clean with a towel. 

Best for: oil/dirt stains, foundation stains

bissell heavy traffic

Bissell Heavy Traffic.

The stain remover products that performed worse than our DIY recipe

Our homemade recipe scored just 49% in our testing – which isn't exactly surprising considering it doesn't have any fancy stain-removing chemicals in it. 

But what is surprising is that several shop-bought products that cost far more failed to outperform our DIY stain remover. 

These are the products you shouldn't bother putting in your trolley:

  • Bissell Heavy Traffic: 42% 
  • Britex Spot 'n' Stain Carpet & Upholstery Wipes: 43% 
  • No Vac Instant Spot And Stain Remover: 45% 
  • Vanish Gold Preen 3 in 1 Deep Cleaning Foam: 49%

The standout of these poor performers is the Bissell Heavy Traffic product: not only was it the lowest-scoring product overall, it also costs a whopping $2.08 per 100mL. That's more than 3.5 times more expensive than our homemade recipe!

DIY carpet shampooers – buy or hire?

If your carpet is in need of some TLC beyond just a stain remover spot treatment, the next step is using a carpet shampooer. 

Carpet shampooers use a combination of water, concentrated detergent and suction to lift deep-down dirt from your carpet pile when your traditional vacuum or carpet cleaning methods aren't up to the task.

To make buying a carpet shampooer outright worth your while, you'd have to be using it a lot to get value out of it

You can hire a carpet steam cleaner for around $50 for 48 hours (plus cleaning solution), but if you want to buy, you're looking at anywhere from $200 up to $1600 (plus cleaning solution). You don't necessarily need to spend a fortune to get a good carpet cleaner, though: a number of models our experts recommend cost less than $500. 

Whether or not you're prepared to spend the money on buying your own machine depends on how often you think you'll use it, and whether you have space to store it: it might be better value to just hire a machine once a year. 

To make buying a carpet shampooer outright worth your while, you'd have to be using it a lot to get value out of it, unless you're using it across multiple properties or sharing it with someone else.

Before you hit the hire shop or the high street, check our reviews to find the best carpet shampooers on the market. And if you're on the fence about buying or hiring, read our carpet shampooer buying guide for more information. 

sauber pro carpet shampooer sg 100

Sauber Pro Carpet Shampooer (SG-100)

The carpet shampooer to avoid

In our review of carpet shampooers, one model in particular stood out – for all the wrong reasons. 

The Sauber Pro Carpet Shampooer (SG-100) scored a woeful 43% in our tests, performing especially poorly for stain cleaning and general carpet cleaning (so pretty much everything you want a carpet shampooer to do!). 

At $349, it falls at the cheaper end of the market, but even for the price it's hardly a bargain given its poor performance. 

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.