Stains are a problem for detailers. Some are easy to remove, others not so easy. Why? Itis all about chemistry. Remember, anything that causes a stain has some type of chemical component.

Red Kool-Aid has a red dye. Tar is petroleum-based. Coffee is an acid-based liquid containing tannins. Red wine has natural colors as well as tannins from the skin of the grape.

Couple this with the fact that each fiber has a chemical component. For example, nylon carpet (the most commonly used fiber in automobile carpets) likes acid dyes — the same type of dye used by carpet mills. That means that nylon, if acid-dyed, is going to have a natural affinity for acid-dye stains. This is the reason carpet mills add “stain blockers” to nylon carpet.

Olefin (used in some upholstery) likes oily soils. That means that tar on an olefin fiber is going to be much more difficult to remove than tar on a nylon fiber. Olefin fibers typically reject acid dyes, tannins, natural juices, etc. Polyester, a cousin to olefin, also likes oily soils, but isn’t “friendly” to normal liquid spills, including acid dye stains, natural juices, tannins, etc.


One definition of all of this can be: “Stains are made of chemicals with loose ends. These loose ends stick to loose ends in the fabric on which they stain.” That might sound simplistic, but it is a good description of what occurs when something is spilled, dropped, or tracked onto a surface, carpet, or fabric upholstery. There has to be an “opening” in the fiber that the stain likes.

A good example is polyester and mustard. Polyester is dyed using a disperse-dye system, and mustard, which is an enemy to all detailers, contains a disperse dye. While polyester withstands most food and beverage spills, mustard will often bond with it, creating a tough stain. That does not mean you cannot remove a mustard stain, but out of most stains that end up on polyester upholstery, mustard will be one of the toughest.


Let’s say a cup of coffee is spilled on a beige nylon carpet. The result is a big, dark brown, ugly spot. You go to work and, after typical spotting efforts, you find that about 95 percent of the coffee is removed, but the remaining spot is now a stain. This is unacceptable. You dig into your stain kit and use your coffee stain remover. After about 15 minutes of work, applying the chemical and heat, then rinsing repeatedly, the stain is gone. A success story, but with a twist.

You did not expect to spend an additional 15 minutes on that spot. You had to go to more trouble than you thought before you started working. It only took 5 percent of that 8-ounce cup of coffee to create trouble and more work for you. It was that 5 percent that had what it takes to cause a stain on that nylon fiber. It was that 5 percent that had the loose ends (the natural tannin, most likely) that the nylon fiber liked and bonded with.


For stain removal, think about the surface that holds the stain and what it “likes” and “doesn’t like.” Stains and fibers abide by the law of attraction.

If olefin fabric has a small acid dye stain, success is normally achieved with simple cleaning. And with olefin, you can use a wider variety of cleaning chemicals.

However, if the fabric is nylon with a small acid dye stain, typical cleaning may not suffice. You may need to work harder on that stain, but with a proper fiber and stain education, you can be prepared to spend the time necessary.

Keep in mind that various fiber blends in carpet can affect cleaning efficiency.

Sharie Sipowicz is aftermarket sales manager with Detail Plus Car Appearance Systems Inc. She has been involved in the detail industry for over 20 years, both as a vendor of products and equipment and as a hands-on operator in a retail detail environment. You can contact Sharie at