There are many types of staining materials (foods, drinks, chemicals, etc) that can cause troublesome stains on interior textiles and furnishings.

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Most of these are fairly straightforward. For example, most people know that things like hot coffee, mustard and pet urine can cause nasty staining problems. These substances, of course, leave stains that are immediately noticeable. There is, however, an interesting subset of staining materials that are unique in their method of action. These chemicals are completely invisible when first applied. Only days or weeks later does discoloration finally begin to appear. Instead of adding color to a fabric, these products do their damage by subtracting (destroying) the original dyes.

Clear Skin, Spotted Carpet

One of the strangest problems seen on carpet (and to a lesser degree on furnishings) is caused by a chemical that can take weeks, sometimes months, to create a noticeable stain. The chemical is benzoyl peroxide and it is a common ingredient in over-the-counter acne medications, including gels, creams and soaps. Benzoyl peroxide is a very strong oxidizer (a type of bleaching agent). Oxidizers react with certain dyes, causing permanent discoloration. Stains caused by benzoyl peroxide are usually orange or yellow when first noticed. On blue carpets, the spots may appear pinkish or white. These stains often appear in the general shape of a hand, or as a close series of stains in the approximate pattern of the fingertips (the product is not easily washed off of the hands after use).

As mentioned previously, the most intriguing aspect of benzoyl peroxide is that its reactivity is often latent in nature. The product can lie dormant until a change in humidity (moisture) or temperature occurs to activate the chemical reaction. Since moisture is so often a key trigger, discoloration can result shortly after a textile product is cleaned. Frequently, the professional cleaner is falsely suspected of being the cause of the stains.

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No More Bugs, But...

Another class of chemicals that is well-known for causing delayed staining problems is insecticides. The problem is often seen on carpet as a discoloration in an uneven “line” around the edges of the room. Of course, this is the pattern of the pesticide application when it is sprayed as a thin stream on the perimeter of the room. Pesticides most often attack red dyes. As a primary color, red is used as a component of many other colors (even beige). When all or most of the red is removed, the remaining blue and yellow create a green shade that is typical of this type of damage.

Chemical Safety

While we’re on the subject, here are a few tips to help use chemicals safely:

  1. Never use chemicals in unlabeled or improperly labeled bottles. (We once found that a housekeeper had put bleach into a spray bottle that was labeled as a stain remover for fabrics!)
  2. Read and follow label directions. 
  3. Wash hands thoroughly after using chemicals.
  4. Never mix two or more chemicals together, as hazardous reactions can occur.
  5. Always store chemicals away from the reach of children.

We Can Help!

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