I’ll never forget the overwhelming smell. Emanating from the back of the church van was a pungent aroma so rancid, I nearly dry-heaved as soon as I swung open the door.
The smell was unmistakable, and so was the culprit: P.J. in the back of the church van with a vanilla ice cream cone.
A vanilla ice cream cone that had dripped all over the carpeted floor of the van two weeks prior as we returned from an out of town youth trip and were too tired upon return to immediately clean out the van.
It was on that day that I, a sophomore in college learning the fine art of classic adulting activities such as doing laundry and cleaning up stains, learned a very important lesson: Dairy stains stink.
And while you’ve likely grown up hearing the old adage, “Don’t cry over spilled milk,” if you’ve ever experienced a spilled milk stain for yourself – particularly one that has been left to set into the carpet of your home or your car for an extended period of time – you know that putrid smell is, in fact, nearly tear-inducing.
Fortunately, if you catch it early, milk stains can be conquered and tears can be avoided.
But as with any stain, the key to successfully treating a milk stain is to catch the spill early and clean it up as soon as possible.
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Related: How to get more stains out of carpet
Why does milk stain carpet?
While it may seem as though the biggest concern with a milk spill will be the potential smell associated with soured milk embedded in your carpet, it’s important not to overlook the fact that milk does, in fact, leave a stain in your carpet, as well.
As a result, it’s important to treat the stain, not just the smell.
Milk contains a number of components that can cause it to stain and may make treating the stain a bit challenging.
Milk contains proteins and fats.
As these proteins harden, they bond to the carpet and become difficult to remove from carpet, crusting and curdling, leaving a flaky mess.
They also produce an odor.
These proteins can be difficult to break up using certain cleaning methods. As a result, use of a product that really targets these proteins can be important.
They’re also hard to rehydrate, so treating a dried milk stain can be difficult compared to other stains, as it’s difficult to just moisten it and apply a cleaning solution, as you might be able to do with other types of dried stains.
But, with the right products and a quick response, you should be able to get that dreaded milk stain out of your carpet and have it looking – and smelling – its fluffy best again.
Start with blotting
A quick response is always the best response when it comes to milk. As soon as that first drop of milk hits the floor, it’s important to burst into action.
Grab the nearest and most absorbent cloth that you can find. A cotton terry cloth or a paper towel will work fine.
Press the dry cloth into the liquid, working to quickly absorb as much of the liquid as possible.
As the cloth fills with liquid, quickly replace it with another dry one, repeating this process until as much of the liquid has been absorbed as possible.
This will go a long way toward reducing the impact of your stain and helping treat what remains quickly and efficiently.
Be sure never to rub or scrub the area, as this can actually damage your carpet and may actually cause the liquid to become even more deeply embedded into your carpet fibers, just making your stain worse.
The key to treating a milk stain is absorbing it – both the liquid and the odor. As a result, baking soda may be an effective ally in tackling this creamy nemesis.
Baking soda not only has great properties to absorb liquid, but it’s great at absorbing and neutralizing odors, as well.
Once you have finished absorbing as much of the liquid as you can with your cloth or paper towel, pour baking soda over the remaining stain-affected area.
Allow it to sit overnight.
This will work to absorb much of the remaining liquid, as well as to absorb much of the smell and neutralize any remaining odor.
Once the baking soda is dry, you can scoop it up using your hand or a spoon. Then, use a vacuum cleaner to go over the spot more thoroughly, taking care to remove any remaining baking soda from within the carpet.
Other products that may prove effective in absorbing milk in carpet quickly can include:
- Coffee Grounds
- Corn Starch
It’s important to note, however, that although these products may prove absorbent, they may not be as effective as baking soda at simultaneously treating the sour smell that can accompany a milk spill.
With the use of any of these products, be sure to vacuum them thoroughly once they’ve done their job on your milk stain, as you do not want to leave them in your carpet where they may collect dirt and bacteria and leave your carpet looking clumpy and grimy.
The use of white vinegar on a milk stain can be very effective for targeting the milk’s stain and its odor.
Mix a solution of one part white vinegar with one part water into a spray bottle and apply it to the stain-affected area. Dab at the area, working to absorb the stain onto a gentle cloth or sponge.
You can reapply the mixture as necessary.
Vinegar can be great at killing bacteria and working to lift stains, while it may also help to neutralize the odor that can be caused by curdling milk.
After using this method, be sure to use cold water to clean away the vinegar to avoid having a pungent vinegar smell on your hands.
Another effective method to target a milk stain can be the use of dish detergent. You can mix two cups of water with a teaspoon of non-bleach dish detergent and apply to the stain.
Blot at the stain and reapply the mixture as necessary until the stain is gone. Use cold water to clean up the remaining dish detergent.
Enzyme Based Cleaner
Whether it’s a dish or laundry detergent, or a commercial carpet cleaner, the use of an enzyme-based cleaner can be helpful for breaking down stains and neutralizing bacteria, which can cause odor, and milk stains are no exception.
Enzyme-based cleaners are often recommended for use on pet-stained carpets because they are not only good at lifting stains, but because they also help to treat odors caused by such stains, too.
Because milk stain odors are caused by milk proteins bonding to your carpet’s fibers, enzymatic cleaners may work well because they are effective at breaking down those proteins and targeting the source of the stain and smell.
As a result, they may be an effective method for treating a milk stain, too.
One potential option that may work well for you is Rocco & Roxie Professional Strength Stain & Odor Eliminator. While it does market itself to pet owners, it can work well for any tough, odor-causing stain, including dairy products.
When it comes to a dairy spill or stain, using an alkaline spotting agent, such as ammonia, may prove helpful. Ammonia works to dissolve fats that are present in milk, helping to break up and dissolve components found in milk that can contribute to both staining and odor.
It is for this reason that ammonia is often recommended as a possible treatment for coffee stains, as it helps to dissolve fats, as well as plant-based fibers, which may be present in the milk or creamer used in coffee, not just the coffee itself.
You should avoid use of ammonia on your carpet, however, if you have a wool carpet.
To apply ammonia to your carpet’s milk stain, mix two cups of warm water with one tablespoon of ammonia, applying it to the affected area of carpet.
Use a damp rag or a soft sponge to blot the area until the stain is gone. Re-apply solution as necessary.
When the stain has been removed, clean away the remaining ammonia by using cold water and dabbing dry.
If you have used any detergent or other product containing bleach prior to attempting this ammonia step, avoid using the ammonia. Bleach and ammonia can produce a dangerous chemical reaction when mixed.
What if it’s an old milk stain?
If you, like me, encounter a milk or dairy stain that has had time to set into your carpet and sour, you’re going to have to have patience, but it is possible to still remove the stain – and the smell.
Because the proteins in milk cause it to be difficult to re-hydrate, it may not be as easy to deal with as some stains are once they’ve dried.
Start by taking a plastic scraping tool or a dull knife and scrape as much of the dried milk out of your carpet’s fibers as possible. Then, vacuum the flakes or otherwise remove them from the carpet.
After removing as much of the dried stain as possible by scraping, make a paste using baking soda and cold water. Apply it to the affected area and gently massage it into the carpet.
You can also try using one part white vinegar mixed with one part water to lift any remaining stain, as well as to target the odor.
Hopefully, this method will prove sufficient to neutralize the odor and lift the milk stain from your carpet.
If not, you may continue applying the solution to see if you get an improved result, or you can try another one of the methods discussed above to see if they yield a better outcome.
Although milk stains can certainly be tricky, with quick, immediate action and the willingness to work at the stain for a little while, it is possible to restore your carpet’s natural fluff and glow.
The stain treatment options discussed in this article may also prove useful for removing a milk stain from your car’s carpet. If you have questions or concerns, you should consult your car’s manufacturer or a car detailing service to ensure a product or method is compatible with the type of carpet in your vehicle.