Fifteen years ago, at a Christmas party, I spilled an entire glass of red wine on a deep-pile, snow white, wall-to-wall carpet.
It just happened. I had apparently been holding the glass too lightly and before I could react it was on its way toward the luxuriously plush, brilliantly white nap. I could only stand there stupidly and watch the blood drain from the hostess's face as the radiantly crimson stuff seeped deeper and deeper into the fibers.
She was a gem. There was no doubt in anyone's mind that pounding waves of shock and nausea were sweeping over her, but she still managed to assure me that everything was all right and that accidents will happen, choke, gasp, as she grabbed a bottle of white wine, a glass of water and a dry towel and pounced on the stain like Bubba Paris pounces on a fumble.
I switched to soda water and spent the rest of the evening babbling apologies and offering to atone by killing myself.
The stain came out. Not immediately, and not all at once, but it came out. I found that out a week later when I called to ask about it and offer my services as a slave.
She told me she had discovered that white wine is just great for getting out red wine stains in the carpet. The trick, she said, was to get to the spill immediately, blot furiously, douse it with white wine, blot it again, soak it with water and, yes, blot it again.
The fact that this was part of her body of practical knowledge probably saved her life by preventing her heart from stopping as she saw the Cabernet cascading toward the floor. But how many unfortunates are going to lapse into a shock-induced coma on New Year's Eve because one of their guests accidentally grinds a chocolate truffle into the Persian rug? Well, they needn't. A bit of selective hosting and the quick availability of the world's greatest do-it-yourself home spot-removal emergency kit should see you through those ghastly moments when somebody flicks glowing cigar ash onto the floor, crazy Uncle Arthur starts a food fight with the cherry cheesecake or somebody's child wolfs a dozen brownies, gropes his way to the very center of the $2,000 Chinese rug and urps.
Don Whitley has seen it all. He's the owner of The Carpet Beaters, a carpet-cleaning business based in Orange, and his life is a daily battle against the evil forces of carpet-staining miscellany. And, fortunately, he's not stingy about sharing his knowledge, particularly if it involves what might be called seasonal stains.
First, a few general procedures:
* Know your carpet. Most modern carpets, Whitley said, are synthetic--nylon, polyester or olefin for example--and will resist staining. Wool carpets, however, are organic and porous and hold a stain more tenaciously. The methods of removing stains, however, are generally the same for all carpet types.
* Assemble your emergency spot kit. It should contain four spray bottles, one containing one part distilled vinegar to two parts water, one with one part clear dish washing detergent to about 10 parts water, one containing water only, and one containing a common degreaser, such as Fantastik. Also in the kit should be a large spoon for scraping up stains (use the edge like a squeegee) and white paper towels for blotting. The kit should not contain chlorine bleach, which will strip the dye from synthetic carpets and dissolve wool.
* For large spills, said Whitley, blot up the excess, then place four or five folds of paper towels over the spill, then place a book wrapped in foil over the towels. Then stack a few more books on top of that and leave it for 24 hours. The weight will help the towels absorb the stain.
* Don't wait. Get to work removing the stain immediately.
Now, on to a few specific holiday stains and how to wage war on them:
* Red wine: Just like my gallant hostess did it. White wine neutralizes the red wine, according to Whitley. Blot it, rinse it with water and blot it again.
* Gravy or other grease stains. The degreaser comes into play here. Soak the stain with it, rinse with water and blot it up.
* Candle wax. This technique gets a bit tricky, but it's also ingenious. Use a hot-air hair dryer on the spot to soften the wax, then scrape it off with a spoon. If residue is left, cover the spot with a piece of brown paper bag and apply a conventional iron to the paper. The heat will cause the wax to melt and be absorbed into the paper.
* Christmas tree stains. These are the brown spots that can seep into the carpet if you over-water your tree. Rub it with the vinegar solution in your emergency spot kit and blot.
* Chocolate. Scrape off the excess with the edge of a spoon, then apply the degreaser and rub it in with your finger to liquefy the chocolate. Squeegee the liquid off with a spoon, then rinse the area with water and blot.