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Water isn’t always your friend—here’s how to ditch unsightly water stains.

By Kelsey Mulvey
March 31, 2021
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How to clean water stains - tips for removing water stains
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When it comes to cleaning your home, water is the gift that keeps on giving. A little splash of H20 can do everything from wipe away a fresh stain to mop a sticky floor to make your blinds dust-free. But what's a person to do when their space is covered in water stains? (It's not like a dab of water can make that stain magically disappear, right?)

In order to understand how to clean a water stain, it's important to know how they form in the first place. Despite what the name suggests, water doesn't actually stain your home decor (unless you're dealing with a really dirty liquid). You see, the discoloration we blame on water stains occurs when water molecules get into the fibers of a material, switching their orientation in the process. That different direction creates the appearance of a stained patch.

Now, the million-dollar question: How are you supposed to remove water stains? It depends on what you're cleaning. To help fight all sorts of water stains, we asked two cleaning professionals how to get water stains out of fabric, walls, and carpet. (Trust us, it's a lot easier than you think.)

How to clean water stains from fabric

While you might bend over backward to protect your fabric couch or armchair from coffee spills, sauce stains, or a sampling of your favorite wine, there’s a good chance another upholstery enemy is hiding in plain sight. You might not think twice about a few water droplets on your fabric, but those stains can make your furniture look messy and unkempt.

Fortunately, the key to stain-free fabric is already inside of your kitchen pantry.

Vinegar is the ultimate natural ingredient that can be used for literally any cleaning task,” says Natalie Barrett, a cleaning professional and quality supervisor at Nifty Cleaning Services in Australia. “It’s essential to do a test before cleaning the fabric, and only apply the ingredient to a small part.”

For best results, Barrett recommends gently wetting a washcloth in water (yes, more water) and dabbing the water-stained area. From there, dip one end of the washcloth in vinegar and gently rub it on the fabric to remove the stain. Remove the vinegar with a dab of fresh water, and you’ll have spotless fabric in no time.

How to clean water stains from walls

Sometimes, cleaning your walls can feel like a catch-22. While nobody wants to live somewhere that’s covered in dust, dirt, or soot from your candles, cleaning your walls the wrong way can leave them looking streaky or covered in unsightly stains. Plus, large water stains from a leak or storm should be cleaned quickly to prevent permanent damage or mold.

Don’t panic: There are a few things you can do to get your walls back in tip-top shape.

“Removing water stains from walls is a bit trickier, but if you do it properly, you can remove them quick and easily,” says Dean Davies, a cleaning consultant for U.K.-based Fantastic Cleaners.

Before you break out your cleaning supplies, Davies recommends inspecting your walls to make sure there are no leaks. (After all, nobody wants to clean up the same mess over and over again.) From there, he recommends using the simplest method first: Soap and fresh water.

“Pour warm water into a bowl or container and mix a few drops of dishwashing liquid,” he says. “[Dab] a dry cloth into the solution, trying not to soak it, and gently rub the stain. Wait a few minutes to see if the stain is gone or faded, and repeat the process if needed.”

If you need to add some extra oomph to your water stain clean-up, Davies recommends using a cleaning eraser. But if that doesn’t work? You might want to enlist some bleach.

“Mix one cup of bleach with three cups of water into a large container or a bucket,” he says. “If you are dealing with a larger stain, increase the bleach and water solution, but always stick to one part of bleach for three parts of water.”

He recommends using a sponge to apply the solution to the wall to help scrub away any mold. After allowing the bleach-water mixture to sit on the wall for 30 minutes, dry any remaining solution using a paper towel or another dry sponge. Just don’t forget to put on some rubber gloves before you get scrubbing!

How to clean water stains from carpets

We’re not going to sugarcoat it for you: Stains and spills on a fresh carpet are inevitable. (How many times do you accidentally knock over a tall glass of seltzer or spill a teensy bit of chicken noodle soup?) However, it’s important to clean up any stains swiftly and efficiently. When it comes to water stains, a little bit of H20 and dish soap can go a long way. (Leave the carpet cleaner for more colorful messes.)

Davies recommends filling an empty spray bottle with a cup of water and one teaspoon of mild dishwashing liquid or detergent. Gently spritz the mixture onto a clean, dry cloth. Spritz lightly—too much, and you might make the problem worse.

“Start dabbing at the water stain, starting from the edges and working your way towards the center,” he says. “You will see the stain gradually disappear. Finally, dry the carpet by putting an absorbent paper towel on the damp spot.”

If you need to call in some reinforcements, add some baking soda.

“You can sprinkle [some] on the damp spot after cleaning it, as this will bring a pleasant aroma,” Davies says. “Vacuum the soda off the carpet after a few hours.”

Or, if you want to give your carpet cleaning an eco-friendly spin, follow the same steps with equal parts water and vinegar.

“The vinegar’s pH level absorbs the water stain,” Davis says. “Just be careful not to press too hard onto the carpet and [get] it damp.”