How to Clean Water Stains From Fabric, Walls, and Carpet

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

We all use water daily to clean items around our house. So, how can it possibly leave stains? Well, water isn't always pure and some fibers and surfaces don't respond well to getting or staying wet—unless we're talking about stain-resistant kid-and pet-friendly sofas. Roof and plumbing leaks, flood waters, and even tap water contain impurities that can leave residues in fabrics and on walls. Most of these stains can be removed with household cleaning products. However, if you have vintage upholstery and carpets with water stains, it is best to consult a professional cleaning service or restoration expert before you attempt to clean the item yourself. To learn how to clean water stains at home, follow this guide.

How to clean water stains - tips for removing water stains
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How to Clean Water Stains From Fabric

If you discover what appears to be water stains on the hems of washable clothes, curtains, or bedding, treat the stains with a bit of laundry stain remover and wash as usual. Follow these steps from Natalie Barrett, a cleaning professional and quality supervisor at Nifty Cleaning Services in Australia, to remove water stains from upholstery.

What You'll Need

  • Distilled white vinegar
  • White lint-free cloths
  • Small glass or plastic bowl
  • Paper towels
  • Heavy books or objects
  • Handheld hair dryer


  1. Mix a Cleaning Solution: Mix two cups distilled water and one-half cup distilled white vinegar in a small bowl.
  2. Test in a Hidden Spot: Before treating the water-stained area, spray a bit of the vinegar/water solution on a white cloth and rub it on a hidden spot of the upholstery. Allow the test area to dry before you continue to make sure there is no color transfer or change.
  3. Blot the Stain: Dip a white cloth in the vinegar/water solution. Wring the cloth until it is damp and not dripping. Blot the water-stained area until the fabric is completely damp. Do not rub or scrub the fabric to prevent excessive damage.
  4. Absorb the Moisture: Make a stack of white paper towels that is several layers thick. Place the stack on the freshly dampened fabric and weigh the paper towels down with books or heavy objects. Check and replace the towels frequently as the moisture is absorbed.
  5. Dry the Fabric: When no more moisture is transferring to the paper towels, remove them. Finish the drying process by using a handheld hair dryer set on cool to warm air. Hold the hair dryer at least two inches above the surface of the fabric and move gently from side to side until the fabric feels dry to the touch.

How to Clean Water Stains on Walls

"Removing water stains from walls is a bit trickier, but if you do it properly, you can remove them quickly and easily," says Dean Davies, a cleaning consultant for the U.K.-based Fantastic Cleaners. Before you break out your cleaning supplies, Davies recommends inspecting and repairing your roof or plumbing to make sure there are no leaks. (After all, nobody wants to clean up the same mess over and over again.)

What You'll Need

  • Dishwashing liquid
  • Chlorine bleach
  • Two plastic buckets
  • Two sponges
  • Microfiber towel
  • Rubber gloves
  • Plastic tarp
  • Step stool or ladder (optional)


  1. Mix the Cleaning Solutions: Add one teaspoon dishwashing liquid per quart of warm water into one bucket. Add plain water to the second bucket to use as the rinse water.
  2. Prepare the Workspace: Place a plastic tarp or drop cloth on the floor or carpet to catch any drips. Use a sturdy step stool or ladder, if needed.
  3. Start at the Top: Dip a sponge in the soapy solution and wring it until it is just damp, not dripping. Start at the top of the stained area and scrub gently in small circles. Rinse the sponge frequently. After you have cleaned an area, dip a clean sponge in the clean water, wring, and "rinse" the freshly cleaned area to remove soapy residue.
  4. Dry the Wall: Use a lint-free towel to dry the wall. Let the area air-dry for at least two hours to make sure that the stain is gone. You may notice that the freshly cleaned area is a different color than the rest of the wall. If so, follow the same steps to clean the entire wall or room.
  5. Remove Stubborn Stains: If the wall still has water or mildew stains, you will need to use some chlorine bleach. Wearing rubber gloves, mix one cup chlorine bleach with three cups water in a bucket. Open a window and be sure to have proper ventilation. Apply the bleach solution to the stained area with a sponge, gently scrubbing the stain. Allow the solution to remain on the wall for 30 minutes and wipe away any remaining moisture. The wall should be dry within four to five hours—a fan can help the wall dry. Check the area and repeat the process, if needed.
  6. Use a Stain-Blocking Primer: If cleaning did not remove the water stains, use a stain-blocking primer, such as Kilz, before repainting the wall.

How to Clean Water Stains From Carpets

If a leak has left water stains on carpet, Davies recommends absorbing as much of the water as you can as soon as you can. Use old towels to mop up the water or a wet/dry shop vacuum to suction it away. If the leak was extensive, you may need to loosen and lift the carpet away from the wall to help dry the padding underneath the carpet.

What You'll Need

  • Old towels
  • Wet/dry vacuum
  • Small bowl or bucket
  • Microfiber cloths
  • Dishwashing liquid
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Distilled water
  • Baking soda
  • Paper towels
  • Heavy books


  1. Mix a Cleaning Solution: Combine one teaspoon dishwashing liquid, one cup distilled white vinegar, and one cup distilled water in a small bowl or bucket.
  2. Apply the Cleaner: Dip a microfiber cloth in the cleaning solution and wring it until the cloth is just damp. Apply gentle pressure as you dab the stained area with the damp cloth. Start at the outside edge of the water stain and work toward the center to prevent spreading the stain. Rinse the cloth often as the stain transfers to the cloth.
  3. Dry the Carpet: Place a stack of old dry towels or paper towels over the wet area. Place some books over the towels to weigh them down. Check and change the towels often as the moisture is transferred. When the carpet feels dry to the touch, remove the towels and allow at least 24 hours for the carpet to dry completely. A fan can help the carpet dry more quickly.
  4. Freshen the Carpet: While the carpet is slightly damp, sprinkle the area liberally with dry baking soda. Allow the baking soda to remain on the carpet for at least eight hours and up to overnight. Vacuum away the powder to help remove odors.

Tips for Preventing Water Stains

  • Repair roof and plumbing leaks promptly.
  • Check windows and doors for weatherproofing that prevents moisture from entering.
  • Use towels or a shoe tray to absorb spills and water from boots or shoes as quickly as possible.
  • Do not place potted plants directly on carpets.
  • Use vent fans in bathrooms and kitchens to prevent moisture condensation from staining walls.

READ NEXT: The Best Homemade Carpet Cleaners for Removing Stains From Every Type of Rug

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