January 2, 2014

Werner Braun: Removing wax from carpet

— There’s nothing like a beautifully decorated holiday table, lit by soft candles, to set a festive mood during Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year’s celebrations.

But there’s not much to be said for the kind of mood that comes about when candle wax seeps into the carpet.

Candle wax is definitely a challenge to remove from carpet? Why?

Well, candle wax, the most common type of wax that gets spilled on carpet, is hard to remove primarily because the high heat of the candle causes the wax to spread out during the spill. Plus, the color of the candle wax is rarely a perfect match — or even a good blend — for our carpeted floors.

Other types of waxes, like those used in polishes, cosmetics and cooking that often find their way onto our household textiles, are usually easier to remove with extraction and dry solvents.

Waxes are derived from many different sources, including beehives, petroleum products, plants and animals.

Most of the waxes used in candles come from petroleum by-products, usually called paraffin wax. Paraffin wax typically melts slowly, which is a plus for our holiday candles as they can last for hours, if not days.

Many of our carpet fibers are comprised of olefin and/or polyester, and those particular fibers are “oil-loving” in nature. So, when anything petroleum-based, like candle wax, comes in contact with those types of fibers, an unfortunate “marriage” takes place.

Nylon carpets are somewhat more forgiving when it comes to the waxy part of a spill, but wool carpets fare much worse and are often considered “nightmarish” when it comes to removing wax. But as with most things in life, with a little perseverance, that nightmare will go away.

To remove wax, most carpet cleaners use hot water extraction with very high heat, extracting the wax with “chop strokes,” short forward and backward movements of the cleaning wand.

The important thing to remember if you go that route is to try to get the job done quickly. Don’t let the fiber cool and dry, as that makes the color more difficult to remove later on.

But if you don’t have these more advanced tools to remove wax from your carpet, you can always use a heat transfer method using a typical steam iron that you have in your house.

You can use unprinted paper for this heat transfer process, or you can use a white cotton towel, which is absorbent and better protects the carpet from burning or melting during the process.

Simply place the towel over the hardened wax and place the iron, on a low setting, on the towel, allowing it to soften the wax. When you push the iron onto the towel, the newly-melted wax should absorb right into the towel. If needed, you can use a citrus gel solvent spotter to remove more of the paraffin residues.

Sometimes the best ideas tend to be among the simplest.

Nothing in life is totally simple, however. Because we tend to like colorful, not clear, candles, we’re often faced with a color stain even after the wax is removed. The wax may be gone, but the red, green, blue, orange or gold colors of the candles may still be alive and well on our carpet.

These synthetic wax stains can be removed by using a reducing agent, or bleaching agent, like sodium bisulfite or sodium metabisulfite.

Follow the directions on your product, mixing your reducing agent, then wetting the fibers, working the chemical into the pile with a spatula or other tool. Place a clean damp towel over the stain, and, using your steam iron again, heat for approximately 15 seconds.

Of course it almost goes without saying that the use of any bleaching agent can remove the original color, so proceed with caution.

That being said, you should notice positive results after one or two applications of the reducing agent. If not, you might want to rinse the fiber and move to an oxidizing agent instead.

These are pretty helpful tips, but I hope that you won’t need to use them! The only way to absolutely make sure that wax doesn’t end up on your carpeted floors is to not use them. But that would take some of the magic out of the season, would it not?

Werner Braun is president of the Dalton-based Carpet and Rug Institute.