A good-quality carpet, with proper care and maintenance, should last for many years.

Routine maintenance includes frequent and thorough vacuuming, particularly in areas that are subject to high traffic. What defines frequent? Carpet manufacturers say daily vacuuming is ideal, but two to three times a week is acceptable (and more realistic).But no matter how many times the carpet is vacuumed, there will always be that accident that can't just be vacuumed away. The first thing to do is to clean up spills as soon as possible; the longer a stain sits, the more difficult it will be to remove.

Always begin by blotting up as much of the spill's excess as possible into a paper towel. Or, if there is more, try removing the excess with a spoon before blotting.

If the spill includes a huge amount of liquid, a dry/wet vacuum should be employed. And always blot, never rub, with a clean, white absorbent cloth or paper towel.

There's always the question of which cleaning method is best for specific stains. But a sound rule of thumb is to try whatever cleaner you are using in an out-of-the-way place - for example, in a far corner of a closet - to make sure the process will not harm the carpet.

For food and beverage stains, you can start with the scoop-and-blot procedure mentioned above, then apply warm water and blot - do not rub - with a clean cloth. Press down firmly to remove as much moisture as possible. Repeat until no stain appears on the cloth.

If the stain is stubborn and won't come off the carpet, make a solution of one quart warm water and one teaspoon of mild, non-bleach laundry detergent - the liquid kind. Do not use dishwasher detergent. Apply this solution to the stain, let it sit for about five minutes and then blot up excess moisture. Rinse with warm water and again remove the moisture by blotting. Repeat until there is no more detergent in the carpet. This is important because any residual detergent may cause soiling.

Ever notice how after a dirt spot is cleaned, it seems to collect more dirt? It's probably because all the detergent wasn't taken out.

What if the dog has an accident on the carpet? Always begin with the scoop-and-blot method. Here again, most stains clean up with warm water. Next use the detergent solution as mentioned above. After all the detergent is removed, apply a solution of two tablespoons of white vinegar to one quart of water. This will neutralize the odor.

To be sure all the moisture is removed, place a clean, absorbent white towel on the spot. Place some type of weight, such as a heavy glass or other such item that will not stain the carpet, over the towel. Let it sit overnight. When completely dry, vacuum or brush the pile to remove any dents made by the weight on that spot.

For nail polish spills, again scoop and blot; then apply a non-oily polish remover. Blot with a clean white absorbent cloth. Remember to test the nail polish remover on a scrap of carpet first. Some carpets will lose color. If this is the case, then seek a professional carpet cleaner to take care of the problem.