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So, someone upchucked in your car interior. Whether it was one of your kids, a pet, or a friend who had a few too many drinks, vomiting in a car can create an unpleasant situation that may seem impossible to clean. Not only do you have to deal with a huge mess, but unpleasant odors and embarrassing stains can linger long after the incident.
What’s the best way to clean vomit from a car? You’ll want to act quickly to minimize staining and to prevent the spread of illness and bacteria. First crack open a window for fresh air flow. After physically removing the vomit (a paper plate or piece of cardboard works well!), you’ll want to use a soapy solution to clean. You can follow up with various household ingredients such as baking soda, vinegar, and hydrogen peroxide to remove odors and deep clean seats.
Removing vomit from your car is essential for preserving both its appearance and odor-free atmosphere, so having the right cleaning techniques can make all the difference. Knowing how and what products to use while managing the mess can help get it cleaned quickly and efficiently.
Here’s a guide containing helpful tips on cleaning vomit from your car, eliminating stains, and getting rid of bad smells for good.
The importance of cleaning vomit up quickly
Cleaning up vomit as soon as possible is important to prevent the spread of bacteria and illnesses in the area. Vomit can contain harmful organisms that can spread very quickly in the environment. Leaving it uncleaned poses a hygiene risk to anyone who comes in contact with the area.
Plus, a swift cleanup prevents staining on carpet or car seats as well as any lingering nasty odors!
What’s an enzymatic cleaner?
Enzymes are special catalysts that speed up certain biological processes. In cleaning, enzymes help tackle stains and remove odors by breaking them down quickly.
The best way to clean vomit from a car is to remove the strong odors. Enzymes are particularly helpful on organic stains (vomit being an organic substance), that will help remove foul smells at the root.¹
Nowadays, you can find many plant-based enzyme cleaners that are biodegradable, and are gentle on fabric, and your health.
You can find many pet cleaners with enzymes to clean up pet (or human) accidents, like fresh vomit. A few eco-friendly choices are Naturally, It’s Clean: Carpet Stains & Odors and Puracy Pet Stain and Odor Remover.
If you have a bottle of enzyme cleaner handy, it’s time to put it to good use.
How to clean vomit from a car step by step
Have spills stained your car’s upholstery or created foul odors? If so, it’s time to take action.
Before you get started, take the necessary precautions before proceeding. This includes wearing gloves, a face mask, and cracking open the windows so you have access to fresh air.
Following this step-by-step guide will help you safely clean vomit from your car quickly and efficiently. Whether you have a mess on your car carpet, or seats, the following steps work for porous surfaces.
Supplies you’ll need
- Rubber gloves
- Face mask (optional)
- Plastic bag or container with lid for disposal
- Something to scoop up vomit with. You can use a paper plate, a piece of cardboard, or a spoon or spatula.
- Paper towels, or disposable cleaning cloths for cleaning fresh vomit
- Several microfiber cloths
- Nylon scrubbing brush
- Mild soap (such as liquid dish soap or Castile soap)
- Hydrogen peroxide (3 percent)
- Spray bottle
1. Remove vomit
First, use rubber gloves to carefully pick up as much of the vomit as possible and place it in an airtight container or bag for disposal.
You can use a piece of cardboard together with a paper plate to “scoop” up vomit. A spoon or spatula also works.
Take care not to apply too much pressure to car seats or upholstery when cleaning the area which could cause the organic waste to spread or sink deeper.
2. Wash hands and put on clean gloves
After you’ve cleaned up the bulk of the puke, take some time to remove your soiled gloves, and wash your hands with soapy water for at least 20 seconds. This helps to minimize the spread of germs, especially if you’re dealing with something like norovirus.²
Next, put on a pair of clean gloves.
3. Prepare a cleaning solution and clean area with soapy water
If you have an enzyme cleaner, go ahead and use it now to clean puke from the interior of the car.
Otherwise, you can make a soapy solution with liquid dish soap such as Dawn or Palmolive for handwashing dishes, or Castile soap such as Dr. Bronner’s. Add a few squirts of mild soap to a bucket and fill with warm water.
Dip a disposable cloth or microfiber cloth into the soapy water. Wring out excess water. Blot up the remaining vomit.
Tip: If you have a wet-vac at home, you can use it now once the large chunks and most of the vomit have been removed.
4. Rinse with clean water
Next, using a clean microfiber cloth, rinse the surface with plain water to remove any soapy reside. Make sure to wring out the cloth each time to avoid getting the upholstery overly wet.
5. Absorb excess moisture
Absorb excess moisture with clean, lint-free towels by gently blotting the surface area.
Let the area air dry.
6. Disinfect the area with hydrogen peroxide
As mentioned earlier, vomit contains potentially harmful microorganisms that you want to keep in check. To limit the spread, you’ll need to disinfect the area using fabric-safe cleaning solutions.
Normally, chlorine bleach is the first thing people turn to for disinfecting surfaces. However, for fabric car seats, or leather upholstery, chlorine bleach can be too strong. Using a bleach solution could damage or discolor your car seats.
This is why we’ll turn to a gentler, but still powerful disinfectant: hydrogen peroxide. Many of you probably have a brown bottle of this stuff in your bathroom.
Hydrogen peroxide is essentially water with an extra oxygen molecule which gives it a cleaning boost. While you’ve likely used it for medical situations, hydrogen peroxide is also a highly effective cleaner and disinfectant that lifts stains and kills bacteria at the same time.³
Most bottles of hydrogen peroxide that you can pick up at the pharmacy have a 3 percent concentration, which is just what you need to clean your car cabin. In strong or undiluted solutions, hydrogen peroxide can discolor fabrics.
For fabric, vinyl, or leather car seats, prepare a diluted solution of 2 parts water to 1 part hydrogen peroxide in a spray bottle.
- Spray the hydrogen peroxide solution onto the soiled areas. Avoid over-wetting the seats.
- Let it sit for 10 minutes.
- On upholstered seats, use a nylon brush to work the disinfectant into the seats. (No need to do this step on leather seats!)
- Wipe clean with a microfiber cloth. Absorb excess moisture with clean cloths or towels.
Tips on cleaning dried vomit on car carpet
If you are dealing with dried-on vomit on fabric seats, pre-soak stains in pure white vinegar before scrubbing them with a brush or cloth while adding additional vinegar gradually if needed. Follow up by cleaning with a soapy solution and disinfecting with hydrogen peroxide.
Natural ways to get rid of lingering smells
Forget about using car air fresheners that only serve to mask odors and not clean the root cause—remnants of organic particles. If you can still detect a vomit smell long after the accident, let’s look at a few ways to banish strong odors.
Tip: Remember to leave windows open and fans blowing to let in fresh air and increase circulation while cleaning products do their work to eliminate any lingering odors.
Sprinkle baking soda
Here’s how to get rid of the pungent smell from your car:
- Sprinkle baking soda onto the surface of the seats or carpet as needed.
- Let it sit for at least 30 minutes or even overnight for strong smells. This helps not only absorb excess moisture, but also deodorize, and lift stains at the same time.
- Vacuum clean, or wipe clean with a damp cloth.
White distilled vinegar is another great natural deodorizer and mild cleaner that will help remove the smell in your car. Don’t worry about the smell of vinegar lingering in your ride—it’ll quickly dissipate as it dries.
To use, prepare a solution of equal parts white vinegar and water in a spray bottle. This vinegar spray is also good for removing vomit stains.
- Spray the vinegar solution onto the seat or carpet.
- Let it sit for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Scrub gently with a brush to work into the fibers and remove smells and stains.
- Use a damp cloth moistened with water to clean the area.
- Use another dry microfiber cloth to blot up excess moisture. Let it air dry.
Tips on keeping your ride smelling fresh
Now that you’ve successfully cleaned vomit from your car cabin, let’s look at ways to keep your car smelling clean and fresh.
- Keep a box of baking soda: Just as many people keep a box of this trusty cleaning powder inside refrigerators to keep nasty smells at bay, you might want to stash an extra box inside your vehicle.
- Use vanilla extract: Moisten a cotton ball with a few drops of vanilla extract and keep it in a breathable fabric pouch in your car for an easy DIY air freshener.
- Use coffee grounds: Save your used coffee grounds and let them air dry. Coffee grounds are a great natural odor absorber. Place the dried used coffee grounds into a breathable fabric pouch and hang in your car.
- Use dryer sheets: If you have extra dryer sheets, you can use them to wipe down the car interior for a refreshing scent.
👉If you like this post, see other Timeless Cleaning Tips You Need To Know.
- American Cleaning Institute, The role of enzymes in detergent products, https://www.cleaninginstitute.org/sites/default/files/documents/Enzymes-factsheet.pdf. Accessed March 2023.
- University of Minnesota Extension, Norovirus: step-by-step clean up of vomit and diarrhea, https://extension.umn.edu/sanitation-and-illness/norovirus-step-step-clean-vomit-and-diarrhea#sources-599860. Accessed March 2023.
- Cleveland Clinic, What Is Hydrogen Peroxide Good For?, https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-is-hydrogen-peroxide-good-for/. Accessed March 2023.