For some of us, vomit in the car is rare . . . and for others, the realities of motion sickness make it pretty common. (Here are some tips for getting rid of motion sickness.) No matter who you are or how often you experience vomiting in your vehicle, it’s always unwelcome, and the cleaning process can be overwhelming. Not only is it difficult to clean vomit from your car, but it’s also difficult to get rid of the smell! Both problems can make riding in your own vehicle pretty unpleasant. 

Thankfully, we have some tips for you today on how to safely and effectively remove and clean vomit out of your vehicle and car seat. We’ll also dive into some tried-and-true methods of neutralizing that awful odor so your car looks and smells clean. Here’s our guide for cleaning vomit out of your car:

How To Clean Vomit From Car Seats, Upholstery, and Surfaces

Step 1: Open car windows right away. 

One of the best things you can do when a child gets sick in the car is to roll down the windows immediately. If that’s not possible, open the windows as soon as you’re able to. This will hopefully ensure the vomit smell doesn’t set in. 

Step 2: Remove the car seat. 

If there’s vomit in or on your car seat, remove it from the car before you start cleaning. This will make the process much easier and ensure you get all the vomit cleaned up! 

Step 3: Put on cleaning gloves. 

Now, it’s time to dive in and start really cleaning. It’s best to put on cleaning gloves before removing the vomit. Either disposable cleaning gloves or rubber ones will work fine! 

Step 4: Remove vomit with paper towels. 

Next, take some paper towels and remove all the solid waste you can. Try to avoid rubbing anything deeper into the carpet. 

Step 5: Sprinkle baking soda onto the carpet or polyester upholstery. 

To remove the rest of the vomit, sprinkle baking soda onto the carpet or polyester upholstery. Let it sit for about 5 minutes before vacuuming it up

If you’d rather not use baking soda, you could also use an upholstery cleaner or steam cleaner. However, the benefit of baking soda is that it’ll absorb excess moisture and pull it from deep within the fabrics. 

*Don’t put baking soda, upholstery cleaner, or a steam cleaner on your car seat or leather upholstery. 

Step 6: Use dish soap, warm water, and a soft brush to clean fabrics. 

Now, mix together a little dish soap and warm water to create a mild cleaning solution for car seat fabric, polyester upholstery, and vehicle carpet (not leather). Use a soft brush (or damp cloth) to gently scrub out the vomit stain or any leftover residue. Just make sure you don’t use anything abrasive! You can use that same cleaning solution to clean the straps and buckles of your car seat. 

Make sure you clean your car seat very carefully! Here’s our whole post on how to clean a car seat to ensure you don’t damage or compromise your seat in any way. Also, if you end up with a stain on the car seat after cleaning, here are some safe ways to remove stains from car seats.  

Step 7: Rinse with clean water and blot dry. 

Wash out the soap by rinsing the spots with a wet cloth and clean water. Avoid using a hose to rinse the car seat during cleaning, as it’s not recommended.

The pressure from the hose nozzle could ruin the integrity of the car seat. Once all the soap is rinsed out, blot the spots dry with paper towels or a fresh towel. 

Step 8: Allow the car seat to dry in the sun. 

The car seat fabric won’t be dry at this point, of course, so leave it to dry in the sun. The UV rays of the sun not only help with drying, but they also naturally sanitize your car seat and can even remove some staining

Step 9: Use a multi-purpose cleaner on the hard surfaces of the vehicle. 

If there’s any vomit on the hard plastic parts of the car, like consoles and cup holders, use a multi-purpose cleaner to finish cleaning those areas. Do not use a multi-purpose cleaner on any parts of your car seat. 

Step 10: Use leather cleaner on leather surfaces. 

If you have any leather material in your car, do not use dish soap and water to clean it. Instead, you need a special cleaning solution and conditioner that’s suitable for leather upholstery. Otherwise, your leather will dry and crack! So, use a leather cleaner and conditioner and a microfiber cloth to gently wipe away any residue from your leather interior. 

Step 11: Leave the windows open while drying takes place. 

While everything inside the car dries, leave the windows down if you can! This will help ensure the smell doesn’t set in, and it’ll allow the sun to use its own sanitizing and stain-fighting magic to ensure the car is totally clean before you need to take your next drive. 

Step 12: Reinstall the car seat once it’s dry and there is no odor in the vehicle. 

Once everything is dry and you’ve confirmed there’s no vomit odor, go ahead and reinstall your car seat. Make sure to follow all the manufacturer’s instructions to confirm the car seat is installed properly for your child’s weight and height! 

How to clean your car seat

How To Get Rid of Vomit Smell in Car 

Open Windows 

As we mentioned, one of the best ways to get out the smell of vomit in your car is to get some air flowing! Keeping the windows open for as long as possible after the event and cleaning will help a lot with this! 

Baking Soda

Sprinkling more baking soda on the affected areas or leaving a bowl of baking soda near the source of the smell can really help absorb and neutralize the odors. However, keep in mind that baking soda can’t be used to clean car seats. You could put a bowl of baking soda in the car seat, but no baking soda should come in contact with the car seat’s fabric! This method is more for vehicle interiors.

White Vinegar

Again, white vinegar (or any vinegar) is not suitable for use on car seats. Do not put it anywhere near your car seat! However, a bowl of white vinegar near the vehicle’s stain or even leaving some vinegar to set on the vehicle’s stain can neutralize the smell. Vinegar has a strong smell that’s not most people’s favorite car interior smell. But it is better than vomit and will go away faster!

Coffee Grounds

Like baking soda, coffee grounds can absorb and neutralize smells. Rubbing some coffee grounds into the affected area and letting them sit before vacuuming up can be really helpful! Plus, who doesn’t love the smell of coffee?

Essential Oils

Essential oils are another natural way of getting rid of odors. Just fill a spray bottle with 2 cups of water and add 20-25 drops of your favorite essential oil into the water. Then, spray the solution on the affected area. (Again, not on car seats.)

Odor Eliminator

If nothing else works, you can use a classic odor eliminator or air freshener to hopefully neutralize and cover that smell. You can use something natural and aerosol-free like Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Room and Air Freshener Spray, or grab some Fresh Wave Odor Removing Gel for something a little stronger. Neither of these should be used on car seats, just the fabric interior of the vehicle. 

Vomit can be difficult to clean up, but with these tools, your car will look, feel, and smell fresh and clean!

No one likes to clean up puke, but if someone vomits in your vehicle, cleaning needs to happen fast to ensure no stains or smells set into the fabric. We hope this step-by-step guide made the process easier and helped you eliminate any lasting odor! 

For more safe car seat and vehicle tips and tricks, head over to the Safe in the Seat blog! Our priority is keeping everyone in your vehicle safe in their seats by educating parents like you on all the ins and outs of motor vehicle safety, from using the right cleaning methods for your car to choosing the best car seat for your child. You can find it all at Safe in the Seat!

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