How to Clean Up Vomit in Your Car

It can be a real hassle to clean the inside of a car when the mess is extensive. Spilling things like paint, milk, or gasoline means a difficult clean-up and probably a lingering smell. Obviously, this is not desirable, but part of the point of having a car is transporting things you need, unpleasant as they may be. Cars are also useful for transporting people.

People themselves can be the source of some pretty serious (and genuinely hazardous) messes. Among these, vomit stands out as the least predictable with the highest volume of material usually involved. Be it from pets, friends, or children, vomit is a difficult thing to fully clean out of a car’s interior. Often there is a remaining odor that can last a very long time. But if the vomit is cleaned promptly and properly, the mess can be totally removed and there will be no residual smells or stains.

Part 1 of 2: Removing vomit from the interior

Materials Needed

  • All-purpose cleaner
  • Baking soda
  • Facemask
  • Microfiber towel
  • Paper towels
  • Plastic putty knife/spatula
  • Rubber gloves
  • Scrub brush

Step 1: Prepare to enter the vehicle and address the situation. Safety and efficiency are key.

Some people vomit sympathetically, so if you have this problem, there are ways to work around it. Here are some steps you can take before cleaning the interior:

  • It is advised that you wear gloves and a face mask. There are a number of ways you can get sick from being in contact with vomit, so the easiest way to avoid infection is to protect yourself with rubber gloves and a disposable face mask.

  • If you vomit when you are exposed to vomit from someone else, then you will need to take extra care in preparing to clean. Sunglasses will help when initially cleaning, to blur out the details of the mess while still allowing you to see where it is. Rubbing mint extract or menthol cream such as Vicks VapoRub onto the inside of the mask will overpower scents from your surroundings.

  • Note: Have lots of plastic bags around and keep at least one door open when cleaning, so if things take a turn for the worse you can dump debris and supplies into a bag and continue on without a second cleanup.

Step 2: Remove any solid material that can be picked up with tools. Be sure to keep at least one door open when you are cleaning.

Weather permitting, all of the doors can be open to provide ventilation.

To start cleaning, first remove any solid debris. Here is how it’s done:

  • Take a putty knife or a spatula and pick up any solid matter. Scoop it into a plastic bag.

  • Press the edge of the spatula into the carpet or fabric when scooping up material, this will take more of the wet material off of the surface.

  • Tip: Use only plastic tools to scoop up material - metal will damage fabric and scuff leather or vinyl.

person blotting off vomit

Step 3: Remove as much moisture from the car interior as you can. This moisture holds a lot of the rancid smell, and can eventually cause mold or mildew.

Start by pressing paper towels onto the fabric to soak up most of the moisture.

person adding baking soda to upholstery

Step 4: Apply baking soda onto the stain. It can go on any area that was affected and should be applied in a thick layer so that there is enough dry powder to wick away the rest of the moisture.

Let the baking soda sit for a while, anywhere from a couple of hours to overnight. The longer the better.

If wet spots form in the powder while it is sitting, sprinkle more baking soda on the spots.

Use the putty knife or spatula to scoop up most of the powder. Vacuum up the remaining powder, use a wet/dry vac if the powder is still moist.

Step 5: Thoroughly clean the entire car interior. Now that the hazardous matter has been cleaned up, the entire interior can be cleaned properly to ensure that there is no material or scent remaining from the vomit.

At this point everything in the interior should be dry and the only remaining mess should be the leftover stains or residue. To take care of these, here are some things you can do:

  • Spray any vinyl, plastic, and any other hard materials down with an all purpose cleaner. Wipe them down lightly first with paper towels, then go over and thoroughly dry everything with a microfiber towel.

  • Make a simple mixture of baking soda and water by taking half of a cup of baking soda and slowly adding water until the consistency resembles dough. Use the scrub brush to apply this mixture to any soft surfaces and scrub until there are no stains and there is no residue left on the fabric.

  • Open up the windows (indoors or in clear weather) and let the interior air out. The longer the car can air out, the better.

Part 2 of 2: Eliminating odor

If the vomit has been removed and the surfaces affected have all been thoroughly cleaned, there may be a odor that remains for some time due to the makeup of vomit. Eventually, airing out the interior will eliminate the smell, but using some simple techniques can speed up the process.

Materials Needed

bowl absorbing vomit smell

Step 1: Use odor-absorbing materials to eliminate the vomit smell. Put small bowls of baking soda or activated carbon in the car while it is parked.

Place two to four bowls of about half a cup of baking soda in your car.

Keep doing this every time the car is parked for a long period of time until the smell dissipates.

If the smell persists after the baking soda has been used a couple of times, do the same thing with activated carbon. The only difference is the amount needed; only use enough activated carbon to cover the bottom of the bowl.

Step 2: Provide a nice, new scent for the interior of your car. Now that is smells like nothing, make it smell however you want it to.

The easiest way to do this is with a standard car air freshener. Most service stations have a variety to choose from.

If the air fresheners don’t appeal to you, take bowls containing a small amount of coffee grounds or vinegar and leave them in the car when it is parked. These scents will fade into the background over time and mask the odor of vomit if it still remains.

By this time, that awful mess in your car should be but a distant memory, and no lingering unpleasant smell should remain. If you have followed all of the steps, but are still having problems fully removing the stains or smells, you may want to have a professional auto detailer assess your car’s interior.


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