How to Remove the Odor of Sour Milk From Your Car

Spilled milk can be a double curse when it is spilled in a car. First, you have to deal with cleaning up the spill and then, a few days later, a strong unpleasant odor of spoiled milk will be an unbearable reminder of the recent mishap.

Milk can soak down deep into the upholstery or carpet of a car and leave a disgusting smell that can linger for weeks or even months. Properly cleaning up the mess and then dealing with the smell is key to making sure your vehicle doesn’t become uninhabitable due to the strong stench of sour milk.

Addressing the source of the smell should be your number one priority. While a quick spray of Febreze or installing a pine tree air freshener will briefly improve the smell of your car, the rotten milk smell will be back soon enough.

Follow this step-by-step guide to ensure that you properly clean up the mess and eliminate the odor of the spilled milk.

Part 1 of 2: How to clean up the spill

Materials Needed

The first thing that needs to be dealt with is the spilled milk and, in this case, if it’s not cleaned up quickly you will definitely be sorry, thanks to the odor.

Step 1: Soak up the milk. Never let milk sit - a quick response is key if you want to prevent an increasingly disgusting smell filling up your car.

  • Use a clean white cloth or paper towels to soak up all wet and visible milk. It is best to gently pat the spill dry as scrubbing the spill can push the milk further into the carpet or upholstery. A sponge can be useful for wiping up spills on leather seats or upholstery.

Step 2: Pull out the floor mats. If the milk has spilled on the floor mats they should be taken out of the car and washed. If the milk is allowed to stay on the floor mats it will eventually sour and the odor will fill the entire car.

  • If the floor mats are fabric or carpeting without a rubber backing you can put them in a washing machine. Use a stain remover on the spill and put them in the washing machine, use warm or hot water.

  • If the floor mats have a rubber backing or are an all plastic mats, spray them off with a hose or pressure washer, using dishwashing soap on the stain.

  • The mats should then be allowed to air dry out in the sun or in your house.

  • If the vehicle has removable seat covers, these should also be taken off and washed according the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions.

  • Tip: Any carpet or fabric area of the car that can be removed should be taken out and washed if the milk has touched it.

Step 3: Rent a steam cleaner. If the spill was significant, or has sat for a while, using a steam cleaner will ensure that you get out any deep-set milk.

  • Steam cleaners can be rented at a rental store or some grocery stores. A steam cleaner provides a deep clean by spraying cleaning solution and hot water onto the carpet or fabric, then sucking the water and dirt up. This will help pull out any odor-causing residue of the milk.

  • Follow the directions and change the water frequently. The carpet or upholstery should be allowed to dry for 12 hours after the cleaning.

Step 4: Consider a pro. If the spill, or more likely, the odor is still present after you have tried these methods you may need to bring in a professional. A professional upholstery cleaner or car detailer should be able to remove the spoiled milk odor in the vehicle. Pricing can vary dramatically. Ask friends and family for recommendations.

Part 2 of 2: Removing the smell

Materials Needed

Now that the mess has been mopped up, it’s time to work on the odor if the milk has started to turn sour. There are a number of different methods that can help get rid of car odors.

Method 1: Baking soda. Baking soda helps to pull out and absorb bad odors. After the spill has completely dried, shake a layer of baking soda on the affected area. It’s best to let the baking soda sit on the spot for three or four days and then vacuum it up. If the smell is still present, repeat these steps or move on to one of the other methods outlined here.

Method 2: Coffee grounds. Much like baking soda, coffee grounds will absorb the bad odors while also leaving your vehicle with a pleasant coffee scent (assuming you like the smell of coffee).

  • Tip: Leave plastic containers filled with coffee grounds underneath your seats for roughly two weeks. This should help remove the odor of spoiled milk from the car.

Method 3: White vinegar. Spraying vinegar on the carpet or upholstery will help break down the enzymes in the spilled milk, removing the odor from the car. It is also chemical free and completely safe to use.

  • Unless you want your vehicle to have an extremely strong vinegar smell, vinegar should be mixed with water. Use a spray bottle and mix four parts water to one part vinegar. Spray the spill area until it is drenched with the vinegar mixture. Allow it to soak for five hours and then blot it dry with a clean washcloth or towel.

  • It’s best to leave the vehicle windows open to allow it to air out.

Method 4: Enzyme sprays. If the odor is still hanging in there it’s time to break out the big guns. Enzyme sprays are environmentally friendly and use proteins and enzymes to break down the molecular structure of stains. Enzyme sprays are activated when they are hit a stain or odor and the bacteria eats away the mess while eliminating the odor. Enzyme sprays are available at most home improvement stores or online.

  • Spray the enzyme product on the stained area and allow it to sit for a day or two before blotting it up. These sprays should not be used on leather interiors. Always do a test spot first to avoid staining.

car being vacuumed

Method 5: Carpet cleaners. A home carpet cleaner should work well on carpeted floor mats or any carpeted areas in the vehicle. Follow the manufacturer's instructions. Turtle Upholstery Cleaner and Armor All OxiMagic are a few cleaning solutions that are highly recommended.

  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions. In most cases the product should be allowed to sit for an hour and then vacuumed up.

Method 6: Charcoal bags. After the stain has been cleaned up, consider putting an all-natural product like Moso bags in the car. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes and are filled with bamboo charcoal that will soak up any lingering bad odors.

Method 7: Air out the vehicle. After the spill has been cleaned up, leaving the car windows open will help air out the odor. The sunshine will also help dry the stain and break down the odor.

Hopefully your car no longer smells like sour milk. Consider using spill proof cups in the future to help prevent liquid spills in the car.


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