We’ve all been there as parents – no matter how vigorously you clean, that stubborn vomit smell in your car won’t go away. With limited airflow and the added challenge of high temperatures, the odor seems to get worse. To neutralize the acidic vomit stains and terrible odor completely, create a cleaning mixture of 1 tablespoon of baking soda with 1 cup of vinegar. Apply this mixture directly to the affected area, ensuring it reaches deep into the fibers or surfaces. Allow it to sit for 15-20 minutes, giving it time to break down the odor-causing compounds. Afterward, thoroughly clean the area with a damp cloth or sponge, and you’re done!
Car sickness is the most common type of motion sickness, especially among children. Especially on journeys, there’s always a potential for an out-of-the-blue projectile vomit to spoil the road trip.
The problem, of course, is the smell that becomes ingrained into your car’s upholstery and carpets.
Very few odors are as lingering as the smell of vomit. It’s an intense smell that’s difficult to remove inside your vehicle.
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7-step process to clean up fresh vomit and prevent future smells
Let’s get right into some effective tips to help you clean up that vomit.
1. Scoop out the vomit with a spoon or spatula as soon as possible
Clean up the vomit as soon as you’re able to so it doesn’t soak into your upholstery, or else it will be difficult to remove.
Use a metal spoon or spatula to scoop out the chunks of the vomit and put them in resealable plastic bags. Get as much of the vomit as you can off your vehicle’s interior.
Be careful not to push the baby’s vomit deeper into the upholstery or carpets since you could trap odors and bacteria.
If the vomit is on the vehicle’s floor mats, remove them immediately so that the smell doesn’t stay in the car.
Wear rubber gloves to avoid coming into contact with the vomit.
2. Bloat up as much of the liquid as you can with a paper towel
After removing all the solid chunks of the vomit, lightly but thoroughly dab the area with a paper towel or Clorox wipes to lift the liquid that soaked into the fabric.
Don’t push harder than you need to, or the bacteria will get further into the upholstery.
Continue blotting the area until the paper towels aren’t wet anymore. Blot around the seams of the leather interior so that you don’t work the vomit further into the fabric.
3. Spread baking soda over fabric upholstery and let it sit for at least 30 minutes
Baking soda is well known for neutralizing odors, and it will lift moisture from your car’s carpets.
Cover the area with a generous layer of baking soda and let it stand for at least 30 minutes, after which use a vacuum to suck up the baking soda.
Don’t use baking soda on leather upholstery since it will not absorb moisture or odor.
You can also leave the baking soda on the vomit overnight. Having the baking soda on longer can help pull more water and smell out.
4. Use a baking soda and water solution on leather upholstery
Mix three parts of water and one part of baking soda until it forms a thin paste. Scoop the solution onto the area and work it into the leather with a clean rug in small circles.
Pay close attention to the seams since vomit could be stuck in there. You can also use a stiff-bristled scrub brush to get a deeper clean.
5. Clean carpets with a water and vinegar solution
Mix eight-part water, and one-part distilled white vinegar solution, and 1-2 drops of liquid dishwashing soap and work it into the carpets or fabric upholstery in your car with a cleaning rag or a scrubbing brush.
You can also use the vinegar solution to clean vinyl upholstery. The smell will be pungent because you’re working it out of the fabric.
Your car might also smell like vinegar for a little while after the cleaning.
6. Wipe the area with a damp cloth to remove the solution
Once you scrub your upholstery, wet a cleaning cloth with warm water and use it to wipe the spot.
Continue working with the clean water where the vomit was to rinse away the cleaning solution.
Don’t pour water directly into the area since it might spread the smell and compound the problem.
7. Open your doors and windows so the car can dry completely
Keep all your car’s doors and windows open so the moist air can circulate through if you’re able to so any residual smell can escape.
Let the upholstery dry completely before closing your car but keep your windows open the first few times you drive in the car after cleaning to continue circulating the air.
5 tips to eliminate residual vomit smell
If you already cleaned up the vomit in your car, but you can still smell it, there are home remedies you can use to get rid of the odor, and your car will smell fresh again when you’re finished.
- Spray antibacterial air fresheners on the area to mask the smell – Apply antibacterial air fresheners directly where the vomit was and let it soak in. It will trap the odor and kill the bacteria that cause them, so the car doesn’t smell anymore.
- Try a mixture of club soda and vinegar to lift the smell out – Combine equal parts of club soda and white vinegar. Apply the solution onto the area with a clean rug until it’s completely saturated. Let it sit for one hour before blotting it with a dry rag.
- Use hydrogen peroxide – Combine one cup of hydrogen peroxide with one tablespoon of baking soda, pour directly onto the vomit, then let it absorb for at least an hour, and then use a clean rug to bloat out the area. This solution cleans all vehicle’s interiors.
- Try an enzymatic cleaner to absorb the smell naturally – Any enzymatic cleaner has natural enzymes that kill smell-causing bacteria. Enzymatic cleaners work best with carpets or fabrics.
- Use a steam cleaner to deep clean fabric upholstery – Check with your local hardware store if they have a steam cleaner that you can rent. Fill the steamer with water, spray the steam where the smell is, and go over the area multiple times. Steam cleaning may also help remove any stains that the vomit might have left.
Why does vomit smell so bad?
The smell is due to stomach acids, plus a chemical called bile, which helps digest fatty foods.
When you vomit, bile comes up along with the half-digested food that smells pretty bad.
Can you get sick from smelling vomit?
If it smells nasty, your body can reject it too. Seeing, hearing, or smelling someone’s vomit can make you vomit too. The body is programmed this way.
Sorry not sorry; vomit is a beast. It will not just go away with just one of these things. So try the combination that makes the most sense for you.
Next to urine, the vomit smell is the most difficult odor to remove from carpets, furniture, and cars. The smell can stick around no matter how much you try to clean it up.