4 Simple Steps for Cleaning Vomit From Your Car

Only four easy steps and you'll never have to think about the puking incident ever again.

Published July 28, 2023
person cleaning car

Being a designated driver is all fun and games until someone pukes in your car. The absolute betrayal you feel when the hacking starts isn't something that goes away quickly, and neither is the vomit sitting in your backseat.

Kids getting sick or morning sickness can also happen when you least expect it. Instead of panicking and paying hundreds at a detail service, use these four simple steps to clean vomit from your car.

How to Clean Vomit From Your Car Step by Step

Listen, it happens to everyone, and if it hasn't happened to you yet, just wait. While it's a job no one wants to take, it's not particularly difficult to do. So, when you're seeing red and staring down vomit covered upholstery, follow these steps to get your car squeaky clean again.

Step 1: Use Baking Soda Like Kitty Litter to Soak Up Fresh Puke

If you're an Uber or Lyft driver, then you've definitely had a few puke-and-run cases. And the idea of grabbing a plastic bag and scooping up the vomit like dog poop makes our stomach turn, so we've got a better idea instead.

Pour a liberal amount of baking soda all over the fresh puke and leave it for an hour or so. Not only should it help lock in some of the smell, but it'll soak up the excess liquid so you can vacuum anything up out of the car without having to be too hands on.

This is where we really suggest using a garage vacuum which has an open plastic bucket you can dump directly into the trash. It's best not to break out your indoor Dyson for this kind of a mess.

Step 2: Spray an Enzymatic Cleaner to Clear Up That Smell

Little hanging trees and vent air fresheners can only do so much to mask the baked-in vomit smell. Get to the root of the problem by addressing the actual issue -- the vomit stains. If someone vomited on your mats, you've probably already pulled those out and deep cleaned them, so chances are it's in your upholstery.

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To help get rid of smells from the source, spray things down with an enzymatic cleaner. Enzymes are bacteria that break down organic material -- like that late-night burger run -- and completely remove it from the area. You can buy enzyme cleaners in most hardware or automotive stores for about $15-$20 a bottle.

Quick Tip

Spraying it on the upholstery will help, but to really activate the cleaner and pull out the smells, take a scrubbing brush to work it into everything before wiping it up.

Step 3: Clean Up the Stains With an Interior Cleaner

While you can mix together DIY cleaners like water and vinegar or laundry detergent to quickly clean up your upholstery, we recommend going back over it with traditional car cleaners. Anytime you're trying to clean up bodily fluids, it's best to go for a more robust cleaning agent than household ingredients.

So, spray down the doors, floors, and seats with an interior cleaner and use a vehicle upholstery cleaner on the seats. Take a scrubbing upholstery brush to work in the cleaner and pull out the stains where needed. If you've got a garage vacuum, you can vacuum up the excess liquid and then pat dry with a towel.

Repeat the process if the stains haven't lifted the first go around.

Quick Tip

If you really want to get a deep clean on your upholstery or mats, you can rent or buy a steam cleaner. This will get you a deeper clean than any hand scrubbing can do.

Step 4: If You've Got Leather, Condition Your Seats Afterwards

If you've got leather seats, you're both blessed and cursed when someone vomits in your car. Vomit shouldn't penetrate as deeply into the upholstery and should be easier to clean up. But, you'll want to use a leather-safe cleaner instead of your everyday household dish soap.

Additionally, anytime after cleaning your leather upholstery with a harsh agent, make sure you restore your leather with a proper conditioner. You don't want to speed up the cracking process that happens over time to unconditioned leather.

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Tips for Preventing Vomit Stains in the First Place

One time cleaning up vomit out of your car's more than enough. Thinking ahead, try out these tips if you want to keep the "days since I cleaned up vomit in the car" counter way above zero:

  • Keep a small trash can in the car. You can pick up super cheap mini trash cans at the local dollar store, and they'll work in a pinch if someone's feeling sick.
  • Air fresheners are for before the smell starts. Keep your car vents clipped and hanging trees fresh to maximize on a clean-smelling drive.
  • Buy a few vomit bags if it's a frequent problem. If you've got a kid with car sickness or you're an Uber/Lyft driver, we recommend keeping a few disposal vomit bags on hand. They shouldn't run you more than $20 a batch.

Keep Your Car From Experiencing Anymore Horrors

Cars are such a significant part of daily American life that having them out of commission for even a day because someone partied too hard and wrecked the backseat can really disrupt things. Instead of forking over wads of cash to a cleaning service, get in tune with your car and learn how to clean vomit from it instead. And once you've done the dirty work, you'll be ready to do whatever you have to to keep it from getting sullied again.

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4 Simple Steps for Cleaning Vomit From Your Car