How To Clean Vomit From Your Car Seat

There’s nothing like the sweet acidic smell of vomit, whether it’s an older kid with motion sickness or baby spit-up you will want to get your car smelling fresh again pronto!

This guide will show you the best way to get that lingering vomit smell out of your car for good.

Pet owners, this will also work for cat vomit or dog vomit as well.

So let’s get to it.

Step 1 – Sort Out Your Protective Equipment

The first thing you need to grab to clean vomit is gloves and a face mask.

This is not just because of the bad smells, vomit particles can carry diseases such as norovirus, so it’s a good idea to take precautions.

This is essential when cleaning pet vomit.

Step 2 – Damage Control

A fresh vomit stain is easier to treat than a dry one.

  • If you have someone with you give them the baby and get to work immediately. The more wet vomit you can remove the easier your job will be. 
  • If your baby was in any sort of a seat take it straight out of the car. Remove the car seat cover and set it to one side. Concentrate on the car interior first as this is usually the most difficult.
  • Remove any chunks of solid matter first. If you don’t have gloves, plastic bags over your hands can work as a substitute.
  • Use a clean cloth or cloth towel to blot as much of the wet liquid up as possible. If you’re out and don’t have these to hand then a roll of paper towels can work as well. Start gently at first so you don’t spread the vomit, pressing harder into the soiled area as you start to soak up less. Don’t rub as this can push the excess moisture further out.
  • Don’t forget to clean the seat belt as well

Once you have finished damage control this is the ideal time to check what type of material your upholstery is before you move on to chemical removal.

Step 3 – The Removal Options

If you use a spray bottle be sure to leave the car doors open to allow good ventilation while you work as all cleaning products have the potential to cause respiratory irritation.

Before you address the stained area the first step is to test whichever solution you intend to use on an inconspicuous area of your upholstery.

Once you are confident this will not stain you can use it on your seat.

Vinegar and Baking Soda

This is a cheap and effective method of removing vomit with household products you probably already have in your home.

It is the most time-consuming option of the three and will leave your car seat out of action for a few days.

  1. Mix white vinegar with plain water (One part vinegar, one part water).
  2. Apply to the wet area. You can either pour the solution straight on or use a spray bottle.
  3. Sprinkle baking soda over the entire area and leave overnight to absorb.
  4. In the morning use a vacuum cleaner to remove the dried baking soda.
  5. Apply a second layer of baking soda and use a wet cloth to rub it into the upholstery
  6. Rinse with clean water and leave to dry
  7. Dry vacuum any remaining powder the following day

Biological Washing Powder

The enzymes in biological washing powder will break down the milky vomit and as an added bonus your car will smell like fresh laundry.

As the powder is already designed to treat fabric you may find it more gentle on your upholstery than the other options.

The disadvantage is it can be quite sticky until it dries, and you will still have soap residues in your car seats.

  • Mix one part powder to 4 parts of hot water
  • Stir well to dissolve the powder
  • Pour over the affected area
  • Leave overnight to dry
  • Vacuum any powder that remains when fully dry.

Commercial Cleaner

This is the most expensive option, but the most convenient.

I would recommend a product used to clean carpets and upholstery. These are widely available in most household stores.

Application is a simple as spraying and rubbing the solution as per the manufacturer’s guidelines and waiting until dry to use the seat.

Step 3a – Watch The Leather!

Leather upholstery is easier to damage than other types of upholstery and deserves its own mention.

I would avoid any homemade products and go straight for a leather-specific cleanser.

Make sure you treat the entire area (e.g. whole cushion surface) and not just the affected area as you may leave behind a water stain. Rub the cleaner on gently and in a circular motion.

Treated leather is water-resistant but not waterproof. Leather that has become wet can harden while drying and become stiff so it is sensible to invest in some leather conditioner as well.

As leather is water-resistant the majority of the liquid will soak through the seam holes and into the stuffing below.

To expose the leather to the minimum amount of moisture, if possible remove the stuffing and gently hand wash with an enzyme cleaner.

Leave the stuffing to air dry, and make sure it has dried completely before you replace it.

Cushions are usually made from high-density foam core so they can be challenging to dry, but mold may occur if you replace them wet.

If possible the leather seats should be dried in a cool dark place away from the sun to minimize bleaching and hardening.

Step 4 – Back To The Carrier

Remove all of the covers and soft furnishings possible from the car seat and wash according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Ideally in a washing machine, but if the instructions are not to wash I would recommend gently hand washing the seat cover and any fabric parts and using a hairdryer to carefully dry. Pay extra attention to the car seat straps as this is a thick material.

Next, take a damp cloth, a small bowl of warm water and dish soap to clean the frame.

You will want to wring the cloth out as much as possible to avoid soaking and damaging the frame.

Take your time cleaning the frame, you will want to wipe over every part that could have been exposed to the vomit.

If your seat has crevices too small to reach use pipe cleaners to ensure they are clean.

Even a small amount of vomit left behind will produce a lingering smell in a few days.

Step 5 – Enjoy A Vomit Free Car Smell

A final step to leave your car smelling great is a few drops of essential oils onto the seat as an air freshener.

Good luck! And may the smell of vomit soon be a distant memory.

Let me know in the comments if you know any other good ways of removing vomit stains from a car seat.