How to Eliminate Vomit Smell in the Car – Clean that upholstery for good!

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Eliminate Vomit Smell

Matt here. If you have dogs or kids, then you might have experienced the negative effects of car sickness or too much McDonalds. So if someone has done the technicolor yawn in your vehicle, then check out this guide.

Cleaning barf smells and stains from the interior of vehicles

Vomit stains are one of the most difficult to clean. However, improper cleaning techniques will fail to eliminate the number one problem: the lingering vomit smell.

technicolor yawn barf gif

In my many years of driving and cleaning cars, I had to deal with a lot of annoyances like tree sap, bird poo, dead insects, and interior spills.

Moderate water pills or soda spills are relatively easy to clean. But vomit is one of the hardest to clean. Vomit is highly acidic and can degrade the carpeting or seats in your vehicle. This may sound funny, but funky vomit smells or vomit stains will significantly affect the resale value of your vehicle. Why would I buy a used car if the interior is filled with the stench of vomit?

That is not cool.

I’m not a big drinker, but I can’t say the same about my buddies back in the garage. This is the reason why I invested in a good set of floor liners for my ride. I also have a nine year old niece who gets absurdly nauseous inside a moving vehicle.

But when the inevitable happens, you need to act quickly. It is easy to prevent vomit smells if you clean the vomit in a correct manner.

How to Clean Vomit in Car Interior Naturally

If the damage is done, you might want to check out our guide to car upholstery cleaners.

Remember when I mentioned floor liners? They are great for protecting the front and rear carpets from water spills and vomit from passengers, kids, or pets. I prefer rubber liners like Weathertech or Husky. It’s usually a good idea to get rubber floor liners made specifically for your vehicle to make sure that you get a perfect fit, but below are some decent universal floor mats that will do just fine for most people.

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But if the carpets or seats were exposed to vomit, here are the things you need to do to get rid of the stain and prevent annoying vomit smells.

Materials needed for removing barf from a car:

  • Lots of clean paper towels
  • Spatula or scraper
  • Baking soda
  • Dish soap
  • Vinegar
  • Warm water
  • Small spray bottle
  • Microfiber towels
  • Garbage bag

Step 1: Remove chunks of vomit.

mayo barf nasty gif
I can barely watch this!

At this point, it is also best to wear protective gear such as hand gloves, eyewear, and a dust mask. It doesn’t have anything to do with OCD. Viruses such as Staph and E.coli love to thrive in vomit, so it’s better to be safe than sorry. This holds true if you are working with pet vomit as well.

Grab the garbage bag and spatula to remove as much vomit as you can. Larger chunks should be removed and disposed immediately. Pick up any solid matter including smaller pieces so you can begin cleaning the liquid vomit on the surface.

Step 2: Blot excess moisture.

Grab a couple of paper towels and press firmly over the stained surface. This will absorb much of the liquid and help in preventing vomit smells after cleaning.

Repeat the procedure until the surface is almost dry to the touch.

Step 3: Soak the vomit stain in baking soda.


When it comes to removing vomit stains and vomit smells, prevention is the best cure. After blotting the stained area with paper towel, you should sprinkle a lavish amount of baking soda over the stained surface.

Baking soda is the most effective weapon in preventing and removing vomit smell inside the car. Allow to soak for 30 minutes to 1 hour before removing the baking soda with a vacuum cleaner.

Helpful tip: Allowing the baking soda to soak overnight is highly recommended. The longer you wait, the better the results, especially when removing fresh vomit.

Step 4: Prepare the cleaning solution.

The cleaning solution will depend on the type of surface.

Leather upholstery: Mix three parts of baking soda to one part warm water to create a paste. Grab a damp microfiber towel and use a small amount of paste to clean the area thoroughly. Blot off the excess using a dry microfiber towel.

Plastic, vinyl, and carpets: Mix one part white vinegar with eight parts of warm water inside a spray bottle. Add approximately half a teaspoon of dish soap and shake the cleaning solution. Spray the cleaning solution directly over the vomit stain and blot off the excess using a wet microfiber towel. Repeat the procedure until the surface is clean and stain-free. Blot the area until dry using a separate dry towel.

Step 5: Let dry.

This is the most important step in preventing or eliminating vomit smell. Leave the car in the driveway if safe to do so. Open all the doors and the windows to enhance air circulation inside the interior.

If you don’t have a garage or driveway, you will need to further blot the surface dry before locking the doors. Make sure to crack open all the windows by at least half an inch to allow air circulation while your car is parked.

I like to add an extra measure of protection by sprinkling the freshly cleaned area with more baking soda and leaving it overnight.

Whatever you do, make sure fresh air is allowed to circulate inside the cabin, even if the car is parked.

thumbs up nice gif
Nice, almost done!

A quick side note

If you’ve tried this method and it didn’t work, I found that Dawn dish soap applied directly to the seat or floor where the mess was created is a great way to remove lingering vomit smells. Now I’m not sure how safe this is to your upholstery, but Dawn is gentle enough to be used on hands and animals, so it can’t be too hard for cars, right!? 🙂

The steps are basically the same as above except instead of baking soda and vinegar doing the work, you’ll let the Dawn do the heavy lifting. This is a perfect option if the “projectiles” are more grease-based rather than water-based. Dawn breaks down oil molecules allowing you to wash away the stink!


How to Remove Residual Vomit Smell

Prevention is the best cure, but sometimes you don’t get the smell removed in time. In that case, it will cost you more time and money to remove a residual vomit scent from your vehicle!

I had an experience with a friend who payed big money to remove vomit stains inside the car. But after the job was done and the money was spent, the car still had residual vomit smells in the interior.

At this point, you can use a spray disinfectant like Lysol to remove vomit stench. Spray all over the carpets or affected areas and allow to air dry.

If you don’t like using chemicals, you can open a box of baking soda and leave it inside the interior. You can also use charcoal briquettes to absorb any lingering odor. Close the windows, lock the doors, and leave the baking soda or charcoal overnight.

You can also open a can of organic air freshener to introduce pleasant odors inside the interior. Sometimes you’ll need to allow fresh smells into the car to take over the bad smells…

Again, Dawn dish soap may help you here too.


Traveling with kids, pets, or passengers with motion sickness? Make sure to bring along a pack of paper towels and some cleaning tools along the way. It also helps to have a couple of small plastic bags so your passengers can belch and relieve themselves without leaving stains all over the interior.

Remember to clean vomit right sway to prevent and eliminate hard-to-remove vomit smell inside the car.


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