Artwork: Stick figures vomiting on a wall

How To Get That Vomit Smell Out of Your Car

Chase Manhattan

Last Updated on May 18, 2023 by Chase Manhattan

From my time in the auto detailing industry, and nights out with drunken friends, I’ve had quite the exposure to the odd vomit stain. I understand the disgust involved with cleaning vomit, so I figure it’s time for me to share some of my vomit related tips & tricks.

If you’ve found yourself in an unfortunate vomit-related situation involving your car, I’m here to help. I’ll go into some of the best ways to clean vomit, any unnecessary precaution that you can avoid, and the best products to free your car cabin of that dreaded fresh vomit smell.

Guy Cleaning Car Interior

What Will Get Rid of The Vomit Smell In My Car

If you’ve been reading my articles for any length of time, you’ve come to understand that preparation is key for any auto detailing related process. There will be quite a few steps to cleaning vomit and removing the post-vomit sick smell, but first make sure you have some of the equipment below:

  • distilled white vinegar
  • baking soda
  • an air freshener
  • rubber gloves
  • hydrogen peroxide
  • a dust mask
  • a pre-made cleaning mixture if available
  • coffee grounds
  • a steam cleaner
  • a spray bottle
  • a garbage bag
  • a soft bristle brush or another scrub bursh
  • an essential oil diffuser
  • dish soap
  • untreated charcoal briquettes
  • a damp cloth
  • paper towels
  • an enzymatic cleaner or other cleaning solution

As you can see, there are quite a few options you can use to get rid of all the vomit smells you’re dreading. Not every item on the list is required, but most can be combined to make a cleaning solution at home.

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Remove Vomit with A Steamer and Vacuum

First things first, we’ll need to remove the vomit from the car. We’re dealing with human vomit here, so we’ll need to be extremely sanitary at all times. You’ll want to – god forbid – remove any fresh vomit or solid chunks from the car. Make sure that you wear rubber gloves and other protective gear like a dust mask. You can simply wipe it with paper towels or a damp cloth. If you caught it fast enough, it should be easy as this, but fabric upholstery can absorb liquid quickly, so the remaining vomit will have to be addressed. You can use some dish soap in a spray bottle, sprinkle some baking soda on the stain, and hit it with a scrub brush. Make sure you use warm water to clean the vomit then blot dry the area and allow any excess moisture to air dry. If this does remove the vomit smell from the car, you can move onto the next step.

Picture of Fabric Upholstery

If there is any solid material left, you can rinse the vomit stained area with some hot water and hit it with a vacuum cleaner. This will get rid of any odor causing bacteria that actually causes the unpleasant odors and lingering smell, if you skip this step you run the risk of leaving a lingering odor in your car. If you have an enzymatic cleaner, you can spray it onto the vomit stained area and give it another round with the vacuum cleaner. Some people prefer to put black coffee in their car overnight to get rid of the sick smell, but in my experience, this only lasts for a few hours. Instead, I recommend using activated charcoal briquettes if available. The briquettes act similarly to the enzymatic cleaner, it neutralizes the odor causing bacteria that causes the foul smell we’re trying to remove. The fresh vomit should be cleaned now, but some people prefer to hit the area with hydrogen peroxide to kill any germs that may be present.

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If you let the car sit overnight and the vomit smell is still there, we will have to take a different approach. As I said, fabric upholstery can absorb as much as a roll of absorbent towels. If you have a steam cleaner available, now is the time to use it. Make sure to blot dry or vacuum the area afterwards. If you continue to scrub the area with paper towels it is very possible that you will push the vomit deeper into the upholstery. This means that you’ll have to do a deeper clean with a cleaning solution or enzymatic cleaner. Otherwise, the remaining moisture will leave you with that nasty vomit smell. If the fabric upholstery is too damp you can wind up with a mildew odor, so be mindful of that.

After using the steamer we will want to remove excess moisture and allow the area to dry completely. If you prefer to use coffee grounds, activated charcoal, or an air freshener, now is your chance; let them sit in the car overnight. If you park your car in a safe area or garage, I recommend rolling down all the windows and opening all the doors. If you can’t leave the doors open, that’s ok, we just want to give the car interior some fresh air. We do recommend leaving the windows open regardless.

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Other Methods to Clean Vomit from a Car Interior

There are some other alternative methods that we’ll cover below, the first..

Baking Soda & White Vinegar

When used together, baking soda and white vinegar create a powerful cleaning solution. To effectively use this mixture, you’ll need the following things:

  • warm water
  • baking soda
  • white vinegar
  • paper towels
  • rubber gloves
  • a scrub brush
  • a spray bottle

Once you’ve put on your protective gear, you can apply baking soda & white vinegar to the vomit stain. Let the cleaning solution sit for approximately five minutes. Take some extra baking soda, apply it to the spot, and agitate it with your scrub brush. Rinse with hot water. To sanitize the area, apply a small amount of hydrogen peroxide to a paper towel and scrub gently. Blot dry the area with absorbent towels. To remove any remaining moisture, leave the windows open, the doors open, and let it dry completely from the fresh air by following the same procedure as before. You can also leave coffee grounds, activated charcoal, an essential oil diffuser, or another air freshener at this point. Be sure to clean up your paper towels and leave all your dirty pieces in a garbage bag.

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Cleaning Vomit from Leather Upholstery

It’s actually easier to remove vomit from leather upholstery than you would think; certainly easier than fabric upholstery, and more so when cleaning fresh vomit. Since leather will not absorb vomit like cloth will, it’s easier to prevent the old vomit in my car smell. If there’s fresh vomit on your leather, you can typically just wipe it up with some paper towels. I would still recommend using hydrogen peroxide to sanitize the area, just test it on a discreet area in the case of a bad reaction.

Picture of leather upholstery

To remove vomit that has dried from your leather upholstery, you will need the following things:

  • baking soda
  • soft bristle brush or other plastic utensil
  • dish soap
  • warm water
  • a paper towel
  • an absorbent cloth

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First, you will apply a small amount of dish soap to the vomit stricken location. Then sprinkle in some baking soda and agitate it gently with your soft bristle brush or plastic utensil. Let it sit for five minutes, then sprinkle in some extra baking soda. Wait another five minutes. You can now apply some hot water to an absorbent cloth and wipe the mixture away. Be sure not to use an enzymatic cleaner or you run the risk of damage your interior. If you absolutely insist on using a product, be sure that it’s a very mild cleaning mixture.

Since you have a leather interior in your car, you shouldn’t have to worry about the same vomit smell. If there does happen to be a lingering smell, we’ll cover the steps to get rid of it following a similar process as before. Open all the doors, roll down all the windows, and let that fresh air flow into the car overnight to remove that dreaded vomit smell.

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How to Get That Puke Smell Out of Your Car

I know we’ve covered a million different ways to clean vomit from a car at this point, but unfortunately some of us are still with an odor that just won’t quit. I recommend taking a trip down to your local auto detailing store and finding an activated charcoal candle that is made for a car. This candle is designed specifically to remove any kind of biological smell from a car, this includes the odor of vomit. It will sit in your cup holder and can be lit whenever for immediate car odor protection.

To make this kind of thing at home, you can take a fair amount of baking soda and mix it with untreated charcoal briquettes which will leave you with a black and white powdery substance. Make sure you have your protective gear on, then move it into a large jar, put a wick in the middle, apply some hot water, then let it solidify. It will dry completely and be ready to help you remove any odd smell from your car.

Leather Interior Picture, Red

Wrap Up

Well everyone, after my long winded approach, I hope that you all know how to get that vomit smell out of your car now. Next time you find yourself out with those drunken friends, don’t worry at all because that vomit smell doesn’t have anything on you.

 Frequently Asked Questions: FAQs

How Do I Clean Solid Chunks of Vomit From My Car Interior?

First, remove the chunks with a handful of paper towels. Then, just take some warm water and baking soda and apply it to the spot. Agitate gently with your scrub brush then wipe it away with clean paper towels and voila!

Will Distilled White Vinegar Damage Fabric Upholstery?

It will not when used correctly, be sure to follow our steps outlined above.

How Do I Sanitize A Spot After I Clean Vomit From It?

Hydrogen peroxide is always my go to. It eliminates the odor causing bacteria that leave you with that sick smell in your car. Just make sure you leave your windows open if there’s too much in the air and use absorbent towels to blot dry the area.

How To Get a Deeper Clean after Removing Vomit

Enzymatic cleaners are the hidden trade secret of the auto detailing industry. Enzymatic cleaners work to eliminate any odor or odd smell by targeting the enzymes that make up the bacteria causing the smell. A quick spray and a scrub brush then you’ll be good to go.

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