A 20 month old toddler vomited milk in my car. The vomit landed on the rear seat and the foot area in front of the seat. I am sure a few drops flew into the rear air con vent. I have only wiped it off with a wet cloth. The car is in Australia if it matters.

What are the steps I can take to effectively ridding my car of bacteria and smell of vomit ?

  • My personal method with smells: Open the windows, run a fan over the affected area, and do that for several (many!) days. Keep it out of sunlight, moisture, and heat. This will reduce the smell. I could give you my "theory" of why it works, but I'd rather this just be anecdotal. Commented Dec 15, 2016 at 15:14

2 Answers 2


For the cleaning, you have a few options:

  • carpet cleaners: there are products sold to clean carpets and upholstery. Some are liquid based, some are foam based (you spray them on), and there are even simple home recipes like baking soda. Basically, treat this like you would a stain on a carpet in your home.
  • heavy duty cleaner: I don't know about Australia, but here in Canada you can rent a carpet cleaning machine for rather cheap. They are electric and use a solvent. Most are rather cumbersome and meant to be wheeled over a carpet, but many have small nozzle attachements that you can maneuver around a car
  • automotive detailers: you can have the interior of your car shampooed professionally

For the vents, take them apart and clean them with regular soap and water. The key is to taking them apart. Make and model could help us find more specific instructions.

Once all the material has been cleaned up, getting rid of the smell is a simple matter of airing out the car (drive around with the windows down), and use some room freshners. I never use car freshners, mostly because I don't like the fragrances available, I just use the jelly-stick room freshners. There are also spray products that kill smells, they are generally advertized for couches and drapes

  • Mate ! I have a carpet cleaner at home and wouldn't have even imagined to use it to clean me car seat (cloth). Cheers Commented Dec 15, 2016 at 11:29
  • 1
    If you use a carpet cleaner that leaves the carpet or seat slightly wet, make sure you leave the windows down slightly to allow air flow for drying. Otherwise, you could end up with a mold/mildew smell in the car.
    – CharlieRB
    Commented Dec 15, 2016 at 14:14
  • The carpet cleaner got rid of everything but the stain. What can I do for stains ? Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 3:00

Upholstery cleaner is a good start. If there are residual odors, there are several things which can be used. -pan of vinegar -pan of baking soda -pan of activated charcoal I have used all of these with good results, but they work better in warmer weather than very cold weather. There are also car deodorizers. Some are agents similar to the above list, but some are mostly masking fragrance. Obviously you want the ones with agents such as baking soda and charcoal in them. Fragrance, such as Febreeze can be worse than the original odor, particularly if people in the car have allergies and sensitivities to fragrances.

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