One Saturday back in May 2017, I was a rideshare driver making some late-night cash. I had been picking up passengers all evening, most of ’em drunk as heck. Things had been going well, but I couldn’t shake the feeling something bad was going to happen after the previous few passengers were super sloppy. Then, it happened, my worst fears were realized. While driving a carful of people home, I heard a soft retching sound, followed by what sounded like water being spilled on the floor, then the smell hit my nose.
Yes, one of my passengers threw up. In this instance, the guy threw up twice during the same ride with no warning. After dropping off the pukey passengers, I was then on a race against time to clean the car up within reason, before the terrible mess and smell baked into the car’s upholstery. Because I know I’m not the only driver dealing with sick passengers, I wanted to share the process I went through to clean up the catastrophe. Here are some tips from a rideshare driver with more than 8,000 rides on how to get vomit out of your car.
Vomit is often acidic. After all, it’s full of stomach juices, alcohol, and whatever the person ate, so it’s a nasty little cocktail. Keep in mind that you’ll want to get the vomit cleaned as soon as possible because the longer it sits, the harder it can be to get it out.
In my case, I had to do some of these steps at the crack of dawn after my passenger vomited in my car at 3:30 a.m. Had I waited until morning, the smell would have been worse, the carpet might have dried up, and the car I used for work would have been worse off.
Start by Cleaning Up the Solids
Prepare yourself. This is going to be gross, and I’m sorry. Put some gloves on, and scrape up or grab up as much of the vomit as you can remove with your hands. Be careful, you want to remove the vomit, not push it further into the upholstery. You might need to get some q-tips or similar to remove any vomit that worked its way into any crevices, like chair rails or seatbelt buckles.
Blot with a Clean Towel
Start by blotting out as much moisture as you can with a clean towel. Wipe off the hard parts of your car like the door panels and center consoles before moving to the carpet. Each time you press the towel down, rotate it or try to find a dry section of towel so you’re not rubbing it back into the carpet when you’re pressing it down.
Put Baking Soda Down
Baking soda is a great funk and smell remover. Determine the affected area, sprinkle some baking soda on those specific sections, and let the baking soda sit on the stain for at least 30 minutes or so. When it’s absorbed more of the moisture and smell, vacuum up as much as you can. It may be necessary to do this more than once.
Pro tip: Don’t use a vacuum cleaner that will be difficult to clean. If possible, use a wet/dry shop vac that is designed to clean up gunk like this.
Spray with a Cleanser
Many recommend using a solution of baking soda and warm water to clean cloth seats, or warm water and vinegar to clean interior plastic or cloth seats. Both of those work to a certain degree, but if the vomit is particularly gnarly, those two things might not have enough power. In my case, the person had been drinking all night before stopping at a drunk-eats food cart, so the vomit was pretty rank. The vinegar and baking soda got the stains and solids out of the carpet and off the plastics, but a lingering smell of vomit remained.
To get the smell out, I turned to hydrogen peroxide. Peroxide got the smell out nearly instantly, and it has never returned. For easy application, dilute the peroxide 50/50 with distilled water in a spray bottle. Be careful when using peroxide, though. It can lighten fibers if left on for too long. I recommend pouring a little on a hidden space, then quickly blotting it out with a clean cloth as a trial run. You could also test peroxide on a cloth floor mat, but there might not be time for that.
Vacuum, Then Let Dry
After cleaning and blotting, vacuum up any moisture or powders left from deodorizing and cleansing. Then, grab a fan if you have one and let everything dry. If the smell lingers, you might have to go back and repeat these steps, but luckily, I didn’t.
Hopefully, no one will ever vomit in your car, but if it happens, we hope these tips will help you keep your ride fresh. If you’re a rideshare driver, it’s not a bad idea to buy these products ahead of time and make a small kit for when disaster strikes.