Take it from the professionals, anyone that drives for Uber and Lyft at night will attest to their constant need to clean up vomit from their car. In fact, on many occasions I have been told that my car had a weird smell, so I investigated ways to remove the excess odors that underlie the natural freshness of a clean and not so new car. Sometimes smells might not be bad ones, such as coffee being spilled on the upholstery, but when you mix smells together and add the difference of odors over time you end up getting a rather noxious under smell that can confuse the olfactory senses of your passengers, and that's not a good thing.
Before we discuss cleaning issues, one important statement. If you don't have leather upholstery, buy leather seat covers. This will save you a lot of hassle in the future, and preventative action is always better than treating after the fact. Also, have good all-season mats in place at all times.
No matter how many mats you use, carpets will soak up some liquids and odors, so you need to have a good carpet cleaning solution. I use a bottle of scented detergent mixed with water, I usually mix the proportions myself, and that allows me to control the strength and the smell. I then use a spot cleaning device. There are many equipment options, but I found that Bissell 3624 SpotClean Professional Portable Carpet Cleaner was the best option, it removed smells completely while removing spot stains too. Remember, if you don't have leather seats you will be cleaning up a lot!
The only downside of this car cleaner is that it is chorded, which means you need to be close to a power source to plug it into, but it is more powerful than the portable car versions and provides a very good result. This is not to be used during driving schedules; it's an end of the shift solution.
I also find that heat treatment makes the odor dry out and go, so in hot weather I put the car in the sun, open a window slightly and let the sun boil the odors out, or in cold weather, I crank up the heat and fan the car, again with a window open. Heating the car dries out the deep stains that hold odors in them.
Another way to remove odors or cover them over, is to use a variety of fragrance diffusers, these come in a number of forms, but I do suggest two types, one is an active humidifier that sprays out the odor and quickly covers up any bad smells. The other is a passive diffuser using the car air vent system to spread the smell.
There is a third solution, that is a standard fragrance bag, a solid piece of paper saturated with an odor, and this diffuses the fragrance at a constant rate, but needs to be replaced once a week.
Another way of helping to clean the air in a car is by installing an air ionizer or going one next level and installing HEPA filters. HEPA filters are expensive, and they will remove all dust and pollen which are the main cause of passive odors in a car. Air ionizers and filters will not remove active odors from wet stains since these will continue to diffuse their odor into the air until they are clean. HEPA filters are good for drivers with asthma hay fever, although every time you open the door, you will suffer the pollen and dust again, they do reduce the overall saturation of particles in the car radically.
Underlying Odor Removal
This is the only real solution you have and most comprehensive one. No shortcuts here, you can either steam clean your cars leather upholstery and carpets or use carpet cleaner solutions for fabrics. These actions are both time-consuming, but will remove all traces of underlying odor and should be performed at least once a month. Remember, Uber and Lyft charge customers for cleaning bills, so after a vomit attack goes through a proper intense cleaning solution, that way the customer will pay for the service.
Another source of odors are the residual oils and moisture that some passengers leave behind, after touching the seats with their hands and sitting for half an hour. Their body transfers their body odor onto the fabrics. This is something you cannot claim cleaning bills for, so remember to either wait for the drunken passenger or just schedule a monthly cleaning of your car.
I prefer to use a mix of carpet cleaner liquids, fragrance diffusers, and ionizing sprays. I also keep a car cleaning kit on hand at all times. Remember the vomit scenario, well you will need to act fast. So, you must have a car cleaning kit on hand at all times. The kit will include the following items:
- Rubber Gloves to ensure you keep any dirt off your hands and arms.
- A plastic bottle of detergent and water, with fragrance.
- Lint cleaner for especially messy dog hairs.
- Disinfectant wipes to clean up the leather upholstery.
- Napkins/Tissues to swab up any excess vomit or liquids.
- Brush, to help brush off any excess dirt.
- Car Hoover, not the big one we mentioned above, but a small portable one to help in an emergency.
- Fragrant spray, you can use this to spray over the damaged area.