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As if it were not obvious to the most casual observer that I have an 18-month-old in every other aspect of my life, it would appear that she has managed to drop her milk behind her car seat onto… the car seat, and this was the result. To say the least, I am annoyed that my awesome truck now sports a granny stain.

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She, of course, is not to blame, really; this is mostly my fault — but it’s also my issue that needs to be fixed. I tried regular Greenworks cleaner but it didn’t make a dent. There are a number of products I could also try but half of them list bleach as an ingredient and I’d rather not trade one stain for another.

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Has anyone had experience in a remedy for this, or are my automotive guests doomed to looking like they suffered an accident in my truck from now on? Let us know in comments!

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45 Responses to Question: Auto Interior Cleaning?

  1. BT says:

    1 part Woolite to 6 parts water works wonders. Spray on, agitate, vacuum, rinse, vacuum. Warm water even better.

  2. douwe says:

    We get a lot of stains out of our carpet and other fabrics with Folex which is available at the big box stores. We have little kids and deal with this kind quite frequently.

  3. jojowasher says:

    Look around at self service car washes, a couple in my area have self service auto upholstery cleaners, not sure how well they work, but its worth a try.

  4. I always seem to go a little crazy with stuff like this. I’ve pulled the bolts out of seats before and hit them with the power washer and a 40 degree tip, and left them in the sun to dry. Extra points if you want to run a cleaning solution through the power washer and follow up with straight water.

    Of course I’m always looking for a reason to use a power washer during summer it seems.

    • upholstery worker says:

      Power washers can be bad on fabrics. When it looks like it is doing miracles on spots, stains, and dirt, it can be doing more harm than good. When done improperly–too high of psi and too close to material–you are actually blowing out the fibers that made the thread that wove the fabric. A couple of times of that and when held up to the sun (or a light) you will begin to be able to see through the fabric that you couldn’t see through before. It probably wont hurt using a home PW of 1200-1300 psi and no closer than 12 inches a couple of times–for end of the world stains like red juice, ink or dog pee–I mean the seat cover is ruined anyways, whats it going to hurt, and who knows….right? One time it gets out the stain and takes some fibers, two times it gets another stain and some more fibers, third time it takes another stain and more fibers and then it rips putting it the seat or when you sit down on it stressing the stronger sewn seams and tearing the weakened fabric. Bleach works the same way. I use a wet vac with hot water and a little dish soap with a toothbrush. Dripping hot water on stain and immediately scrubbing with a drop of soap on a toothbrush, then dump a little hot hot water on it and immediately suck the stain and water out with the shop vac, repeating till the stain is gone. Don’t spread the stain or get fabric it too wet, it may mildew if it doesn’t dry out fast enough.

  5. Ben says:

    You could try getting the seat damp with water taking a damp towel lay it over the stain and iron it on high heat. It’s like a poor man’s steam cleaner. Capilary action? You could also use a steam cleaner :) Also, You can take the seat apart pull the cover off and power wash it in your driveway! I have def. done that and it works great. Just be sure not to throw it in teh dryer. You might want to put it back together while it is still a little damp.

  6. Jim says:

    Try a rag with rubbing alcohol or colorless/odorless nail polish remover. In my experience that pulls most stains out of the fabric and into the rag, with minimal damage to the original.

  7. Aaron says:

    Step one
    get a good upholstery cleaner. I like spot shot (not an automotive), woolite makes a nice one. I also had a nice foaming cleanser which came with a plastic brush for scrubbing, which worked well on general dirt.

    Use the spot shot/woolite/etc on the stain. Scrub in well.

    Pour hot water on the seat and scrub with a towel. (this is the rinse stage – to dissolve the soap and dirt.

    Use a shop vac to remove the water (you can also you a carpet cleaner to do this – and this works well – but I find the shop vac does almost a better job, both here and on the carpets using the same method).

    using a cleaner alone will not remove the stain as well. The analogy I use is cleaning your hands with sanitizing gel vs. soap and water. Sometimes you can rub off the dirt with the gel, but lots of water can dissolve it away. Water is a great solvent, just be careful not to go overboard.

  8. Jim says:

    Bissel Little Green Clean Machine!

  9. Ralph says:

    For future prevention, try putting (unscented) puppy housebreaking pads under and behind car seats!

  10. Joey says:

    I’ve not tried it in a car, but hydrogen peroxide does wonders for difficult stains on couches.

  11. Bob says:

    Use Griot’s interior cleaner–it works great.

  12. cheerIO says:

    AH Ha!!! I have first hand experience. Last week my girlfriend came to me and said that she spilled some milk behind the passengers seat in her car. 1/4 gallon actually. I was not able to take a look, or smell until the next evening. But man, let me tell you, after sitting in the 100 degree heat all afternoon it was a job just sitting in the car. After much research and ruling out the bleach solution, I went to target and got a laundry detergent called BIZ. It has enzymes in it, the only thing that I could find that was not an expensive professional cleaner. We mixed up half a gallon of super saturated solution, removed the passenger’s seat, and poured half of it into the carpet well. I let it sit for half an hour to soak into all the places the milk could have gotten then shop vac’ed it up. Then for good measure I did it once again with the remaining solution. Immediately the stench was gone and a week later she says the car smells better than new. I highly recommend this route as I have tried twice before to clean up milk in a car but not had these good of results.

  13. Billy Mays says:

    OxiClean, your whites get white, your colors stay bright.

  14. David says:

    I used manage an Enterprise Rent-a-Car branch and we have seen these sorts of stains all of the time.

    Based on the type of upholstery I see, I would guess this is a Dodge truck. Fortunately, the type of fabric there handles water and dirt well, and stands up to scrubbing.

    Anyway, you have a lot of suggestions of how to approach cleaning this stain. To help out, I will try simply to point out that of all of the suggestions, Aaron’s is the one that, from my experience, will provide the best result with the least potential for damage to your seat. Woolite is good, as mentioned, but a foaming cleaner will bring the clumps of protein to the surface so that they can be wiped clean.

    Apply cleaner, scrub in, let sit up to five minutes, wipe down with a modest amount of water (maybe a tablespoon per square foot; not much), then shop-vac the spot as dry as possible. After that, blot with a dry towel to minimize sitting moisture.

  15. Michael says:

    The best stuff I’ve used is BlueMagic “Heavy Foam Upholstery Cleaner”. I’ve used it on heavily stained cloth seats and carpeting with excellent results.

  16. Notstarman says:

    Have you looked for zippers. The fabric seats in my last two cars, Dodge Ram and a PT cruiser, simply unzipped and came off. Leaving a metal frame with foam glued to it. I

    If it does remove the fabric and toss it into a clothes washer and soak the fluid out of the foam.

  17. Grant says:

    It’s a Ford Ranger! Mine also has a stain on the passager seat that’s nearly impossible to get out. I’ve tried almost everything.

  18. rg says:

    I’ve used carpet shampoo to clean auto upholstery. Spray it on, brush lightly, let it dry, and vacuum it up.

    Some of the other tips posted so far sound promising, too.

    Worst comes to worst, that’s why The Good Lord gave us seat covers. I found a generic set for my Mazda truck that fit well, and match the interior, They were quite inexpensive, to the point of almost being disposable, if they ever got badly stained and I couldn’t wash it out.

  19. Billy says:

    I’ve always had good luck with Resolve. But in these cases I don’t use it as directed. I spray it in, wet it and scrub it.

    Then I rinse it out. You could use a steamer or the like… I usually spray it with water while vacuuming with a shop vac. Nothing I haven’t been able to get out!

  20. Brian O' says:

    Just get a decent cleaner that you can tolerate the smell of, and that you can use on fabric/upholstery.
    You can use diluted laundry detergent.

    Do not soak the spot and make it too soggy. Just get it moist on the outside, on the verge of bring wet. Use a spray bottle.

    Use CLEAN towels to scrub the area. Use good pressure on it. You are basically transferring the stain to the towel so turn it frequently. You can use more cleaner during this if it dries too much.

    Repeat this with another clean towel, and let it dry.

    After it has dried, if it doesn’t look up to your standards, give it another round of cleaning.

    Enjoy your clean seat.

  21. Jerry says:

    WOW! If you try even half of these remedies you will wear out the upholstery with all that rubbing, blotting, sucking with a vacuum and my favorite, the power washer!
    Let us all know what you finally use that creates success.

  22. jesse says:

    I know it’s a little off the mark, but I love 303 protectant. It’s fresh in my mind because I just bought another bottle. Way better than Armor-All and similar products.

  23. Blair says:

    Sean,
    Here in southwest Oh, we have a very knowledgeable radio, TV host of do-it-yourself/home improvement programs that has recommended this:http://www.reallynatural.com/archives/green-homes/sporiclean_green_enzyme_cleane.php. It seems the enzymes will kill the bacteria, neutralize the odor, and then extract with a shop vac as normal. A lot of good suggestions above though, hope you get it out(been there)

  24. Blair says:

    As an addendum, I would avoid bleach at all costs on fabric that receives a lot of UV rays, it will seriously shorten the fabric life, the “Oxi” types, I don’t know much about in sun, but it should be easy to find out, they are mostly potash from what I read.

  25. Looking at it from another angle, just pour milk over the rest of the seat to even things out.

  26. Bill says:

    +1 on the enzyme bit. We use Nature’s Miracle, available at the pet store. Our three killing machines like to murder things on various carpets, and the enzymes take care of the smell, and very often the stain.

    Milk in cars is generally a bad plan.

    Not that that helps, much.

  27. Jay says:

    Don’t cry over spilled milk!

    This isn’t a problem. It’s an opportunity.

    Be a responsible parent. You can use this stain to nag and relentlessly remind your kid to be careful and clean up after themselves for the rest of their lives.

    Or the life of your truck at least?

    “You better behave or I’ll tell your friends that you made that stain on the seat of my truck.”

  28. Cameron Watt says:

    Milk spilled in a car is NASTY. I’m a bit of a caveman and have cleaned out the interior of work vehicles with hosepipes, pressure washers, and leaf blowers.

    A former coworker did some detailing work and he used a 5:1 solution of water:Simple Green and a nail brush/shop vac for most problems but I have no personal experience with it.

    @Sean O’Hara: Google $hit my kids ruined….my oldest is 19 and the stuff they ruin just gets bigger and more expensive….

  29. Brau says:

    My experience in hotel maintenance required a lot of stain removal. Keep in mind most “Fabric Cleaners” come with instructions that will just clean the surface and the stain may well return. There is no such thing as “dry” fabric/carpet cleaning.

    The best methods suggested above are the ones who say to use a liquid detergent(Woolite), work/massage it in well with hot water, but don’t fray the fabric by excess brushing. Suck out every bit of moisture possible with a wet vac. Repeat. Rinse well, to remove soap residues that can gather dirt and irritate skin. It’s the addition and removal of water that ultimately pulls the stain substance out with it.

  30. paul says:

    Oxyclean mixed into a spray bottle. You will need to sit and keep the area wet while it works.

  31. browndog77 says:

    Gotta ditto the OxyClean ideas. It is safe for pretty much all fabrics & vinyl, & ok for leather if you rinse well. I think BIZ is a very similar product.

  32. Gary says:

    A few thoughts.

    You’re a parent. Get used to it.

    Long term solution – get leather seats.

    Don’t know about the clean up, but we put new rubber door mats under the car seat in our cars. Saved my wife’s seats multiple times.

  33. kyle says:

    Go to the pet store and get Nature’s Miracle, it comes in a red and white bottle. It once took out a 2 year old coffee stain from my favorite work shirt. It handles anything organic no problem.

  34. DoItRite says:

    Most of the suggestions listed previously will get the stain out.
    But in my experience, nothing will get the smell out. On those hot days when the windows have been closed, you will be able to smell it every time. Milk is one of the worst.
    Start looking around for some good used replacement seats.

  35. ShopMonger says:

    Ok, so the stain seems to have been addressed… just making sure you get the whole eat wet, and use a good upholstery cleaner…

    But after Running several counties for Enterprise Rent a Car and having dealt with hundreds of smelly cars including milk, kerosene, gasoline, and even dead fish (like 150 of them) here is the simple way…

    First clean the offending spot (See above suggestions)
    Next we get ride of the in car immediate smell (your favorite deorderant)
    third lingering places (spray some lysol or Fabrese in the vents, I like lysol because of the antibacterial properties) so make sure the car is on recirculate and make a good cloud…especially down by the feet where the intake is… then put car on outside air and spray into vents on the hood)
    Fourth (the hard part) so now we need to get rid of the long lasting smell…. two part process…. 1. Sprinkle 2 cups of coffe grounds (not used), if possible over offending area then lock car shut for 12-24 hours and vacume up) part 2. is take another cup of unused coffee grounds and put them in a sock and tie it up, and leave it under the seat for a week or two…..

    Smell is now gone…. works great for boat bilges also, with diesel smell….

    Hope your having fun with the WEEE Toolmonger……

    ShopMonger

  36. gary says:

    A friend who used to do car interior repairs for dealers showed me that windex would clean up just about any stain on car seats. It won’t hurt fabric, vinyl, or leather. Spray it on heavily and then get a wet towel and start scrubbing with it. Rinse the towel often to keep it clean and then finish up with a dry towel.

  37. K!P says:

    just make sure you test the chosen steps on a hard to see area, to avoid doing all the seats to get them color matched again.

  38. Moose says:

    Two keys to removing upholstery stains:

    1. Foaming Cleaner. It lifts the stain and makes it easier to agitate with a brush or scrubbing pad.

    2. Vacuum/Suction. You almost have to vacuum an upholstery stain in a vehicle to get it out. It’s by far the best way to do it, and it doubles as a drying solution as well.

    These two things are the most important. There are all types of fancy smancy cleaners out there that will say they do this and that, but at the end of the day some foaming cleaner from the dollar store and a good ole shop vac will work wonders on any upholstery stain.

  39. ashley says:

    Ok, so I just got a brand new truck and my kids spilt paint and who knows what else on the seats over the weekend:/ I am sick to my stomach over this, & really want to get the stains out, but not sure which of these worked! Pleas let me know what you used so that I may do the same, thanks:)

  40. GOOD OLE USA says:

    Try a clear shower cutain liner to cover the back of the seat and the seat portion, tucke in at top and bottom. Works great. Guess a nice pattern or color could work same.

  41. Mel says:

    Has anyone ever heard of getting stains out of auto upholstery with Barbasol? Yes good old fashion Barbasol shaving cream? The original not the gel….. I was given this tip by a friend of mine who used to detail cars….. Im a bit hesitant… He said to simply rub it into the spot wait 10 minutes then vaccuum with shop vac!? Anyone have info about this?

  42. Becky Arnold says:

    As a mother of two little boys, I often have the same kind of problems. But it’s not a big deal! For cleaning milk stains I use 1 cup vinegar + 1 cup water + 3 tsp baking soda + kitchen sponge. Mix all the ingredients and apply the mixture on the kitchen sponge. Then clean it with another sponge soaked with water. Repeat ’till the stain disappear. Good luck!
    Becky

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