Aaron Widmar
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How to Clean Food Spills Before They Stain Car Seats

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Prevent spilled coffee, chili, or ketchup from leaving a permanent stain on those stylish cloth seats

car seat spill stain coffee drink mess clean
Photo: The News Wheel

Your car is basically your second dinner table. You’re always eating something on the go, whether that’s morning coffee, late-night fast food, road trip meals, or emergency snacks when you’re feeling munchy. Sometimes, those meals can wind up spilling on your cloth car seats. If you want to make sure your car stays in top condition, here are some tips that will help you prevent most car stains before spills permanently tarnish the seats.

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Act as quickly as possible

Don’t wait until you get home to clean up the spill. Pull over quickly so you can address the mess immediately. Otherwise, if you wait to wipe the splatter, it has time to dry and set into the cloth fibers — exponentially increasing the chance of a permanent stain. Find a fast food restaurant, gas station, or travel plaza you can park at that has a restroom.

Scoop up the chunks

Blot the area first to pick up any excess moisture and remove any pieces that might remain on the carpet. If the spill involves a solid food item like a dropped BBQ chicken wing or ketchup-covered fries, pick up those pieces before addressing the sauce spots left behind.

Dilute the dye

It may seem counter-intuitive, but it actually helps to pour more liquid onto your carpet. Fill a cup with cool water and pour it on the remaining spill to dilute its potency. This is especially applicable if you’ve dropped a cup of coffee or Crock Pot of chili. Diluting the mess with water will make it less caustic and thus make any lingering stain less noticeable.

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car seat cloth spill removal wash stain
Photo: The News Wheel

Blot with a towel or rag

Soak up the liquid immediately with a shop towel or handful of paper towels. Even napkins from your glove box will suffice. This will get the solution soak into something other than the carpet or upholstery. Be careful not to wipe the surface or put pressure on it; smearing or scrubbing it will push the mess into the seat instead of lifting it out.

Sprinkle some baking soda

Shake some baking soda over the area to clean the surface and neutralize its odor. Baking soda is excellent at absorbing oils and grease so they don’t tarnish the fabric. Work the powder into the cloth in a circular motion with a toothbrush or even your finger. Then you can simply vacuum the soiled powder away.

Take further measures at home

Once you get home, you can use stronger cleaning supplies to wash what’s left of the mess. Most household carpet cleaners can also be effective at lifting dirt out of upholstery too. You can make your own liquid cleaning solution by combining water and white vinegar with a dash of dishwashing liquid. Scrub the stain with the cleaning solution, and then rinse the area with clean water. Afterward, blot the area dry with a towel.

Be prepared for next time

The best way to reduce the severity of a stain is by having materials on-hand to clean up a spill when it happens. Keep a bottle of water, a roll of paper towels, and a box of baking soda in the trunk for easy cleanup in the future. That way, you don’t have to panic if you aren’t near a facility with a restroom. Also consider applying a stain-repellent spray to the seats to increase its resistance to spills.

Everyone loves a cup-a-joe in the morning to improve their daily commute, but no one loves when a sudden stop sends this delicious drink all over the car. Luckily, following these steps will keep spills like those from tarnishing your seats — or your day.