How to Remove Milk Stains and Sour Smells from Car Seats

There’s nothing worse than coming into your car, settling into the driver’s seat, and realizing that something smells rank. In fact, the smell of spoiled milk is one of the worst offenders in this situation. Even worse than the odor itself is the potential reaction passengers may have to it. So today, we’re going to learn how to remove milk stains and odor from car seats.

If you’ve just had a spill, I’m not judging — it happens to the best of us. We’ve all set groceries on the passenger seat only to knock them over during a sharp turn. Not only that, but I’ve personally knocked over my coffee more times than I’d like to admit. Besides, many people also spill their baby formula all over the cabin — you’re probably not surprised to learn that babies don’t have the firmest grips.

As you can imagine, what happens after the milk soaks into your car seats, between them and the carpet is less than pleasant. The milk will do what milk usually does — spoil. Once that happens, you can be sure that your car will start to smell atrocious. In fact, many people have such a strong aversion to this odor that they actually gag when they smell it.

Needless to say, whether you’re a professional driver or a casual car owner, you probably want to avoid having people tossing their cookies in your vehicle. So in the interest of not adding any more sour smells to the smell of spoiled milk, let’s see what we can do.

How to remove milk stains from car seats, carpets, or trunks.

6 Steps to Removing Milk Stains and Sour Odors from Car Seats

Before I get into it, I should say that we’re treating this as a recent mishap. However, even if your spill isn’t fresh, you shouldn’t worry. I’ll talk about several ways to target odors later on. But for now, here’s the first thing you can do if the spill just happened.

STEP 1: Get the Seat Covers Out

Most people will tell you to start cleaning spilled milk by soaking it up. However, if the milk only spilled on the seats, you may be in luck. If you have seat covers, as I’m hoping you do, you could get away with just removing and washing those.

In fact, if the covers are waterproof, you can pat them with a paper towel and wash them as soon as possible. It’s best not to test the waterproof claims by trying to push the liquid into the seats underneath the covers. Once you get the covers off, pop them into the washing machine. Or, rather, wash them by hand, depending on the manufacturer’s instructions.

While you’re at it, you may want to remove the carpets and the floor mats, if some of the milk got on them. Taking out the removable parts is the priority, as I’ve mentioned. When you remove all of the removable parts, you can check in with the parts you can’t take out as easily. On the other hand, if the spill is bigger, like if your kid turned over their whole sippy cup or a whole carton of milk opened up, you’re going to need some towels.

STEP 2: Soak Up the Milk

If you’re working with a puddle of milk that hasn’t dried yet, your main concern is going to be odor prevention. Essentially, if you can get it all out of the seats at this point, you won’t even have to worry about having spoilt milk in your car.

So for this step, you’ll need whatever absorbers you can get your hands on. Paper towels and rags should work just fine. It’s all about soaking up the puddle so we can get to work.

Once the puddle is gone, you can also cover the area with baking soda powder. That should lift the remaining milk and even soak up some of the smell as well. After an hour or two, you can vacuum the powder away and repeat the process a few times.

But if you want to wash the area, you’ll want to get to it while it’s still a bit damp. On the other hand, if you’re dealing with milk that’s already dry, you may need to take a more serious approach. So, first, let’s see what types of supplies you’ll need.

STEP 3: Gather Supplies

In my article on soaking up gasoline spills in cars, I put this step first. After all, gasoline usually dries down much more slowly than milk. However, if you’ve spilled milk over your seats, the list of supplies could be fairly similar to those I recommended in the gasoline article. So you can get:

  • A fabric cleaning solution (or even a steam cleaner)
  • A nylon brush and a sponge. Nylon brushes may cause pilling on fabric seats, so the sponge is a gentler alternative. Here is an article about the best upholstery brushes.
  • A spray bottle (if you end up mixing your own cleaning solution)
  • A microfiber towel (like one of these)
  • Coffee grounds, kitty litter, or other scent removers
  • A vacuum cleaner, if you go for the baking soda solution.
  • New car seat covers, if you’re planning on replacing your old ones.
  • A plastic tarp

I’ll explain all of the ways you can use each of these as we go. Additionally, I’ll have some product recommendations later in the article. But now that you’ve cleared away the removable parts of the seats and picked up the excess liquid, we can get right into cleaning and odor removal.

STEP 4: Wash the Seats

Washing the parts of your car that you can’t take out as easily can be challenging. However, it’s also a crucial step in removing milk stains from car seats.

I should add that you could, in fact, take out the seats and wash them outside of your car if you wanted to. But that’s really unnecessary, in my opinion. After all, there are plenty of ways to lift stains from car seats, even if they’re made of foam and fabric.

If there are no crumbs for you to vacuum, you can go at the seats with a cleaning solution. If you’re looking for a good commercial cleaner, the ones from Cif and New Solutionz are both safe to use in cars.

However, you can also improvise with laundry detergent, club soda, or even a mix of hot water, vinegar, and dish soap. You wouldn’t even need to use a lot of it, just a half a cup of vinegar and a few drops of dish soap into a half-gallon of hot water.

Another improvised and targeted approach might be to use a quarter cup of baking soda mixed into a cup of water. If you rub this solution into the stain with a toothbrush, you may be able to get even the most stubborn stains out.

The Cleaning Process

The rest is fairly straightforward. Spray four to five sprays of your cleaning liquid over the area, making sure not to soak through to the foam of the car seat. That may cause mold growth, so think about using a hair dryer if you overdo it.

Proceed to rub the area with a sponge or a brush, then wipe the suds off with the microfiber towel. Make sure not to rub too hard with nylon brushes as they can damage the fabric. Repeat as necessary.

Another thing you might use to get rid of the milk stains is a steaming kit. It can be very useful, whether you’re trying to clean up a fresh spill or deal with an old stain. Best of all, it’s pretty affordable, and it will be very helpful for future spills.

Enzyme-based cleaners have also proven to be excellent at removing both stains and odors. So you can also incorporate something like this product from Rocco & Roxie. You can let that sit on the stain for a day or two, then blot it dry.

STEP 5: Remove Spoiled Milk Odor

If more odors remain after you’ve thoroughly cleaned your seats, you can always try to use some scent removal products, like essential oil diffusers. Also, check out my article on getting the smell of gasoline out of the trunk. If it works on gasoline, it should work on milk.

Some of your options include coffee grounds or the baking soda technique I’ve already mentioned. You might also try commercial odor removers or something like this charcoal air purifier product from Moso Natural. The guy in this video swears by it.

STEP 6: Protect Your Seats from Future Spills

As I have mentioned before in this article, the best way to protect your car seats from further milk-related incidents is to get waterproof covers. If you don’t have any seat covers yet, I urge you to get ones that will protect your seats from liquids and sunlight. In fact, I’ve already mentioned one waterproof seat cover in my article on sun and heat protection.

On the other hand, if you don’t want to part ways with the covers you have now, you could just waterproof those. One way to do that is to slip a bit of plastic tarp under the covers. You can also get a waterproof car seat cover protector and put them underneath the seat cover. Either way, the next spill you have will only affect the seat cover and leave the foam seats intact.

More on Removing Milk Stains

Ultimately, cleaning up milk stains is no different than dealing with any other type of liquid mess. In fact, although the smell of spoiled milk is certainly disgusting, at least it’s not a health hazard, like the smell of gasoline.

As long as you keep in mind the surface you’re working on, you should be fine. Remember, car seats are incredibly absorbent on their own, so they will soak up all of that moisture if you don’t work fast. The damp environment would be a perfect breeding ground for mold, which would force you to get brand new seats.

So to avoid all of that additional trouble, you can simply waterproof your seats in advance. And, if you have some really stubborn stains, you’ll be able to get them out with steam.

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