(Literally) Crying Over Spilled Milk...
August 17, 2017 11:14 AM   Subscribe

In the past two weeks, two drinks with large amounts of milk have been spilled in my car. It's past my personal DIY comfort level to clean, but I'm getting conflicting recommendations from the professionals. More details inside!

Car is a 2008 Honda Civic with cloth seats. Last week, my partner spilled his latte in the front passenger seat floor area. It mostly hit the mat, but some soaked in underneath as well. He's washed the mat twice and used a recommended cleaning product on the mat and floor. That mostly took the smell away, but it's still detectable.

Yesterday, I spilled an entire 16oz iced chai latte smack dab on the drivers seat. I dabbed as much of it as I could, then left my windows open so it could dry, but it got pretty deep into the seat. It smells a lot like milk and chai syrup.

Diagram of Affected Zones

The Options:
Cleaner A says it'll be $150 to deep clean (possibly steam clean, but most likely chemical?) the seat and detail the front. However, he is concerned that a deep clean would make the stain spread more. His other option was to reupholster the seat, but that would cost more.

Cleaner B quoted $65 to clean the entire interior of the car with shampoo and carpet cleaner. FWIW, he had a positive Yelp review about his ability to remove large amounts of red Kool-Aid from a car interior.

The Dilemma:
Obviously, I'd rather not spend unspecified amounts of money to reupholster my car seat, but I absolutely will if necessary. I'm looking for advice on the type of cleaning (effectiveness of shampoo on removing odors, etc.) and recommendations on which avenue to pursue. I am not interested in doing it myself.
posted by bonifate to Travel & Transportation (6 answers total)
Don't use B, you need to get into the foam. Cleaner A's price is in the "full detail" category, but I'm guessing they use an extractor (water-spraying vacuum, kinda like a steam cleaner), which is what you want for something like this. The thing is, carseat foam is not actually very thick, and unless you have electric seats, there's probably not much underneath the seatpan but springs with a layer of foam over them. So, an extractor should be fine to get all the smells out. Call B back and ask them if they use one, or have one. If you aren't doing the whole car, just extracting the front seats and floor, their $65 is more in line with what I'd expect, even if the (non-electric) seats have to be removed. Electric seats complicate things ($) a little for removal, but I doubt they have thicker foam.
posted by rhizome at 11:35 AM on August 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yes, deep clean.
as soon as you can.
I would want the milk and any sweet syrups out of that foam as soon as possible.

this happened in my car with a full 20 oz of mocha--i took it to the closest car wash and paid them to deep clean the seat. i did that immediately, hoping that would help to get it clean of mocha smell and stains. It worked!

p.s. they did not have to remove the seat.
posted by calgirl at 12:03 PM on August 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

We left our too long and had to cut some chunks out of the foam. It worked though.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 12:04 PM on August 17, 2017

2008 Honda? You might be able to get a replacement seat from a salvage yard, def worth pricing it. It's really hard to get milk smells out of upholstery. If you have a shop vac that will suck water, you could shampoo, vac, repeat.
posted by theora55 at 12:53 PM on August 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

While you're deciding, pour a bottle of rubbing alcohol on the seat and carpet. Rubbing alcohol will kill the bugs that create the rotting smell and it also evaporates. I've saved lots of upholstery and carpet with this method. And, from things far worse than milk (vomit and poop). Leave the windows cracked so that the alcohol can evaporate out of the car.
posted by quince at 3:32 PM on August 17, 2017 [3 favorites]

I ended up biting the bullet and paying for Cleaner A, which seemed to have worked out pretty well--no more milk or coffee smells, although a faint chemical odor remains. An expensive lesson learned.
posted by bonifate at 8:49 AM on September 17, 2017

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