The Ultimate Guide to Cleaning Vomit Out of a Car Seat

So here you are. You have found your way to this blog post due to the most unfortunate of momming duties. First, take a deep breath. Actually, stop! Don’t take a deep breath. I know the smells you’re smelling right now are taking you back to your first trimester with your adorable little puke monster. Maybe grab that Sonic peppermint from the bottom of your purse and breathe it in.

We’re going to get through this together.

The Scene of the Disaster

The holiday was Thanksgiving 2017. A four-hour road trip (because it’s always a holiday and a road trip, amirite?). My 20-month-old son, we’ll call him Ralph, woke up at 3:30am throwing up. Assuming it was a fluke, we decided turkey and stuffing was worth the risk and tossed his little self in the car seat. It was not a fluke.

12 episodes of vomiting later, we arrived at our destination, not so eager to stuff our faces with cranberry salad. 

The car seat? It was a war zone. I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say we had to uninstall it twice to dump its “contents” on the side of the road. The future looked bleak for Sir Car Seat. While my husband was prepared to light it on fire, I put my honorary doctorate from Google University to work.

After weeks of reading car seat manufacturer labels, consulting car seat technicians, and asking advice from experienced moms, I present to you: The Ultimate Guide to Cleaning Vomit Out of a Car Seat.

*A note before we get started. Your child’s car seat has one purpose: saving your child’s life in the event of an accident. This is not the time to cut corners. Don’t trust everything you read on a Facebook post full of “helpful comments.” You do not have to buy a new car seat every time your love bucket misses the bucket, but you do need to ensure you maintain the integrity of the car seat while cleaning it.

 Remove Cover (if possible)

All the praise hands for removable car seat covers.

Follow your manufacturer’s instructions for washing the cover. Seriously. Don’t go off book here. The cover is designed to work with the hard shell to protect your child in an accident. Improper washing can reduce its effectiveness. 

Wipe down the shell.

Baby wipes or water and mild soap work best for cleaning the hard shell. Use Q-tips or a toothbrush to get in the tiny crevices. Resist the urge to power wash the shell. Though it may make you feel better, baby wipes and water get it just as clean. 

The straps.

Gentle, gentle, gentle!

You probably figured out the cover and shell on your own, but the straps are the reason you went searching for advice. They were on the front lines and smell the worst. Your first inclination may be to remove them and throw them in the washing machine. DON’T. DON’T. DON’T. The straps are made of very sophisticated webbing designed to stretch ever so slightly but not break in an accident. The stretching reduces the amount of force transmitted to your child. If the straps are submerged in water, and especially if they are spun in a washing machine, they will be prematurely stretched and will not perform as designed in an accident. 

So what can you do? GENTLE soap and water. Dawn dish washing detergent or baby bath soap are the best options. Rub a little soap on a wash cloth with cool water and wipe, wipe, wipe. Let dry and repeat if needed. Try not to let the straps become dripping wet. 

No bleach. No vinegar. No carpet cleaner.

You may be tempted to use a more “proven” cleaner like bleach, vinegar, or pet cleaner. The chemical makeup of these types of cleaners, while safe for many other household surfaces, will weaken the webbing of car seat straps. Also file baking soda, essential oils, lemon, Febreze, and OxiClean in the DO NOT category. Remember, your car seat’s only purpose is to save your child’s life. Don’t do anything to weaken its ability to do that.

In the event of Vomitpocalypse, some companies will replace harness straps for free or a small charge.

Don’t let the straps touch the water.

The buckle will likely be full of “matter” as well. Turn it upside down in a glass of water, careful to not let the strap be submerged. Swish it around a few times then take it out to dry.

The sun is your friend.

The worst part of the whole ordeal is the lingering vomit smell even after you’ve done everything above twice. Behold, the powers of the sun. God’s natural bleach will erase all memory that this ever happened.

Prevention, prevention, prevention.

Okay, so you can’t prevent your kid from tossing his cookies in the car seat ever again, but you can make clean up easier on yourself in the future. Let me introduce you to The Vomit Kit. Put it in your car right next to your Emergency Preparedness Kit.

I guarantee you’ll need The Vomit Kit before you need that flare. 

  • Paper towels

  • Baby wipes

  • Hand towel

  • Garbage bag

  • Gallon-sized Ziplock

  • Change of clothes

  • Large cup (easier for a child to hold and aim than a bag)

  • Bib, preferably with a “catcher” at the bottom, for younger babies

  • Air freshener

Ralph the Destroyer.

Mama, you can do this. Take a moment or five to collect yourself. This disgusting rite of passage has earned you three gold mom stars. Roll up those sleeves and do hard things.

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