Fabric Fouls: Tips to Tackle the Top 5 Auto Stains

Whoops! Everybody knows it’s not a road trip until there’s a spill. Whether it’s a soda, lipstick, lunch, or coffee—sometimes stains happen! Knowing the best way to deal with them using natural products and without harming your car’s interior will help keep your family ride shipshape. Ask Patty is here to share with you some great tips for dealing with unexpected stains quickly and easily so you can get back on the road squeaky clean.

The Classic Soda Explosion. Soda, coffee and other liquids are the most common culprit for stains on carpeted interiors. Thankfully, they’re also among the easiest to deal with, provided you don’t give them time to set in. For general stains on carpet and cloth upholstery, mix 3 quarts hot water, 1 cup vinegar and 2 teaspoons of a gentle soap. Dab up the excess and then use the mixture to get at that stain.

The Old Leaky Pen. Rule number one for dealing with ink stains: don’t rub! Rubbing will smear the ink and make the stain worse. Using a soft cloth, gently dab and blot the excess ink. Now here’s the fun part: Spray a little hairspray on the stain and let it soak. Yes, hairspray! Once it sits for a few minutes, wipe up with a dry towel. Repeat as needed but don’t overdo it—use fresh towels each time to keep from spreading the stain more. Alternatively, rubbing alcohol will also work.

The Caked-on Crayon. This is the one moms usually don’t discover until it’s far too late: crushed, melted, ground-in crayon. Fortunately, there is a plan of attack for even this stubborn stain. First, use a dull edge, like the backside of a knife or a spoon, to get the excess crayon up. This time, spray the stain with—guess what? WD-40! Seems like a strange choice, but WD-40 will cut right through crayon. Let it sit for a bit, and then, using a small, stiff brush (a toothbrush will probably do), work on the crayon stain and then wipe the area with paper towels. Repeat until the stain’s gone. Now, if this happens in a fibrous area like the floor carpet or anywhere that isn’t flat fabric, you’ll probably want to utilize a little dish soap as well.

Oh, So That’s Where That Lipstick Went. Much like crayons, lipstick stains are the ones that you don’t discover until it’s too late. It’s already deep in there, sometimes in your clothes, too. You’ll have to consult your dry cleaner about those trousers, but for the seat, I can help with another unexpected cleaner: toothpaste. Rub with a white, non-gel toothpaste and that lipstick stain should come right up.

All Clean Now, But What’s That Smell?! Ah, the phantom foul odor. All of our cars get them from time to time—the telltale sign of a forgotten food item stuffed out of sight. Finding the culprit and cleaning up is one thing—getting rid of that smell is another entirely. Products with peroxide and detergents can restore the interior and take care of the smell, but if you prefer the more natural approach, my personal favorite is baking soda. Sprinkle liberally on the offending spot (or you can make a sachet, if you want—a sock will do!) and just leave it there. In 12 to 24 hours, baking soda will take care of most odors. If you sprinkled, you can simply vacuum it up—if you went with a box or sachet, just place it anywhere else you need odor control.

Now, all of these tips, of course, are for those of us with fabric and carpeted interiors. If you have vinyl and leather, you’ll have to do some experimentation. Toothpaste will usually work on leather stains, and you can try alcohol for the tougher ones, but try these methods individually on a spot that isn’t easily seen first, to ensure they don’t react with the dyes. For general maintenance and cleaning, a gentle leather soap and warm water is usually your best bet for natural leathers.

Guest blogger Jody DeVere is the CEO of Inc, a website, blog and marketing agency providing automotive education to female consumers.