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Mom, Take Back Your Car!

How to get stains out of car seats, carpeting & upholstery
car wash

If you're like many parents, road trips and jaunts through the drive-thru have the inside of your minivan resembling the inside of a trash can. But you don't have to have your car professionally detailed -- or get rid of your kids -- to return the interior to order. Here are some tips for getting stains and odors out of your car.

Milk or Formula Stains from Spilled Sippy Cups and Bottles
It might feel like it's worth crying over spilled milk when said milk has made your car's upholstery look blotchy -- and added a funky smell to the inside of your car. Mary Findley, author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Cleaning" and founder of Mary Moppins, advises using an enzyme cleaner, which works by actually "eating" the spill and removing the stain. Alternately, you can try mixing one part white vinegar to four parts water. "Pour enough on the spot to thoroughly saturate it through to the padding," she advises. Vinegar will remove the milk but isn't as effective at vanquishing odor-causing bacteria as an enzyme cleaner would be, says Findley.

Mildew
All it takes is a window left cracked overnight in a rainstorm to give your car an unpleasant -- and possibly unhealthy -- moldy aroma. First, advises Findley, it's important to find the source of the dampness. Was it a one-time event, like a wet towel left in the backseat after a trip to the pool? Or is a leaky window or door letting moisture in constantly?

Either way, if there's remaining moisture, soak it up as best you can with a towel. Then sprinkle baking soda over the affected areas, leave overnight, and vacuum up the next day. If the smell remains, you may have to try an enzyme cleaner or commercial odor remover.

It's crucial to let the car dry out thoroughly. If you have access to an electrical outlet outside, you may want to leave your doors open and blow a fan or hairdryer at any damp spots in the interior. Let stinky floor mats dry in the yard -- sunlight kills mold and mildew.

Greasy Fast-Food Residue
Pour a small amount of cornstarch into the stain to absorb as much of the grease and oil as possible, advises Findley. Then pour some liquid dish soap on the tip of your finger and gently rub the spot until it is completely covered. "Don't overapply the soap, or it may be difficult to get out of the carpet or upholstery," warns Findley. Let the soap sit for at least 30 minutes, then rinse with a 50-50 solution of water and white vinegar, then again with plain water.

With oily stains, it's especially important to give your product time to work, which can be difficult on furniture since the liquids seep through, says Findley. If the dish soap doesn't work, she advises trying a bit of foaming shaving cream for at least 30 minutes, then rinse as described above. "The thickness of the shaving cream allows it to set on top the stain long enough to remove it," she says. Soon those French fry stains will be as forgotten as yesterday's diapers.

Soda, Sports Drinks, and Juice
According to Findley, if a drink is red, orange, or purple, it's made with red dyes and must be cleaned with the following instructions. Purchase a fresh bottle of hydrogen peroxide and mix 50-50 with water. Blot the mixture on the stain, wait 5 to 10 minutes, then rinse immediately with five parts water to one part distilled white vinegar.

Other sodas can be removed by first blotting, then rubbing in an enzyme cleaner or dish soap, waiting three or four minutes, and, finally, rinsing with a vinegar and water solution.

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