If you allow food in the car, and in most situations it's really hard not to, there will inevitably be a spill from time to time. The other day I had four kids in my car, and we needed them to eat their lunch on the way from one activity to another. It really wasn't an option, and I thought I was prepared and ok with it. Three kids pulled out typical "cold lunch" foods out of their lunchboxes - sandwich, cheese and lunchmeat snacks, etc - but the fourth pulled out a thermos of soup that she said she always packed in her lunchbox. And although I cringed and told her to "hold on to that cup and eat REALLY carefully", within ten minutes a little voice from the backseat piped up that she'd spilled the container.  As a parent, you know you are going to have to deal with spills. And I can't even just blame kids - I've spilled coffee, and had a gas can from the mower tip. Here are my tried and true tips for dealing with spills.


1.      Attack fast.

It just makes sense. The faster you get to the spill, the more you can contain the long term damage. When the soup spilled, I pulled over, grabbed my towels from the trunk, and got the worst of the mess OUT of the car. I obviously couldn't do a thorough cleaning on the side of the road, but soaking up the brunt of the mess as soon as you can will make the follow up easier. We used towels and wipes and got about ninety percent of that broccoli cheddar off before we kept driving.


2.      Blot, don't scrub.

It's really tempting to get in there and "really clean". But scrubbing can rub mess INTO the seats and carpet and cause staining. Scrape up any solids, soak up any puddles, and then go easy. Use a towel and blot carefully. Use a carpet or upholstery cleaner and get the rest of the mess up. Certain stains have certain tricks, so if a basic clean isn't working, do some research.


3.      Get to the root.

Once you are home and can attack the spill completely, don't procrastinate. Cover the surface with baking soda, which will absorb any remaining liquid and help neutralize any odors. Let this sit for as long as you can. When you've waited the maximum amount of time you can, use a good wet/dry commercial vacuum (like you find at the car wash or gas station) to get all that baking soda up. You may need to repeat this step a few times, especially if you don't have days to just let baking soda sit.


4.      Last resort, call a professional.

You don't necessarily have to pay for a full detailing. Most of the places I deal with are willing to work with you on a "stain specific" cleaning request. If you can't do it yourself, find someone who can, so you don't have to live with a stinky mess.