How To Clean Food Spills from Car Upholstery

How To Clean Food Spills from Car Upholstery

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Whether you've got a leaky container or something spilled while you were making a sharp turn, spills are often part of the deal when you're transporting your Thanksgiving contribution. If you're lucky the item that spilled is something dry (like a basket of biscuits), but more likely we're talking about cranberry sauce or gravy, tricky spills that are hard to pull up and can permanently stain your upholstery if you don't act fast!

Here's how to clean Thanksgiving spills from car upholstery.

How To Clean Food Spills from Car Upholstery

What You Need

  • Paper towels
  • Leather pre-treater (optional)
  • Dish soap or upholstery cleaner
  • Water
  • Scrub brush
  • Microfiber cloth
  • Hair dryer (optional)


  1. Act fast and blot: Clean up your spill as soon as you're able to park so that it doesn't have time to set. Remove any larger pieces of food with your hands or paper towels, then use paper towels to blot up as much of the spill as you can, changing the paper towel as soon as the one you're using is saturated. Repeat until you've picked up as much of the food as possible.
  2. Make your cleaning solution: Make a 50/50 mixture of liquid dish soap and water, or use a dedicated upholstery cleaner for fabric or leather interiors (like Meguiar's D10101 Detailer All Purpose Cleaner). If you're cleaning leather upholstery, apply a pre-treater following manufacturer directions — this will make the leather more open to the cleaner.
  3. Scrub with a brush: Dip your scrub brush into the mixture, shake off excess, then scrub the cleanser into the stain. Try to avoid soaking the stain to avoid creating water marks.
  4. And a microfiber cloth: Once most of the stain is lifted, dip your clean microfiber cloth into clean water, squeeze out excess, and scrub the area to rinse off the cleanser. Repeat as necessary, doing a few light applications.
  5. Dry the area: Once the stain is gone, use a hair dryer to dry the spot, keeping it on a low setting and not too close to the upholstery to avoid scorching it.
  6. Check for water stains: If you accidentally create a water stain by over-saturating the area, consider scrubbing the whole seat to evenly saturate it and avoid an obvious water stain.
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