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How to Clean Vomit from Carpet

A man sitting on the couch suffering from nausea.

In college, a feisty professor once dared me to write an essay on 20 different ways to say “vomit.” Never mind how this conversation originated, but as an English major, I could not resist the challenge. Thus, one of my greatest literary primarypieces was born.

Whether you call it throw up, barf, retching, puke, or calling Ralph on the porcelain phone, vomit is still a nasty, smelly mess when it gets on your carpet.

Unfortunately, if you have a pet or a child, it’s likely that at some point you will be faced with the unfortunate task of cleaning vomit from your carpet.

There’s never a convenient time when it comes to cleaning vomit, and response time is key to ensuring this mess is dealt with effectively so as to not leave a blotchy, smelly stain in the middle of your favorite rug.

Fortunately, with a little effort and some quick action, most vomit stains can become a distant, though unpleasant, memory.

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Before getting started, you’ll want to take a few precautions, as vomit can contain bacteria and viruses that you will want to protect yourself from.

It’s a good idea to wear latex or rubber gloves when working with vomit. You may even want to wear a mask, as this can help protect against the spread of disease, as well as help to lessen the impact of vomit’s rancid odor.

Once you’ve taken the proper precautions, it’s time to get started with the unpleasant task of tackling the vomit.

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Scoop it up

A steel spatula with a rubber handle.

The first step, and perhaps the most unpleasant step, to removing vomit from your carpet is to scoop up as much of the liquid as possible before attempting to apply any treatment to soak up the liquid or treat the stain.

The more of the vomit you can remove manually, the less of it will soak into your carpet fibers and put your carpet at risk of stain.

To most effectively scoop or scrape up the vomit, use a blunt, flat object. This can prove useful in collecting the vomit, but it’s also a good way to avoid damaging your carpet.

Avoid using a sharp object like a knife, as this can damage your carpet.

A spatula, a dust pan, a (dull) paint scraper, a side of a box, or even a butter knife could all work well to scoop up vomit from carpet.

A hand with a plastic bag picking up the cat's vomit off the carpet.

When I was a kid and my dog would vomit, I would place a plastic bag over my hand to scoop up the vomit. This was a rather disgusting option, though, as I could feel the vomit even if I wasn’t directly touching it. So if you can find another option to scrape, you may find that slightly more pleasant.

As you scoop, dispose of the collected vomit in a plastic bag or trash can. Just make sure the product you are disposing the vomit into does not have holes, as the vomit could leak elsewhere onto your carpet.

As you perform this method, take care not to spread the vomit or rub it deeper into the carpet. This can cause your stain to spread or worsen.

If you encounter dried vomit, this can be a more difficult stain to remove, as it has now had longer to set into your carpet. Approach the stain in the same way you would a fresh, liquid vomit stain, using a scraping tool to remove as much of the chunks as possible, leaving only the stain remaining on the carpet.

Once you select a treatment method from those discussed below, you will re-hydrate the stain, making it easier to treat.

Absorb it

A close look at a jar of baking soda with a spoon.

After you have scooped or scraped away as much of the liquid as possible, it’s time to start attacking the remainder, which by now has been absorbed into the fibers of your carpet.

The first step when it comes to lifting a vomit stain is to absorb as much of that liquid as possible from the carpet itself before attempting to apply a stain treatment directly to the spot.

This is also a way to not just absorb the liquid of the vomit, but it can also help to neutralize and absorb some of the odor that comes along with a vomit stain that may not be as much of a concern with some other types of stains.

To absorb the liquid, start by using a powdered substance, such as baking soda. You can also use cornstarch or even salt, as these both work well for absorption, but baking soda is ideal, as it not only has great absorption properties, but it also helps to neutralize odors quite well.

Pour the baking soda liberally over the stain affected area, leaving it to sit for at least 15 minutes so it has time to begin absorbing the liquid. Some may prefer to leave the baking soda setting for longer, giving it more time to absorb the liquid and neutralize odors. You could leave it overnight.

As it absorbs the liquid, the baking soda will become chunky and, eventually, begin to dry.

Once the baking soda has dried, this is a good indication that it has absorbed as much of the liquid as possible.

You can then take your vacuum cleaner and, using a suction attachment, suck away the remaining baking soda in your carpet.

Avoid using a paper towel or other cloth product to wipe up the baking soda, as it is likely that in doing so you will break up the chunks and spread the area of the stain, causing the vomit-filled powder to become embedded into a greater area of your carpet.

After you have sufficiently vacuumed the baking soda from your carpet, you may find it useful to place a paper towel on top of the stain and gently blot it into the spot to see if any additional liquid remains.

If so, you may opt to repeat the baking soda step again.

Alternatively, you can begin treating the stain through the application of a stain removal product. A number of DIY home solutions, as well as commercial options exist, when it comes to effectively removing vomit from carpet.

You can get started with the options discussed below.

Dish Detergent

A bottle of dish detergent beside a yellow sponge and a stack of plates.

One of the easiest, and most effective, options for stain removal is to simply use dish detergent. This is a convenient option, as most of us will have this on hand at home.

Dish detergent is designed for tackling grease stains, so it’s stain-fighting powers are ready to take on even the most challenging of vomit stains.

You may prefer to use a clear liquid detergent, rather than a colored variety, as these can have dyes that may stain your carpet. If you’re unsure, test a small, non-visible area of carpet before using on the area of the stain.

You want to avoid using a dish detergent that contains bleach, as this can not only damage your carpet, but it also may react dangerously with other products, like ammonia, that you may choose to use on your carpet, as well.

Mix one tablespoon of liquid dish detergent with two cups of warm water. You can pour into a spray bottle or use a paper towel to dip into the mixture and lightly apply to the stain.

Avoid using hot water on any stain, as this can actually cause the fibers in your carpet to open up and absorb even more of a stain.

Once you have applied the liquid, allow it to set for several minutes for the product to begin to go to work lifting and lightening the stain.

Then, after it has set, take a clean, soft cloth, paper towel, or sponge, and begin blotting the stain gently.

Be careful not to rub or scrub the stain, as this can cause the stain to become more deeply embedded into your carpet.

When it comes to using dish soap, as well, scrubbing can cause a sudsy mess, which you want to avoid, as this can be difficult to rinse from your carpet.

Continue this process until the stain is removed, applying more of the mixture as needed.

White Vinegar

A bottle of vinegar beside cleaning materials.

Another option for tackling a vomit stain is the use of white vinegar. This is a great option for those looking to avoid exposing their household or their carpet to harsh chemicals.

It works well to lift and lighten stains, and although it has a pungent odor itself, it can work well when used with baking soda to neutralize odors, too.

Using a spray bottle, combine ¼ cup of white vinegar with ¼ cup of warm water. Repeat the application process detailed above under “Dish Detergent” to apply the product and blot the stain.

You could also use a mixture of one part vinegar and three parts water.

Another option for applying vinegar to your vomit stain is to use a heat press to improve its effectiveness.

You could use either of the above suggested compositions of vinegar and water, or you can mix one part vinegar with two parts water and apply to the area of the stain.

Then, take a damp cloth or towel and lay over the stain.

You will then use your clothing iron on the “steam” setting and gently press it onto the cloth, gently moving it back and forth and allowing to set for up to 30 seconds, repeating as necessary until the stain is removed.

This allows the stain to transfer from the carpet to the towel.

Just remember – don’t set the iron directly onto the stain! Always use a towel or cloth in between, as this could cause damage to your carpet and may potentially pose a fire hazard.

Rubbing Alcohol

A woman pouring rubbing alcohol onto her hand.

The use of isopropyl alcohol, or rubbing alcohol, on carpet is controversial, but it can be effective.

You have to be careful with rubbing alcohol on your carpet, though, as it can absorb too deeply into your carpet and ruin the latex adhesive connecting your carpet to the floor.

So, if you do choose to go this route, use a small amount and be sure to clean it immediately and thoroughly.

It can be effective at lifting and lightening stains, so some will option for this method despite the risks.

Try testing a small, non-visible area of your carpet first before applying to the larger, visible area affected by the stain to ensure it will not cause damage.

Take a small dab of rubbing alcohol and apply to the end of a soft cloth or paper towel. Gently blot at the stain and apply additional product if necessary.

Be careful not to press down into the carpet as you blot.

When you are finished treating the stain, use a soft towel with cold water to blot at the area to ensure all of the rubbing alcohol is quickly absorbed, leaving none remaining in the carpet.

Club Soda

If your vomit stain is milder in nature, one potential option for absorbing and lifting your stain is the use of club soda. You can pour a small amount of club soda directly onto the stain, allowing it to set for several minutes, absorbing the stain.

For milder stains, this may work quite well.

Using a damp cloth, blot at the area of the stain until the area is clean and the stain has been removed.

You will want to make sure that you use plain, unflavored club soda for this process, however. Flavored options include sweeteners, which not only may cause additional staining to your carpet, but can also leave the area sticky and collect dirt, leading to more stains.

Commercial Carpet Cleaners

Enzymatic carpet cleaners work to break down tough stains and bacteria and are growing in popularity for use on pet stains in particular.

In this case, an enzymatic commercial carpet cleaner may work well for battling a vomit stain, too – whether left by pet or human.

Rocco & Roxie Supply Professional Strength Stain and Odor Eliminator, Enzyme-Powered Pet Odor and Stain Remover for Dogs and Cat Urine, Spot Carpet Cleaner for Small Animal, 32 oz.

One option that may work well is Rocco & Roxie Professional Strength Stain & Odor Eliminator, which is developed specifically for use on tough pet stains, like urine and vomit.

Because it’s important to address a vomit stain as soon as possible once it occurs or once you discover it, you may want to avoid this option, or try other DIY methods first, if you do not have a commercial carpet cleaner on hand at home, as you will lose valuable time making a trip to the store or by ordering your product online.

These can be great cleaners, though, to purchase and have on hand at home so that you will be prepared the next time a vomit, or any other stain, occurs.

Finishing Touches

Regardless of which of the above methods you elect to use, it’s important to clean up well following the application of any stain treatment.

Leaving any of these products in your carpet can pose a number of risks, including the collection of dirt or bleaching of your carpet, to name just a few.

So be sure to use a damp rag with cold water to gently blot at the treated area until all product has been removed.

Then, take a clean, dry cloth or paper towel and blot at the moist area, working to absorb as much of the remaining liquid as possible.

Failing to dry your carpet thoroughly will not only leave it looking ragged, but it can also create an environment where mold or mildew may grow. Using a wet-dry vacuum or a fan on the area may help it to dry more thoroughly.

In the case of vomit, the smell can be a continued challenge, and you may find it useful to use an odor neutralizing treatment on your carpet even once the stain has been removed. Baking soda is a good natural option, though you could elect a commercial carpet deodorizer, too.

Once the area is dry, run over it with a vacuum to smooth and fluff your carpet, leaving it looking as good as new.

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