11 best ways to clean up vomit

We've all been there: the dog, the baby... an inebriated kidult has been sick in your home – not just in the loo but on a carpet or in a bed. Best ways to clean up vomit stains and smells quickly and effectively? Read on to find out

cleaning stains from a carpet
(Image credit: Getty)

No one wants to read about how to clean up vomit because that means that, well, you've got some vomit to clear up. Gross as it is, it's part of life, and inevitably happens at some point in all households, for one reason or another. The quicker you clean up the stain, the less likely it's to ruin your carpet/sofa/clothes. These are the easiest and quickest ways to clean up sick – and we speak from experience (sad but true). 

Find more unmissable cleaning tips, hacks and advice on our dedicated hub page.

5 best ways to pick up vomit without touching it

The most important thing to do, as quickly as possible is to pick the vomit up off the carpet or bed. Take from us, this is the worst part of the job, hence our hands-free suggestions below, in order of preference. 

More than anything, though, you want to avoid rubbing the vomit into the carpet, mattress, sofa, pillow... Doing so will push it down into the material's fibres, making it that much harder to remove.

And... if any of the vomit has dried, making it difficult to pick up, dampen it with sprayed-on cold water to loosen it before tackling it.

1. Use a kitchen spatula to scoop it

This is our preferred method because it puts some distance between you and the vomit. Slide the spatula under it and carefully flip it into a plastic bag. 

2. Use stiff card to pincer it

You've probably got some card or thin cardboard around (birthday cards, cereal boxes will do), and you can use two pieces to pinch the vomit up off the carpet and into a bag. The card needs to be stiff – you don't want to risk dropping it.

3. Use a dog poo bag to grab it

If you're used to picking up dog poo, it's likely you won't baulk as much as you might picking up vomit with a plastic bag. Put your hand into the bag, turn it inside out so that it's like a glove, then enclose it around the sick.

4. Use rubber gloves to pick up the vomit

Only doable if the sick isn't too runny (sorry). You'll probably want to put on rubber gloves anyway, whatever your pick up method.

5. Use kitchen roll to get hold of dry sick

Just this minute eaten puppy food – kitchen roll can work with this; anything wetter and you're better off with one of the methods above.

6 best ways to remove vomit stains

Picking up the sick is just the first part of the job – obviously the worst. Now you need to tackle the stain it will leave behind. Start by drying it out, then tackle the aftermath. Here, we tackle the stains by surface, because each materials will require a slightly different approach. 

1. Dry out the vomit stain

Whatever the surface, whether a carpet, mattress or upholstery, you need to start by drying out the vomit stain before you clean it. To do this, sprinkle baking powder or cornflour copiously over the stain and leave it for 10 to 15 minutes (you'll see it start to clump as it dries). Then vacuum it all up with the hose attachment.

2. Spray with hot water and blot

The first step of cleaning up the stain is simple: wet (but not soak) the stain with warm water sprayed on to the stain, then using a clean, dry cloth (kitchen roll will do), blot thoroughly.

3. Removing vomit stains from carpet

There are a few routes you can take here. All work well – speed is the most important factor, so use what's in your kitchen cupboard rather than putting it off until later. 

Pour soda water on to the stain, blotting it up again with kitchen roll; repeat until the stain disappears. You can use this method effectively with red wine stains, too.

Spray white vinegar diluted with an equal part of water on to the stain; let it soak in for 15 minutes, then blot with kitchen roll until dry. Repeat until the stain disappears. If this doesn't work, you can try spraying on a solution of two parts water with one part white vinegar, then placing a damp white cloth over the stain (an old tea towel will do), then ironing over the spot with your iron on the steam setting to transfer the stain.

Mix washing up liquid – one tablespoon – with one tablespoon of white vinegar and two cups of warm water. Sponge the stain with it, then blot thoroughly.

Apply a carpet stain remover – if you have a dog or a baby, it's likely you've got one of these on hand anyway. Don't miss our pick of the best carpet cleaning products.

Use a carpet cleaning machine – a good option for really stubborn stains. See our pick of the best carpet cleaning machines around.

Does your carpet need a general clean? Don't miss our carpet cleaning tips.

4. Removing vomit stains from a mattress or upholstery

Got a baby in the family? Or a toddler with a tummy upset? You can clean their mattresses pretty quickly. Once you've picked up the vomit (see above), start blotting up any liquid. Then mix equal amounts of water and white vinegar in a spray bottle, wet the stain then blot. Repeat until the stain disappears.

You might want to patch test this method on a prized velvet sofa, for example. If in doubt, call in a professional cleaner.

Want to freshen your mattress anyway? Use our mattress cleaning tips for easy ways.

5. Removing vomit stains from fabrics

Cushions, curtains and – of course – baby clothes tend to get stained, especially when you have a little one. The simplest method? Once you've scraped off excess vomit, pretreat the stain with a pre-wash stain remover, allow it to work its magic for at least half an hour, then put on the hottest wash the fabric allows. 

6. Use salt to remove vomit stains

If you've got nothing else handy – and speed is of essence to prevent the vomit stain from embedding itself into your carpet or upholstery – make a saline solution with equal parts of salt and warm (not hot) water. Pour over the stain and start blotting, then removing with a cloth or sponge. A microfibre cloth will pick up more of the stain quicker – we swear by e-cloths (which can be put in the washing machine afterwards).

Best ways to get rid of the smell of sick

Getting rid of the lingering smell of vomit is the final (phew!) step in making your home feel like, well, home again. Many of the methods above might well have done the job for you already – but if, for example, you're cleaning up a bathroom after a rowdy teen party, you might need a little extra help.

Baking powder is our favourite method: it's something many of us usually have in the cupboard and it neutralises the smell of sick rather than just covering it up. Plus it works on everything from mattresses (including memory foam ones that tend to linger in the foam) to carpets. Simply sprinkle it liberally around the area affected, leave for an hour or so, then vacuum up. You can use this to generally freshen mattresses, sofas, rugs, upholstery and carpets, too.

Vinegar, mixed in equal parts with water, and sprayed on to the offending area will lessen the scent. However, if you don't like the smell of vinegar anyway, you'll be adding to the problem temporarily until the aroma of both dispel. Either way, we'd recommend you open the windows to air the room at the same time. 

Room sprays that neutralise nasty smells are better than plain old air fresheners that just cover the smell with their own sickeningly sweet scent. Find our pick of the best of both neutralising and freshening sprays.


More tips and advice:

Lucy Searle

Lucy is Global Editor-in-Chief of Homes & Gardens having worked on numerous interiors and property titles. She was founding Editor of Channel 4’s 4Homes magazine, was Associate Editor at Ideal Home, before becoming Editor-in-Chief of Realhomes.com in 2018 then moving to Homes & Gardens in 2021. She has also written for Huffington Post, AOL, UKTV, MSN, House Beautiful, Good Homes, and many women’s titles. Find her writing about everything from buying and selling property, self build, DIY, design and consumer issues to gardening.