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How to Clean Spilled Milk in a Car Trunk

As the old expression goes, you shouldn’t cry over spilled milk—but you should clean it up as fast as possible. There are few lingering odors worse than that of sour milk. Knowing how to clean spilled milk in your car trunk is the only way to prevent it.

The good news is, you can clean up spilled milk (and other dairy products) with things you probably have around the house. Read on below for a step-by-step guide to eradicating this potentially pesky mess.

How to Clean Spilled Milk in a Car Trunk 101:

There are two big reasons milk spills are tricky to clean. First, it’s a liquid, meaning it’ll seep into upholstery and flow into cracks. No matter how carefully and quickly you clean the spill, it’s easy to miss a spot or two—at least, until it starts to smell a few days later.

The other obnoxious thing about milk is the fact that it spoils. Once it goes above 45°F, bacteria can breed in the milk. This bacteria converts the lactose contained in milk into the sugars galactose and glucose, producing lactic acid as a byproduct. The sour odor of spoiled milk is also a result of this chemical conversion.

There will usually be a few days’ grace period between the spill and when it will start to smell. The higher the temperature, the faster the bacteria can breed, and this accelerates the souring. This makes time more of the essence in hot climates, or in the summer in temperate areas.

What you’ll need

  • Clean, absorbent towels
  • Carpet cleaner
  • Vacuum
  • Distilled vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Spray bottle

Step 1: Blot up the spilled liquid.

The more of the milk you can get out when it first spills, the less likely it will be to smell later. Press clean, dry towels into the upholstery anywhere it feels damp. Press rather than scrubbing. If you scrub, it can push the milk deeper into the upholstery rather than removing it.

Step 2: Remove everything you can.

Take everything out of your trunk and check it for damp spots. If there were any blankets, clothing, or other soft items, wash them in a machine. For hard surfaces, wipe them first with a paper towel. Make a solution of 1 part vinegar to 3 parts water in a spray bottle. Shake to mix it, then spray the object and wipe it again. This will remove any lingering milk residue.

If there is a removable mat or carpet in your trunk, take that out and clean it. Mats and carpets without a rubber backing can be cleaned in the washing machine. If there is rubber, spray it with carpet cleaner>>> Check it on Amazon, then spray them off with a hose. Allow it to fully dry before putting it back.

Many trunks have compartments for storing the spare tire. Make sure you open this compartment and check if the milk has spilled down into it. If so, remove the spare tire and blot up any milk that accumulated under it.

Step 3: Spray upholstery with vinegar.

Distilled white vinegar contains compounds that help to break down milk enzymes, making it easier to remove them. Use the same 1:3 ratio of vinegar to water above—vinegar has a strong smell, too, and you don’t just want to replace one odor with another. Spray any upholstery you think the milk may have spilled on. Let it sit for 15-20 minutes then blot the area with a clean, damp towel.

Step 4: Apply baking soda.

baking soda for cleaning milk spill in car trunkBaking soda is an excellent natural choice for neutralizing odors. Shake baking soda directly onto the areas affected by the spill and let it sit for at least a few hours—overnight is even better if you have the time for it. Vacuum up the baking soda, then give the area a sniff test. If you still smell milk, repeat the cleaning process above.

Step 5: Air it out.

Leave your trunk open for a few hours until the upholstery is dry to the touch. It’s best to do this in a garage or other covered area, to avoid rain and other environmental concerns.

trunk after milk spill cleaning

What if the odor won’t leave?

Even if you’re careful, some of the spilled milk could escape your notice—and it doesn’t take much for it to smell pretty bad. See if you can pinpoint exactly where the odor is coming from. If you can’t, you may need to treat the entire trunk again.

For odor elimination, there are a few methods you can try:

  • Coffee grounds. The most convenient and inexpensive option for most people is to use coffee grounds. If you don’t drink coffee yourself, try a local café—they just throw their grounds away and will normally be happy to give you a couple filters’ worth. Coffee grounds both absorb odors and have a smell of their own, one most people find pleasant (or at least more pleasant than sour milk). You can either spread the coffee grounds directly on the smelly area or put the grounds in containers and position them around the trunk.
  • Enzyme sprays >>> Check it on Amazon. Enzyme cleaning sprays work similarly to vinegar, in that they break down the milk’s compounds and make it easier to get rid of. You can find enzyme sprays at the home improvement store. They can be safely used on most materials, though you shouldn’t spray them on leather or suede.
  • Steam cleaner. Steam cleaners use a combination of heat, shampoo, and moisture to loosen tough stains and odor-causing compounds. You can rent steam cleaners from many grocery stores and home improvement stores. While it’s the most expensive option, it will be very effective.

The bottom line

The faster you can clean up the milk, the less of a chance it’ll end up smelling. Sour milk odors can linger for a while, but there are several simple and affordable ways to remove them. Using the methods described here, you can be free of the stench in no time.

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