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How to Get an Awful Vomit Smell Out of the Carpet

Boy cleaning rug with sick father on couch.

Carpet stains are everyday facts of life in a busy household, especially with children and pets running around. At some point, many of us accept the random odd mark on the rug to avoid wasting time on a losing battle. When it takes more than a few tries to remove it, it’s sometimes easier to cover the stain with an end table and get to it when you have more time, if at all.

For many random carpet spills and marks, if it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind. But when you’re dealing with vomit stains, you’ve got more to manage than unsightly blemishes on the floor. 

Whether you can see it or not, the stench of a vomit stain is enough to make anyone queasy as soon as they walk into the room. There’s no covering it up or putting it off until later. If a person or pet got sick in the living room, we’ll show you how to get the vomit smell out of your carpet today.

Why Does Vomit Smell So Bad?

Vomit contains a slurry of digested foods alongside the various gastric acids that break it down. Against a fresh carpet, it’s a corrosive cocktail for aggressive, fast-setting, and smelly stains. Any hydrochloric acid and bile in the vomit will discolor and wear the carpet fibers. They’ll also create a powerful off-putting aroma when they come up with dissolved food chunks.

Ever wonder why vomit smells like cheese? That’s the butyric acid in the mix. Beneficial bacteria in your gut digest dietary fiber to produce butyric acid, a short-chain fatty acid full of health benefits. While most of the butyric acid in your diet comes from your stomach, certain foods also contain it, including butter, parmesan cheese, and vegetable oils. As a result, you’ll notice that the vomit smell will be similar to sour dairy.

Cleaning Fresh Vomit Out of the Carpet

From pet pee on the carpet to spilled wine on the sofa, the first rule for cleaning stains on any absorbent area is to soak it up as quickly as possible. Vomit is typically torrential and voluminous, often sinking through the carpet material, penetrating the fibers and the foam underlayment.

The gastric acids in vomit are relatively weak and won’t cause immediate damage to carpeting. But over time, they can degrade and discolor the fibers. Removing the stain and the vomit odors will become challenging at best and downright impossible at worst, requiring you to replace the carpet in some cases. 

Fortunately, a permanent stain and irremovable vomit odor are often more the exception than the norm. You shouldn’t have any issues cleaning vomit from the carpet with a few effective DIY solutions and a couple of heavy-duty cleaners. Follow these tips to clean the stain and remove vomit smell from carpet and rugs in your home.

1. Safety First

  • Rubber gloves
  • Face mask

We can view vomit as a biohazard, like blood and excrement. Taking more precautions than you would for everyday food or drink spills is crucial to protect your health. When someone throws up on the carpet, they may have a contagious condition like viral gastroenteritis, a common stomach bug. 

Without proper equipment, you could needlessly expose yourself to pathogens like norovirus or rotavirus and wind up sick in bed for the better part of the work week. Be sure to wear rubber gloves, and use a sturdy plastic bag to hold the vomit and dirty towels as you clean. Prepare to clean and disinfect or dispose of your cleaning tools immediately following the cleaning session.

The smell of vomit may make you nauseous, especially as you get up close and personal with it while you clean. Toss on a face mask before cleaning, or apply a pleasant-scented distraction under your nostrils. A touch of Vicks VapoRub, scented lotion, or even toothpaste above the upper lip can make the cleaning process far more bearable.

2. Clean Vomit Out of the Carpet Immediately

  • Soft scraper (plastic scraper, rubber spatula, stiff cardboard)
  • Undamaged plastic bag 

Reacting quickly to fresh vomit in the carpet is critical whether or not you can apply a full-blown fix. At the bare minimum, you should scoop and sop up most of it to minimize the damage until you can clean it thoroughly.

Grab a delicate scraper to lift as much viscous vomit liquid as possible. Use a plastic scraper, rubber spatula, dustpan, a stiff piece of cardboard, or anything else that won’t damage the carpet. Have a plastic bag on hand to hold the scooped goop as you work.

Scrape up the vomit, moving it from the edge of the stain toward the center to prevent it from spreading. After removing as much vomit as possible, use a dry cloth or paper towel to blot up extra moisture. Do not rub the stain, as you could spread it around the carpet and force it deeper into the lower layers. Disinfect your scraping equipment with a spray cleaner or by setting them in boiling water for at least five minutes.

3. Sprinkle Baking Soda

Tools: Baking soda

After scraping and blotting up most of the vomit stain, apply baking soda to the affected area. Baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, is a mild alkaline material. When acidic odors interact with it, their pH comes closer to neutral, taking away the smell. Remember how dairy products contain butyric acid? They’re only a few of the countless foods that emit acidic odors when they spoil, which is why baking soda is such a popular odor remover in the fridge.

On the carpet, baking soda can eliminate a vomit smell by neutralizing low-pH hydrochloric acid and butyric acid. Sprinkle enough baking soda to cover the stain. Leave it for at least 15 minutes, or let it sit overnight if the mess is particularly large. When the time is up, vacuum the baking soda to reveal a freshened carpet.

Putting down an absorbent powder like baking soda is essential if you can’t tend to the stain immediately. If you don’t have time to use a DIY or commercial cleaner, spreading baking soda will absorb most of the liquid and give you a better shot at removing the stain later. And if you don’t have any of this versatile cleaner available, there are plenty of stand-ins that will get the job done.

Cornstarch and kitty litter are fantastic alternatives to baking soda when you need an effective moisture absorber and carpet deodorizer. Spread them over vomit stains in the carpet as you would with baking soda, and let them rest for a similar period before pulling out the vacuum cleaner.

4. Clean the Vomit Stain with a Vinegar Solution

  • Spray bottle
  • Stiff brush
  • Paper towels or sponge
  • White vinegar
  • Water

After hitting the stain with baking soda, it’s time to pull out a spray cleaner for any leftover vomit. There are several DIY and commercial carpet deodorizers to try, but distilled white vinegar is one of the best places to start. 

The acetic acid in the vinegar will reduce odor-causing bacteria while breaking down the vomit stain itself, preventing the vomit smell from returning. With a little extra help from dish soap or laundry detergent, you’ll have an even more powerful vinegar solution. 

Follow these steps to clean vomit out of the carpet with a vinegar and water solution:

  1. Mix water and white vinegar in a 1:1 ratio in a spray bottle
  2. Add a few drops of dish soap or laundry detergent if desired
  3. Agitate the bottle to mix the ingredients
  4. Spot-test the cleaner in an inconspicuous area to ensure it doesn’t discolor the carpet material
  5. Spray the vomit with a liberal amount of vinegar solution, and let it sit for about 15 minutes
  6. Use a stiff brush to gently pick up loosed food particles from the carpet, working from the edge toward the center
  7. Dampen a paper towel or sponge with cold water and blot the stain
  8. Let the area air dry

Vinegar is an excellent follow-up to the baking soda treatment because they react to create CO2, water, and sodium acetate, a salt. As the baking soda dissolves, the rising CO2 that creates the fizz will loosen dirt particles, making them easier to clean. The reaction shouldn’t be intense if you thoroughly vacuumed, but it’s an easy way to pick up any baking soda you missed without leaving anything behind. 

5. Use an Enzyme Cleaner

  • Enzyme-based cleaner
  • Clean cloth or sponge

If your vinegar solution isn’t doing the trick, you might have to pull out a targeted fix — an enzyme cleaner. An enzymatic or bio-enzymatic cleaner uses enzymes and bacteria to break down stain particles, converting them into water and CO2.

The enzyme cleaner you might use for pet messes is often the best choice for cleaning vomit in absorbent materials. These solutions break down vomit, blood, urine, and feces to manage stains on mattresses, furniture, and carpets.

You can purchase a spray bottle of enzyme cleaner online or in most grocery stores. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the appropriate application. Check the safety directions before using, as you may need to wait some time after cleaning before allowing people or pets in the area.

6. Air Out the Room

After removing the stains, air dry the area and remove any lingering smell by opening the windows and letting in the sunshine. The bright sunlight has deodorizing powers of its own, and opening windows will create airflow. You can also turn on a fan to help move the odor and air dry the carpet faster. When the area is dry, finish up by running the vacuum cleaner over it.

Alternatives to Clean and Deodorize Vomit Stains

You still have a few more carpet cleaning tricks to try if you don’t have any white vinegar or don’t enjoy the smell. Always spot-test any new carpet cleaning solution in an out-of-the-way section before using it on the stain.

Remember that you should use most alternatives in place of vinegar rather than with it. Vinegar can react negatively with many materials, rendering them useless as cleaners or creating dangerous new substances. Vinegar and hydrogen peroxide, for instance, can create peracetic acid, a corrosive substance that can irritate the face, throat, and lungs.

Hydrogen Peroxide

A mild bleaching agent, hydrogen peroxide works like Oxiclean to oxidize odors. Add it to a spray bottle with water and a couple of drops of dish liquid, and apply it to the carpet after spot-testing for color-fastness. Let the cleaner sit for 30–60 minutes and blot with a dry cloth. Rinse the area with cold water to remove any remaining soap residue.

Club Soda

Club soda is an easy-to-use cleaner that makes a convenient odor remover and stain lifter for light vomit stains. As carbonated water, it doesn’t need special cleanup after use, and you can apply it directly to most carpet materials without fear of staining them. Put club soda in a spray bottle or pour it on the stain. Blot the stain with a clean cloth or dish towel, sopping up excess moisture until the stain is gone.

Rubbing Alcohol or Vodka

Alcohol is a practical solution for cleaning vomit because it sanitizes, cleans, and deodorizes. Apply rubbing alcohol or clear vodka to a clean cloth or paper towel, and blot the stain. The smell may not be pleasant, but alcohol has the added benefit of being quick to evaporate, meaning you won’t have to deal with the smell of the alcohol or the vomit for long.

How to Clean Dried Vomit From the Carpet

If you somehow miss a stain in a rarely used room, you’ll have to contend with dried vomit on the carpet. A minor spot from a pet accident won’t be impossible to clean. Sizeable amounts of vomit can sink through to the underlayment and potentially the subfloor, which could force you to replace that section of carpet.

Start cleaning the vomit by dampening the stain with warm water. Use a scraper, stiff brush, and paper towel to clean vomit chunks out of the fibers. If the wet vomit starts to stink again, put baking soda down to absorb the moisture and the odor. After letting the baking soda sit, vacuum it and proceed with a DIY or commercial carpet cleaner to handle the rest of the stain.

Carpet Cleaning Machine

A carpet cleaner may be the best bet for heavy-duty dried vomit on the carpet when a more convenient DIY solution doesn’t take care of it. Featuring the three-way action of a cleaning solution, agitating brush head, and powerful suction, a carpet cleaning machine will dig deep to pull out tough stains.

You can usually rent a carpet cleaner at grocery stores and home improvement centers. Choose an appropriate enzyme cleaner for the stain. After that, add some tap water to the reservoir, and you’ll be able to scrub the stain out in minutes.

Can You Steam Clean Vomit Out of Carpet?

Steam cleaners are typically the last resort for cleaning and deodorizing vomit in the carpet, but they could be handy if any odor remains after a long battle with a stain. High heat and water sanitize the carpet, killing odor-causing germs. The rising steam, meanwhile, helps to loosen and lift stubborn dirt particles in the fibers.

Steam’s power is helpful in numerous cleaning situations, but heat can cause issues with vomit stains on the carpet for several reasons. 

Depending on the material, the carpet fibers may melt or shrink under intense heat, causing more repair issues. Plus, if you’re using steam as your first approach, you risk setting the stain. Protein stains like blood set into fibers under heat, making them permanent, and since vomit is full of all kinds of food and bodily fluids, it’s best not to risk a permanent mark. 

Does the Vomit Smell in the Carpet Go Away?

The vomit smell will eventually dissipate on its own, but it could hang around for days or even months if it’s a deep stain. Promote adequate airflow by running fans and opening windows to speed up the process. If you feel like the room is still smelling a little funky, try a DIY room deodorizer to mask the scent while you work on cleaning the carpet.


Anita's Housekeeping Editors