What do you do when a bottle of fancy olive oil shatters on your car seat? Well, you ask a Clean Person.
Hello! I’m new(ish) here so let me introduce myself right quick before we get all oily: I’m Jolie Kerr, and I’m a cleaning expert and advice columnist. Some of you may already know about me and my deep, abiding weirdness from my work over at Deadspin, Lifehacker and Jezebel. I’m also a longtime friend and drinking buddy of the good folks at Jalopnik.
I know an awful lot about cleaning, and I really, really love cars, despite not actually being able to drive one. (I consider not-driving to be a great gift I give to humanity. If you knew me IRL you’d be like, “Ah yes, on behalf of the world, THANK YOU.”)
I’m wicked excited to be here, because I love Jalopnik in an entirely unnatural way, but also because I know that I have a lot to learn from you. So! Please feel free to tell me about the products, tools and techniques you use to solve all kinds of car cleaning problems. More importantly, please email or tweet at me with your questions about cleaning your cars, and with the stories of the worst messes you’ve made in or on your cars.
Now, let’s get down and dirty:
I have had an unprecedented grocery mishap: After deciding to treat myself to a bottle of fancy olive oil, the flimsy glass bastard broke on the drive home. It tipped over and cracked on the belt buckle, and 750ml of olive oil went straight into the upholstery of my backseat.
I’ve sopped up as much as I can, and laid down a thick coating of baking soda. Is there anything else I can do? Everything I’ve found seems to revolve around getting out surface stains, but with a whole bottle, you just know it’s deep in those seats. I’m terrified that come summer, my car will smell like a rancid gladiator.
Please, please help.
Well, I’m absolutely furious with that bottle of olive oil, which is a weird emotional space to occupy. Like, I’m not sure how I got to a place in life where I’ve found myself staring at a blinking cursor while muttering, “You know? That twee bottle of olive oil has really pissed me off. What a precious little asshole.”
So, look, I’m sorry that this happened to you! It would be bad enough to have to clean regular olive oil out of your car seats, but the fact that it was a splurge and you didn’t even get to enjoy it, uch. That sucks. But I do think I can help you out of this pickle, so hopefully that will help to make things a little better.
While you can certainly take the car to a professional to have them clean the car seat, for the money you’ll spend on that one-time service, you might consider investing in a portable carpet/upholstery cleaning machine. These things are awesome and I honestly think everyone who owns a couch or a car or any other fibrous thing that they care about keeping clean should consider owning one. If you want a recommendation, The Sweethome has a very good guide to these types of machines.
The thing that’s so clutch about these kinds of machines is that they force cleaning solution into fibers and then extract it right back out, which in the case of this olive oil disaster is going to be really crucial. The oil obviously isn’t just marring the surface of the seat, it’s all the way down into its innards, so the suction that these machines offer will be required to fully eradicate the oil.
Let me level and say that in this particular situation, I don’t think the approach I’m about to outline will cut it. But since we’re here, it’s worth mentioning cornstarch and talcum powder as agents to remove a greasy, oily stain.
Here’s what you’ll do: Pile an anthill-style mound of cornstarch on the stain and leave it to sit, doing its absorbent thing, for 12-48 hours. Then, brush away or vacuum up the cornstarch and remove any residual powder using a damp sponge or rag. If the grease stain has lightened but hasn’t been entirely removed, simply repeat the process. This works on older, set-in stains as well as fresh ones, which is probably helpful to know for those of you who never got around to addressing the stain left from the time you dropped an order of McDonald’s french fries on your car’s seat.
Replace the seat.
Seriously, that’s what our old pal Freddy Hernandez would say and I know that because that’s what he did say about handling spills on car seats when he guested on my podcast. I asked him to help me answer yet another question about a pound of butter melting into car seats — you read that right, another question about a pound of butter melting into car seats, because that’s a thing been asked of me more than once. Three times, actually! — and he was like, “Yeah, that’s a get-a-new-seat situation.”
If, after removing the olive oil stain, a lingering smell remains, a canister-style odor absorber will help set things to right. There are a lot of these products on the market, but one I really like, that I think you might like too because the name is kind of hilarious, is The Bad Air Sponge. Active charcoal odor eliminators are also quite good.
Another option, if you’re a Cat Person, is to throw some clean litter down on the seat. Kitty litter, by dint of the job it needs to do, will neutralize smells and can be pressed into non-feline uses as an odor eliminator.