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SOUTHAMPTON, Penn. — Puke. Yak. Vomit. Throw up. It doesn’t matter what you call it. Just hearing the words conjures up a horrible vision and a smell even when they don’t exist. But vomit in a car or limousine really stinks in more ways than one. Aside from an accident, it is the worst service incident an operator has to deal with.
We have gone years without having anyone get sick in our vehicles. Our lucky streak ended in January. We had three that month — one car sick, one drunk sick, and one a combination of both in a stretch limousine. All incidents share the same issue — they stink all the way to Hades and back again. Getting rid of that odor fast is critical as that vehicle needs to get back on the road and make money for your company. The longer it sits, the worse it gets in odor and in money lost.
If you do regular retail-related limo runs involving bachelor/bachelorette parties, birthday parties, couples going out on the town, wine tasting trips, or just groups of friends gadding about, sooner or later you will deal with a vomit situation.
Preparing for the Worst
The trick to mitigating the problem quickly is to be timely. Unfortunately, after a chauffeur does an eight- to 10-hour run around town which ends with the clients in the back vomiting, your chauffeur will probably not do that great a job cleaning it up. Let’s face it. He had to deal with these folks and I am sure that was not pleasant. You took the job and now you need to deal with the aftermath.
Make sure to keep a box of rubber gloves in the glove box of your vehicles should this occur. You don’t want to cause further problems because the chauffeur touched something he shouldn’t have. Also keep trash bags handy.
In our worst case, the client threw up all over himself, down the seats, out the window, in the door jams and in the coolers. The next day our entire garage stunk from it. Our car washer scrubbed for over a week. He removed the seats in the vehicle to find pools of vomit that he didn’t realize had been there. He took the car to our body shop and they removed the door panel only to find more puddled in there. The incident was like a surreal Seinfeld episode where the smell from hell would just not go away. Unlike Seinfeld, selling the car was not an option. The vomit/alcohol odor just lingered and festered.
We used vinegar and Dawn detergent on the rugs, which helped but not enough. We spent hours on the Internet researching solutions. We spoke to other operators to see what they recommended. Sam Amato of Gateway Limousine said that they use sawdust to sop up the mess and eliminate a lot of the odor. We didn’t have any sawdust laying around and we had already gotten the wet stuff out. Our research did net us success, but it was truly a painful process.
We learned these key steps to stamping out the smell:
Clean It Up
With all odor causers, you need to identify what they are. Vomit of course is organic. The faster you eliminate the problem, the less likely that it will linger. On smooth surfaces, you can use an ammonia-based cleanser. Readily available on the market are products such as ODO Ban or other enzyme-based cleaners. Pet stores sell these products for clean up of pet urine. On carpet, try sprinkling baking soda and then vacuuming it up. You need to be careful when using baking soda or other powder-based solutions as they can change or lighten the color of the carpet. We used vinegar and Dawn detergent on the rugs. This helped a little but not enough.
How to Get Rid of the Odor
Finding an inexpensive desiccant that will get rid of the odor for good is not easy. One operator told me he used a tin of barbeque briquettes left in the vehicle overnight to absorb the smell. Be careful here as some of the commercially available briquettes are treated with fire igniters which carry their own odor. You don’t want to trade one odor for another. Avoid using air fresheners as they will only mask the odor and not eliminate it. Flowery smelling vomit odor is not that pleasant. How many times have you walked into a restroom after one of those sprays has been shot off only to turn around? It does not hide anything. In fact, it can make it worse.
Another option is to pour vinegar into a bowl and let it sit overnight in the closed vehicle. But vinegar does have its own smell that some people find unpleasant. Another person suggested slicing up apples and putting them in a tray and leaving them overnight. This really did not work. Someone else suggested a tray of coffee grounds. Unfortunately, time really is of the essence. Who has time to hunt and peck with all of the different holistic approaches which may or may not work on your particular odor?
I found through a vendor a product that finally worked for us. It is called Vehicle Hygienist from a company called Ardex (www.ardexwax.com). The product uses chlorine dioxide (CIO2) gas to eliminate the odor. The cost was around $30 and was worth every penny. Essentially, you open the package and leave it in the vehicle overnight, and in the morning you dispose of the product in an outdoor trash receptacle. I never would have believed it would work, but it did. I found a similar product that uses the same technique called Auto Shocker. It is advertised at $17.50 when you buy it in bulk (www.biocidesystems.com). I suspect that there are probably other products such as this out there and available through auto supply stores. I have purchased an extra one and am keeping it just in case.
In the future, store bags in your vehicles similar to airsickness bags on airplanes. Instruct your chauffeurs to explain where they are to your clients.
Put it on Paper
Make sure you have a clause in your contract for cleanup fees. Although $300 sounds like a lot, losing the use of the vehicle for a couple of days while you are trying to get rid of the odor will cost you a lot more than that. When you warn your clients up front that you have this fee for bodily fluids, they will laugh and say that they won’t need it. It will be much easier later when you tell them that you explained upfront about the fee to get it.
The guy who yakked in our car readily handed over the clean-up fee without a flinch. He was extremely embarrassed. Believe me, even double the fee would not have been enough for what we had to go through to get rid of the odor.
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