Go ahead … stain my day

My nephew has a new favorite toy: my car.

He climbs over the seats, trying each one like Goldilocks and the Three Bears until he decides on one that’s just right. It’s usually the driver’s seat which, given the limited reach of his tiny arms, allows him access to the horn and stereo. (For that I apologize to my neighbors.)

He loves the car and he loves playing in the mud next to the driveway, although not in that particular order.

The last time I watched over him, he stomped around in the dirt until his favorite Bob the Builder boots were good and caked with thick, wet mud — the kind that’s impossible to clean until it dries — then proceeded to throw a tantrum (again, I apologize to my neighbors) until I indulged him and let him paint the interior of my car with the clay-like muck.

Favorite toy + favorite dirty boots = one big mess for Aunty.

There was mud on the seats, on the steering wheel and on the glove compartment … everywhere but on the new stain-resistant floor mats I bought just a few days before.

To make matters worse, he found a ketchup packet (it’s my own fault … I’m married to Ronald McDonald) and accidentally squirted its contents all over the ceiling.

He squealed and I smiled, all the while thinking, Oh, Heloise, how am I going to get that out? (FYI: blot the ketchup, dab the area with cold water then rub liquid detergent into the stain with a sponge. Rinse and repeat, if necessary.)

I realized that if his fascination with my car was going to continue, I had better learn the ins and outs of stain removal … or get a new nephew … or learn to say “no” to the current nephew.

I have found that a trip to the automotive department for expensive one-trick-wonders might not be entirely necessary. Most of the tools I need are right under my kitchen sink, in my pantry … or in the bag with my fast food order.

For some spills or stains, such as soft drinks and car polish, cold water sponged onto the area will do the trick.

Other spots might require a little more effort.

A simple solution of cold water and table salt will remove fresh blood stains. Hey, how they got there is your business.

Dried blood is more difficult to remove. Try sponging the stain with hydrogen peroxide or an ammonia solution, then rinse with cold water.

Cold water and everyday liquid dish soap is said to remove metal polish, mustard, milk (avoid hot water, it might set the stain) and the ever-popular-if-you’re-a-nephew vomit. That’s a baddie.

Alternately, warm water and liquid detergent is supposed to make myriad blemishes disappear, including coffee, fresh grass stains and pet pee.

Glycerin soap (check for some in your Christmas stocking), that soft, translucent stuff, apparently is good for removing axle grease, old grass stains and cosmetics … not that we women apply it while we’re driving, right?

According to the experts, you’re supposed to remove any solid gunk using a spatula, then rub the glycerin into the spot to loosen the staining material. Sponge with clear water.

Furniture polish works wonders on vinyl, and hand or body lotion will make leather look like new (although I would suggest testing the lotion on an inconspicuous patch before lathering it all over and potentially ending up with a huge mess).

According to the master cleaner-upper (that would be my Mom), white vinegar cleans windows, lights and mirrors better than anything and it also will eliminate funky odors, such as spilled milk and the sickly smell of cigarette smoke. Or for really nasty-smelling ashtrays, sprinkle a bit of baking soda into the compartment to absorb odors.

So the next time you hit the drive-thru and drop a blob of special sauce on your car seat, reach into the take-out bag for the salt and vinegar … and remember to hide the ketchup from your nephew.

Rhonda Wheeler is a journalist with Wheelbase Media, a worldwide supplier of automotive news, features and reviews. You can email her by logging on to www.wheelbasemedia.com and clicking the contact link.

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