The first time my oldest daughter threw up, when she was about 15 months old, I nearly did too. We were both covered in partially digested berry-applesauce, crying (her) and gagging (me), and I completely lost my faculties for a minute or two. My first reaction was, “Ew, ew, ew, I need a shower immediately,” but that was quickly replaced by, “OK, OK. Think, Katie. What now?” It’s taken me years to answer that question, and I still have a moment of panic every time my kids vomit. I know I’m not alone—at least, I hope I’m not the only mama who dry-heaves as she cleans—so here’s a list of the best tricks to make the next tummy bug just a little more bearable. (Until you’re down for the count, that is. Then it’s every kid for themselves.)
1. Compile a barf box. An episode of vomiting often comes without warning, but you can still be prepared. Clear a space in your bathroom or laundry room for a puke first-response kit. Pack a tote with old sheets and towels, extra wash cloths, a clean bucket or bowl for every member of the family, and an extra lovey for little ones who can’t sleep without their [insert favourite pal here]. Add to the box when you learn what works for your kiddos, and restock after every illness.
2. Make puke-proof beds. Do yourself a favour and make a bedding sandwich the next time you change the sheets. Start with a waterproof mattress pad and a sheet set, followed by another mattress pad and another sheet set. In the event of puke in the night (or an accident or bloody nose, for that matter) just take the top layer off, including the first mattress pad, and throw it in the washer (just shake out any chunks first!).
3. Plastic bags are your BFFs. Line barf buckets with plastic grocery bags for easy cleanup. (Rinsing out buckets in the laundry tub at 2 a.m. is the last thing anyone wants to do.) Large sandwich bags are also a smart alternative to puke receptacles, says Michelle Bennett, a mom of three from Salt Spring Island, British Columbia. “Toss cookies, zip, dispose.” (Mamas with little ones who get motion-sick, take note.)
4. Get glowing. Toss a disposable glow stick in the bottom of a bowl or bucket to give the patient an easy-to-see target in the wee hours.
5. Steel yourself against the smell. “I have a lemongrass lotion that I put under my nose and in the crook of my elbow when I have to clean up vomit,” says mom-of-two Jen Pinarski, from Peterborough, Ont. “I hide my face in my arm to get the job done!”
6. A (disgusting) new use for old gift cards. Getting vomit out of carpets can be a challenge, given the structure of carpet fibres. Melissa Maker, cleaning expert and founder of Clean My Space, suggests using an old gift or credit card to scrape out any hidden bits before treating. “Get your rubber gloves on and use paper towel or an old rag to pick up big chunks; then drag the card across the stain to get at any smaller pieces that may not be picked up as easily. From there, you can treat more effectively.” Her go-to vomit treatment? An enzyme cleaner—it has biological compounds that digest organic matter and is available at most stores with a dedicated cleaning section. “You’ll spray the stain, leave for five to 10 minutes, blot and let it dry,” says Maker. Repeat if necessary. Ultimate guide to kid vomit: Causes and treatment
7. Soak it all up. This is an oldie but a goodie that even works on carpeted or upholstered surfaces. After picking up as much of the vomit as possible, blot the area dry and sprinkle with baking soda or corn starch. The powder will absorb the remaining liquid and, once dry, can just be vacuumed up. It even helps with any lingering vomit smell. Puke? What puke?
8. Trail of towels. Make a runway from the sick kiddo’s bedroom to the bathroom, in case he doesn’t make it to the toilet in time. You can also use towels to blanket the bathroom.
9. Crewnecks are for suckers. Don’t even think about putting your kid into crewneck jammies. You’re just going to kick yourself later, when you have to drag a barfy shirt over your child’s head. Go for button-down PJs or adult-sized shirts that can be pulled down over the shoulders and stepped out of. Onesies with envelope-fold necklines can also be pulled down instead of over vomiting babies and toddlers.
10. Car seat clean-up. If you just need to do a spot-clean, you can usually use a mild cleanser (like a spray bottle of water mixed with a little baby laundry detergent). But any time you’re cleaning the car seat, it’s a good idea to check the manual first. “It all depends on how the seat was constructed and how the fabric has been treated,” says Care Sinclair, a prenatal and parenting educator, registered midwife and certified car seat technician in Toronto. So, when vomit gets in your car seat’s nooks and crannies, make sure your plan of attack is approved: “For some seats, you can take the cover off, throw it in wash and lay it flat to dry or let it air-dry in the sun; for others, machine washing, sun exposure or even removing the cover is strictly prohibited.” Can’t find the manual? Call the customer service line or look online. Many major manufacturers offer free manual downloads on their websites. There’s one hard and fast rule across all car seat models, though. “You cannot launder the harness. The spin cycle of the washing machine will stretch the structure of the fabric, and it will not perform as it should in a crash,” says Sinclair. Wipe them down instead, or, if the straps are beyond cleaning, call the manufacturer. “Some of them will provide a replacement harness, or have replacements for purchase.”
Once the illness has fully ravaged your household (face it, it’s going to happen), do a thorough clean-up job. Wipe down all surfaces, and don’t forget less obvious ones like doorknobs and wastebaskets. Maker also recommends opening the windows to air everything out, and diffusing an essential oil to banish the barf smell.