Sticky Soda Residue

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Dear Home-Ec 101:
This isn’t exactly a Home-Ec question but I figured you would know the answer. I have two cupholders in the front seat of my SUV. They are odd shaped, bigger than most normal sized cups, but too small to hold something the size of a Big Gulp for example. So when I buy a frappucino or a medium soda the cup will bounce around a little and often leaks. I’m bad about wiping up the spills quickly, so what has now happened is I have a nice sticky, stinky mess in the bottom of my cupholders. There’s also probably $3 in coins stuck in there too because I usually toss my drive-thru change in the ‘empty’ cupholder. What is the best way to clean this? In my old car I had removable cupholders so I just took them inside and gave them a rinse in the sink, but these do not come out. And the car wash people didn’t touch them either.
Sticky Stephanie

Do you have a nice sticky, stinky mess in the bottom of your car's cupholders? Here's how to clean up the old sticky soda residue for good.

Heather says:

Cars, for commuters at least, are just a mobile extension of our homes, so I believe it fits perfectly under the Home Ec umbrella.

You’re right, wiping it up quickly would be the best way to avoid the problem, but I stink at that, too. What with driving, checking email, tweeting, eating. . . who has time to clean at a stoplight?

I kid. Put the lecture back in your pocket. Simmer down, simmer.

What has happened is all of the water has evaporated leaving behind a layer of dried milk solids and syrup united in an unholy bond. It’s going to take a little work to get it out.

Grab an old rag or some paper towels, an old toothbrush, and some Armor All. If the bottom of the cup holder isn’t vented go ahead and spray a little of the Armor All into it, don’t go crazy, you’re going to have to blot this all up. Also make sure your windows are all down or the doors are open. Get the toothbrush and scrub what you can, also the handle of the toothbrush can make a decent pry bar to loosen the coins. Stuff the rag or paper towels into the cup holder and wipe out the cleaner. This may take two or three repetitions, depending on how thick the layer of soda.

If you don’t have Armor All on hand, use very soapy water, but it’s going to take a bit of rinsing.

If this stuff isn’t coming loose, it may be time to step it up and get some Goo Gone. This is solvent can usually be found in the home improvement section of stores, usually in a section referred to as solvents. Ask a clerk, it’s not a big bottle and may be annoying to find.

Whatever you use, be sure to wipe out all of the residue, wipe the cup holder out with a soapy rag, and finally a damp one to remove all traces of the solvent.

Before grabbing your next soda, swing by the auto parts store, sometimes there are cup holder inserts that have tabs to hold drinks in place. If you can’t find one that fits, there are absorbent “car coasters” that may help prevent it from getting so gross in the future.

Problem solved! No more sticky soda residue in your car.

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11 thoughts on “Sticky Soda Residue”

  1. OOOh I didn't think about goo gone. Yes, I used to have the coasters but they got gross so i threw them out and haven't replaced them. They did help though. thanks

  2. I always start with a wet (not dripping) washcloth. Stick it in the cupholder first and leave it there while I clean the rest of the truck out. By the time I'm done, the sticky nassy mess wipes right out with the washcloth. It may take more than one round with the washcloth, but there are no stinky chemicals funkin' up my air.

  3. Lysol wipes… when I start cleaning the car out I put one in each of the holders and then when I am done it go back around and wipe them all out.

    • There's a couple steps, first make sure there are no hidden sources of food. Then vacuum the car thoroughly. If this doesn't solve the problem buy some ant bait and put it under the seats. If there's nothing to eat new ants won't be attracted to the car as a home.

  4. I keep a roll of paper towels in the car, and when I get too many paper napkins from a restaurant, I put them in the glove box for quick cleanups. A folded paper towel or some napkins pushed down into the cup holder to make a "liner" probably will hold your drink and soak up any spills. I also keep a plastic grocery bag in the car for trash, so with supplies and ways of disposing of them within easy reach, there's no excuse for having a mess.

    BTW, my husband has a part-time job doing state vehicle inspections, and he comes home regularly complaining about !!!NASTY!!! cars he's had to get into, and most of that nastiness is from food that has been consumed in the car and not cleaned up, and some vehicles have stacks of fast-food bags with rotten food in them! The fastest way to stink and stain up a car is with food, and I have always had a rule that no food will be eaten in the car. (BTW, I was never allowed to eat in the car as a child; it made sense and so I had that rule with my kids, too.)

    The only exception to the rule is that I drink coffee (from home) on the way out in the morning, and to corral that mess, I first tried a plastic bucket on the passenger side floor so the empty travel mug could go in there…but even the empty mug would leave a smell in the car, particularly on hot days. So I made a new rule that when I get out of the car, so does my coffee mug…which I either refill with coffee and use through the day or rinse out. By not having food or food-contaminated materials in the car and cleaning it thoroughly at least quarterly or as needed, I have a 17 year old car that looks almost new and has no smell in it at all.

    One other thing to think about when it comes to car cleanliness…a few years back a coworker had to give one of the bosses an emergency ride to the airport when the arranged cab didn't show up in time…and apparently her car was a disgusting mess because rumors started circulating shortly after the boss got back. People will judge you on the appearance of your car just as they will judge you on your personal appearance. A nasty car could hurt your career!

    • My car is a bit of a mess right now, but you do raise a good point. Once the sun goes down a bit I'll head out there and give it a good once over. I try not to eat in the car, but it has been known to happen from time to time.

    • I always clean my car before I take to be serviced or inspected. It's not perfect but at least there isn't rotting food in the car. No one is allowed to 'eat' in my car either, drinks are allowed but they have to have a top (no soda cans) that must be closed when you are not holding it.
      I hadn't thought about work people, but I am forbidden from driving people around for business in my personal vehicle so it's only the occasional lunch and then I try not to drive unless I have to.

  5. We have always used WD-40.Just be sure to wipe it out with soap and water after it's clean.Make sure the windows are open and it's well ventilated.It always comes right out for us.Hope this helps……Dena


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