How to Get Rid of Smells in Your Car

A foul odor in the car can turn a leisurely drive into an agonizing one. Here's how to get rid of smells in your car.
how to get rid of smells in car

Everyone loves new car smell, but eventually it fades and the smell you’re left with might not be so appealing. Whether it’s from dropped food, a spilled drink, a pet accident or cigarette smoke, there are some odors even the best air fresheners can’t cover. Here’s how to get rid of smells in your car so you can once again take a breath without holding your nose.

Identify the Source

The first step in getting rid of a smell in your car is to find the source of the odor.

Look on the floor, under the seats and in the seams between the seatbacks and bottom cushions. Also check the glove box, door pockets and even underneath the floormats. Don’t forget to look up; the smell can sometimes be imbedded into the roof (headliner). Give your car a thorough once over and if you find something rotten, remove it from your car.

Some sources might not be visible to the eye. Feel around for moisture, which can cause mold and mildew. Let your nose do some of the work to identify the cause of the smell.

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Time to Clean

Once you locate the source of the stink and remove it, then it’s time to clean. Clean spills immediately. The longer they go untreated, the harder they are to clean.

Start by vacuuming the floors, floor mats and fabric upholstery. If you have leather seats, then seek out a leather cleaner. Even if it was just goo from the bottom of someone’s shoe on one spot on the floor, the smell may have absorbed into other surfaces. Clean everything to make sure the smell is gone and, if possible, leave the windows down for a bit to let in fresh air.

Any time you clean the surfaces inside your car it’s smart to test the cleaning solution in a less visible spot before applying it to more conspicuous areas. Even the gentlest of cleaners could cause damage, so always do a spot test first.

Get more car cleaning tips.

How to Get Rid of Cigarette Smell

This is a smell that truly gets into everything. Even hard surfaces and the air vents collect the smell. If your car smells like cigarette smoke, then you’re going to need to wash it thoroughly, including hard plastics.

Cigarettes leave behind tar, which is sticky, coats everything and adds to the stink. To get rid of the smell, you need to get rid of the tar, too. A 50/50 solution of water and vinegar works well at breaking through the tar on hard surfaces and removing the smell from fabrics. You may even want to consider renting an ozone generator (often used in hotel rooms to eliminate odors).

How to Get Rid of Gasoline Smell

Spilled gasoline can really stink up your car. Even stepping in the stuff while fueling up can end up coating your shoes so you bring it inside where the smell lingers on carpet and floor mats.

Try making a solution of baking soda, vinegar and water in equal parts. Use an old rag to gently rub the mixture over the spill to soak up the stain and eliminate the smell. Make sure to properly dispose of any rags soaked with gasoline.

how to get rid of smells in car

How to Get Rid of Pet Smells

It’s fun to take Fido along for the ride, but that can make your car smell. The easiest way to avoid the smell is to frequently vacuum up all that pet hair. The longer it sits, the stronger the smell will be and the longer it will take for it to dissipate from fabrics.

Treat urine stains with a trusted pet stain and odor remover, a 50/50 vinegar and water mix or a paste of baking soda and water.

How to Get Rid of Mildew Smell

The smell of mildew means that, at some point, your car interior got wet and never fully dried out. If you know the source of the moisture, maybe a spilled drink or a window left open in the rain, then you just need to get rid of the smell and residual moisture.

If you have no idea why it smells like mildew, feel around to see if you notice a damp spot, especially in the foot wells. A water leak isn’t something to ignore, so seek out a mechanic if the issue is ongoing.

Once the cause of the odor is identified, use a wet/dry vacuum to remove as much of the moisture as possible if things are still wet. Next, apply baking soda and let it sit for a few hours before giving it another good vacuum to pull out the smell. In severe cases, the carpet may need to be removed and cleaned and padding under the carpet replaced.

How to Get Rid of Vomit Smell

Car sickness happens. Clean it up right away. The sooner you get the worst of it out, the better. If it goes unnoticed, which is possible when it’s a pet rather than a person, then once again go to that 50/50 water and vinegar solution to remove the smell of vomit on both upholstery and carpet. Let it soak in to loosen the stain and then clean it away. Baking soda can further help remove any lingering smell from the surface.

An Ounce of Prevention

Once you have your car smelling fresh again, keep it clean to avoid any new unwanted smells. Consider a protective mat if you have pets or kids and use a car deodorizer. Something floral might make your car smell good, but a charcoal deodorizer eliminates bad smells rather than masking them and it helps remove any lingering odors, too.

Now that you know how to get rid of smells in your car, make sure you have the tools to get the job done.

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If the cause of the odor is mechanical, you’ll need to have it fixed by a professional right away. Find the AAA Approved Auto Repair shop closest to you.

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