6 Common Car Smells and How to Remove Them

woman driving in car

Everyone wants to keep the new car smell in their car as long as possible. What do you do when the air turns funky? Here’s a look at 6 common causes of car odors and how you can remove them.

1. How to check for hidden odor sources

Play detective and check around the car for anything that could be causing the odor. Look in pockets, under seats, on floor mats and even in the glove compartment for baby bottles in the back seat, moldy fruit in forgotten bags or unidentified blobs that may have been dragged in on the bottom of someone’s shoe. Immediately remove and throw any of these away and open the doors for a while to let any lingering odor dissipate. Don’t forget that sometimes a bad smell can also be a sign of an overheated car – or you may be in need of an oil change.

2. How to clean car carpet and upholstery

If you can’t find the source, pull out the car vacuum. Many times the upholstery, carpet or fabric interior can trap odors. Work the vacuum all around and down into crevices using the upholstery attachment. If this doesn’t do the trick but you believe this is the source of your odor issue, try steam cleaning where possible. Use car cleaning tools to make cleaning the interior easier. If your car has leather seats, there are simple ways to clean leather seats.

3. How to get smoke smell out of car

If you’re a smoker or have a passenger who is, remember to empty the ashtrays regularly. Keep in mind cigarette smoke has a way of getting everywhere, including into the vents. Spray a car odor eliminator into the vents as well as through the intake valve under the hood. In addition, open all of the windows and doors to air things out.

Keep in mind that smoking leaves behind tar, which is a sticky substance. Wipe down the interior panels with a 50/50 combination of water and vinegar solution. If the odor still lingers, mix in some dish soap as well. Once done, wipe the interior surfaces dry.

4. How to remove car sickness smells

Don’t forget about small children or pets who may have had an accident on the upholstery or who, may have had a carsick moment, . Even if these accidents were wiped up right away, a deeper clean may be necessary to fully get rid of the smell. If it has already dried, use your 50/50 water and vinegar solution to rehydrate the spot and then remove it with a wet/dry vacuum. Spreading cat litter on the area or sprinkling it with baking soda can also help absorb odors. Worried about other messes with kids in the car? Here are tips for keeping your car clean with kids.

5. How to get mildew smell out of car

Mildew is another source of unwelcome odors. All you need is one rainstorm and an overlooked partially opened window (or even just a small leak with a buildup of condensation), to experience this. Luckily, removing mildew smells in cars is pretty straightforward. A wet/dry vacuum can help remove remaining water from carpets and upholstery but, in a pinch, even a hair dryer may work. If a small leak is the cause, you may have to hunt around a bit. Check under the mats as well as in the trunk for any condensation, including checking the area where your spare tire is stored.

6. How to eliminate car air conditioner smells

One other possible source of that mildew smell is the air conditioning system. One telltale sign is damp floor mats near the air conditioner. If you find an odor coming from this area, open the front cover and remove the filter. Use a nylon scrub pad to remove any mold growth, then use a cotton swab to dry it. (To finish drying things out, turn on the car’s heater.) When you’re sure the area is completely dry, apply an anti-mildew solution, enzyme cleaner or odor absorber. You could also sprinkle baking soda on the upholstery and leave it in place for a day or so before vacuuming away. By then, the smell should have dissipated. You also may, of course, remove any car mats and let them air out for a while. Dust can also pile up inside the vents and lead to a musty smell in a car. In this case, vacuum the vents and use the water-vinegar solution on the interior.

After finding the source of car odors and treating them, your car should smell great. With the help of air fresheners, your car could almost smell as good as new. For more helpful information, check out these articles about car maintenance and cleaning tips.