The Definitive Guide To Getting Godawful Smells Out Of Your Car

Published On 06/09/2015 Published On 06/09/2015

The blistering heat of summer has an amazing way of exacerbating every foul stench your car’s interior is capable of producing. Often, those odors are actually a result of bacteria growing in the hidden confines of your warm and moist car. And that's disgusting. 

Luckily, we've compiled a convenient list of 10 tips that'll rid your ride of foul odors once and for all.


1. Pull everything out of your car

Yes, everything. I don’t just mean a stray Coke can that’s somehow been living under your seat for three months, or the crumpled up evidence of your fast food addiction. I mean everything, down to the floor mats. If you have the time/confidence to do so, you can even remove your seats.


2. Don't forget the trunk

No joke, I once knew a woman who found months-old cheese in her trunk. Mind you, she only looked after the stench made driving the car completely unbearable.


3. Wipe down ALL the hard surfaces

Use a moist cloth to wipe your dash, seats (if they’re not cloth), and any other hard surface. Don’t forget your headliner‚ especially if you smoke. And be thorough.

If your car is extremely filthy, use a foam cleaner like Tuff Stuff. Just be careful of overspray—it’s annoying to have to clean up from windows and the like.


4. Vacuum the living hell out of your car

Seriously, go crazy here. Get in there with a brush and gently scrub the carpet before you vacuum to loosen ground-in dirt. If you’ve never done this before, you’ll be stunned at the amount of dirt you'll pick up. Don’t forget to get in any crevices your car has, like between the seat and the center console, and even around the air vents. Repeat for the trunk.

Protip: use your regular upright vacuum (the one with the bristles) to clean your mats.


5. Have a foam party

Or, rather, spray your carpet and matts down with a fine layer of foaming carpet cleaner and scrub it in. The foam bubbles will help lift out all the remaining dirt you missed.


6. Get your steam on

Steam not only helps remove tough stains and dirt from hard to reach places, it disinfects due to the high heat. And you don’t need a super high intensity steamer to get out stains and kill odor-causing bacteria. The same steamer you use to mop your floors will work nicely. Steam your carpets and your seats for sure (and yes, the trunk), but also get any piece of plastic that doesn’t have vital electrical components on it. Never steam vital electrical components. 


7. Dry it all off

Everything will be a bit damp after steaming, that’s natural. But you don’t want any areas that are saturated, as that'll invite mold and mildew. And you definitely don't want that.


8. Hit your A/C

No one ever thinks about cleaning their air conditioning, but if you’ve got an odor problem, and your A/C has been on recirc, it’s probably pulled in the foul scent, and quite possibly mildew. There are cleaners specifically made for your A/C system. Get one and simply follow the directions—they usually involve putting a long hose down one of your ducts, then cycling through a few settings while the car is running.

Mark Hindle

9. Go nuclear

If, after everything else, that smell's still there, it's time to push the button: blast everything in the car with high concentrations of ozone. Ozone is an oxidizer, which means it’ll rapidly increase the reaction that’s causing the smell, effectively using up the smell’s fuel supply.

But don't use those worthless ionizers you see on TV. Rent a proper ozone generator—the kind that can make your car an extremely unpleasant environment for any living thing. Seal off your car, and pump it full of the good/bad stuff for 30 minutes. Any longer than that can actually age your car's interior.


10. Take preventative measures

Use something that will absorb odors, like coffee grounds, baking soda, kitty litter, or activated charcoal. Just put a little in a sock under your seat, and periodically swap it out.

Aaron Miller is the Rides editor for Supercompressor, and can be found on Twitter. He’s done all this for his friends' cars. Never again.

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