Fighting an invisible enemy is hard, and foul odors or bad smells are hard to remove without the right tools and equipment. Since a car’s cabin is an enclosed space, anything that is rotting inside or festering inside will stay in. You may not notice that french fry you’ve dropped in the pit of doom until it starts to turn rancid after a few months. Perhaps, you’ve waded through flood and forgot to clean out the carpets.
Either way, just like body odor or other unpleasant smells, there is a cure for this predicament. Use these items and add a good serving of elbow grease in order to restore your car to a neutral smell as part of your general vehicle maintenance, and you should be good to go.
If you’ve turned your car into a rolling trashcan over the years, maybe it is time to get a real trashcan and clean house. Get everything out of the car. Any food wrappers, cups, takeout packaging, or food items are pretty much guaranteed to leave a bad smell in your car. If left for too long, they may even promote the growth of mold in your cabin.
As an added bonus, a trashcan will also help to keep your car neat and tidy. While not odor-causing, old receipts, calling cards, scratch papers, and other miscellaneous pieces of garbage will help improve your driving experience once cleared out, so do this while rummaging through.
Whether big or small, a vacuum cleaner is a worthwhile investment especially if you need to clean your car. Make sure to use multiple attachments depending on what surface you’re cleaning. Use the tip with a brush if you’re working the carpets, or use a more solid yet slimmer tip if you’re cleaning the seats or the cubby holes. The vacuum will suck out dirt and debris that will be too hard to remove by hand. While vacuuming, you can also use it to scout out the rest of the car for the cause of the bad smell. Might as well check while you’re down there, right?
However, only use a vacuum for dry surfaces. Do not use it to suck up water and other liquids as it could damage your device.
Microfiber towel, Chamois, Sponge
Especially after a heavy rainstorm, a car’s waterproofing may not be in the best condition after a number of years. The gaskets and the rubber elements could have worn down or dislodged due to an accident or simply just aging. It is possible that there will be rainwater buildup in the car. Common places where this may occur are the trunk, or the door sills, which then could go into the seats and other places.
If your car is old, make sure to check for leaks or any pools of water after heavy rain. If you find a pool of water, take a sponge, a chamois, or a microfiber towel depending on what surface you’re removing the water from. If you’re dealing with a pool of water, use a sponge or a chamois so you can wring it out and remove the water from the car. If you’re dealing with something smaller like a few drips, then a microfiber will be enough.
When using this, make sure to dilute it in a one-part vinegar, two-parts water solution. Following this, you may then use it on most surfaces and stains to help remove the odor from your seats or your dashboard. For leather, make sure to wipe it off, but for cloth seats, you can leave it to dry. Because of its acidity, vinegar is a natural antibacterial, and antifungal agent that is readily available.
Make sure that the vinegar you use is white. Darker vinegar like balsamic or apple cider could potentially stain your car’s interior.
This item is best used on stains that are relatively fresh. Because of its alkaline properties, baking soda makes for a great stain remover and odor absorber on the applied area. This product is especially effective on cloth seats, carpets, and cloth trim pieces that you may have in your car.
Simply apply a certain amount on top of the affected area, rub it in, then leave it for a few hours. Following this, vacuum the affected area to remove the residual baking soda.
If you have a coffee grinder or a coffee maker in your house, then you can pretty much have this item for “free.” Coffee is used in many applications with regard to smell. If you’ve ever been approached in the perfume section of your local department store, you will notice that the attendants have some coffee beans in a shot glass. Coffee has a strong enough smell that is able to neutralize other odors like perfume, or in this case, your smelly car.
Leave some grounds in a cup overnight, and it will overpower the bad smells and leave an aroma of coffee in your cabin. Great for coffee addicts.
Dehumidifier / Charcoal / Activated carbon
However, if you don’t want your car to smell like coffee, you can use charcoal, activated carbon, or a dehumidifier to help remove the stench. These products are odorless and will absorb moisture and bad smells given enough time. In order to use these items, it is important to keep them in a container like a clean cup or a container with a few holes on top. After that, put the charcoal, activated carbon, or dehumidifier in the car for an extended period of time.
These items are the cherries on top. They’re not there to remove the odors from the ground up, but to remove any residual odors that your car may have following a good clean.
If all else fails…
You can try using these items more, but you can also bring your car to a professional detailer to get your interior cleaned fully. Professional shops will be able to steam clean or deodorize your car with an antibacterial mist. These jobs require specialized equipment which you might not have on hand at home.