5 Ways to Get Rid of Awful Car Smells, According to Consumer Reports

When envisioning car maintenance, you probably think of tasks associated with your vehicle’s mechanical components. However, regular car washes are essential to preserving the exterior. Also, the interiors of older cars (and even newer ones) can stink. Odors from food, garbage, sweat, and pets can be challenging to eliminate if left to fester. Consumer Reports has some valuable tips to get rid of awful car smells.

1. Take out the trash to eliminate car smells

According to Consumer Reports, the first order of business is to remove what’s causing odors in your car. Don’t let old food and drink containers sit in your vehicle for days. Remove them as soon as you get home.

If you smoke or vape, try to avoid doing it in your car. Cigarette smoke can easily permeate the foam cushions inside your vehicle’s seats, and it takes a lot of effort to get the smell out.

If the smell inside your car is closer to mildew, it could be an issue with your vehicle’s A/C vents or drains. Those components aren’t difficult to clean, but you can always seek a professional if necessary.

2. Vacuum every nook and cranny

how to get rid of awful car smells
Interior of 1970 Mercedes-Benz 600 Pullman limousine | National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Even if you remove all the takeout containers, food debris probably still lurks in cracks and crevices. Using a nozzle attachment, vacuum under the seats and inside every nook and cranny. You should also vacuum the seats, seatbacks, and carpeting.

After removing the floormats, dust the carpeting with baking soda before vacuuming. Letting the baking soda sit for at least 15 minutes allows it to absorb car smells. 

3. Wipe down each component

To eliminate car smells from germs, grease, and dirt, wipe down any surfaces you can’t vacuum. CR says you can use standard household cleaners or specialized automotive cleaning products for dirty spots. To get rid of germs, clean interior surfaces using isopropyl alcohol.

To avoid damaging sensitive components, apply the product using a microfiber cloth. Scrub leather upholstery and trim gently with regular soap and water. CR also says to avoid cleaners that contain hydrogen peroxide or bleach.

4. Remove and wash the floormats to get rid of car smells

Car smells lurk in floormats if you’ve stepped in food, oil, excrement, or other fluids. Vacuum both sides of carpeted floormats after you remove them from your car. After that, you can wash them with a solution of detergent and water. Or apply a spray-on carpet cleaner and use a hand brush to scrub the solution into the mat fibers.

Place the mats in a dryer on low heat, or let them air-dry before placing them back in your vehicle. If your car has rubber floormats, shake them out before spraying them with a hose. Wash each mat with soap, and give it another rinse before letting it dry completely.

5. Leave an open can of coffee inside your car to eliminate smells

Coffee beans’ aroma is an excellent deodorizer. So Consumer Reports suggests placing an open can of coffee inside your car overnight. If that doesn’t work, automotive stores sell specially formulated foggers that “bomb” your vehicle with a fresh scent. CR says the ones with chlorine dioxide work best on car smells.

If all else fails, take your car to an auto mechanic for a second opinion. That awful car smell could be a sign of a more serious issue that could damage your vehicle.

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