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Steps to get rid of strong interior odors

A worker cleans the interior of a Jaguar Land Rover Automotive Plc Range Rover Velar HSE sport utility vehicle (SUV) during the 2017 New York International Auto Show (NYIAS) in New York, U.S.
Man cleans car interior | | Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images.
  1. Attempt to identify the source of the odor and the severity of its impact. (Immediately consult with a mechanic if the issue is mechanical).
  2. Use an odor-eliminating gel and/or air sanitizer as directed. (Read all warning labels for products).
  3. Air out your vehicle and assess the effectiveness of the odor-eliminating solution.
  4. Repeat steps number two and three as needed in a safe and consistent manner.
  5. If the process created by the repetition of steps two and three proves ineffective, consult with a professional auto detailer.

Does your car absolutely reek? Mine did. Having a stinky cabin can absolutely wreak havoc on your daily driving experience. It made me dread driving my car. I was finally able to get rid of the putrid smell of rancid meat in my cabin, and you can, too. Here’s a thorough analysis of why some odors stick to your interior like super glue and how to eliminate them.

Understanding the many causes of car odors

 A woman lights a cigarette behind the wheel of her car.
A woman lights a cigarette behind the wheel of her car | Axel Heimken/dpa (Photo by Axel Heimken/picture alliance via Getty Images).

Car odors can come from a wide variety of sources, and no vehicle’s interior is truly safe from certain smells. Common sources of strong, unpleasant car odors include food and beverages, pet smells, and mildew. Cigarette smoke can also drastically change the scent of your interior.

Getting an air freshener for your cabin seems simple enough, but what do you do when the odor isn’t eliminated? I once transported venison in the trunk of my Honda Civic. I made the mistake of leaving it in the trunk for a few hours instead of immediately removing it. Furthermore, the deer meat wasn’t properly packaged.

My Honda Civic smelled like an animal had recently died in the driver’s seat for weeks. To make matters worse, my air conditioning was having issues. So, my interior smelled like hot deer meat. Car odors can stem from just about anything, but the solutions for eliminating these odors are nearly identical for every case.

Effective solutions for getting rid of bad car smells

  • Use an air sanitizer or odor-eliminating gel from a brand like Ozium
  • Remove objects and mats from your vehicle and do a deep clean
  • Pay a professional auto detailing business to assess and treat your interior

Unfortunately, the reality is that the gnarliest car smells won’t just disappear over time. You’ll need some chemical intervention in the worst cases. I used multiple small jars of Ozium odor-eliminating gel in my cabin and trunk.

Be aware that many of these chemical solutions are dangerous and often contain carcinogens. I was careful to only have Ozium jars uncovered in my cabin when I wasn’t inside the vehicle. It took time (and multiple jars of Ozium) to completely eliminate the smell of deer meat from my car, but this method was successful.

Maintaining an odor-free vehicle: Why car smells are important

Not all car smells are just bothersome. Some can be downright dangerous and indicate serious mechanical problems. Though a stinky interior seems like a laughing matter, it could actually mean big trouble for drivers in some cases. So, how do you keep your vehicle’s cabin healthy and odor-free?

How to avoid car smells

  • Clean your vehicle’s interior regularly and discard any food and beverage items
  • Prep items you’re transporting properly if they can leave a lasting smell in your cabin and trunk/cargo area
  • Have a car deodorizer handy in your vehicle or place or residence
  • Get regular vehicle maintenance and inspections from a trusted, reliable mechanic

Dear reader, take my gnarly car smell story as a cautionary tale. If your interior is clean and odor-free, value it. If it could use some TLC, don’t wait until a nasty smell comes along. Automakers develop quality vehicles that are meant to be enjoyed. As a driver, you deserve the best, healthiest version of your vehicle’s interior.


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