A lady holding her nose in a car

Help My Car Stinks! How To Get Rid Of Bad Odor In Your Car

Cleaning the car before or after a family road trip is one of our least favorite chores. But what do you do if one day you get in your car and think, OMG, my car smells!

It is better to stay on top of it by doing a little tidying every day, rather than letting everything build up when you notice a smell in your car; the next thought that bothers you is how to get rid of bad odor in the car.

Not to worry, as the below steps and methods will help combat all kinds of odors in every area of your car. Our tips cover all the bases regardless of where the odors are coming from.

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Steps For Dealing With Bad Odor In Your Car

Nobody likes a bad smell in car. It is very unpleasant to sit in your car and smell a bad aroma, which might be embarrassing, especially if you have other passengers. Fortunately, it’s relatively simple to eliminate car odor.

Start with taking out the trash can from the car, then vacuum your vehicle’s interior and wipe away any stains that might have spilled accidentally. Here are some steps to help you deal with bad odor in your car.

1. Clean Trash And Other Garbage Out Of Your Car

When cleaning trash and other garbage out of the car, you should start with the basics: cleaning everything out of the car and removing all the garbage. Be thorough when cleaning, as there might be an old piece of food or other debris stinking up the car.

Check under the seats, back pockets, and the car’s trunk, and remove all rotting food, trash, and junk items.

2. Wipe The Interior Surface To Remove Stains That Might Produce Odors

You should use a soft cleaning cloth when you find a horrible smell in the car. Dampen the material with an all-purpose cleaning spray and wipe down every elastic, metallic, wood, plastic, or glass surface of the interior of your car.

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Be keen while doing this, and look out for any stains or spills that your little one might have spilled and is now causing the odor. You should use an appropriate leather cleaner if your car seats are leather.

If your car’s upholstery is not leather, you should remove stains by vacuuming or shampooing the surfaces.

3. Remove And Clean The Door Mats Or Rugs In Your Car

Most cars have removable floor mats. Your car’s floor mats are where the driver’s and passengers’ feet rest. If your car floor mats are removable, pull them out and use a few rugs and hot soapy water to clean them.

Over time stains may accumulate on your car floor mats producing a foul smell. Therefore, ensure to use clean water when cleaning the carpets and wipe off all excess water that might create water pools in the car once you put the mats back in.

4. Vacuum Your Car To Clean Out Any Grime Worked Into The Carpet

Vacuuming your car seats and carpets helps remove excess dirt and is also a great way to remove odor from the car. It is mainly because, aside from dust and dirt, food crumbs or leftover bits of trash might have been worked into the carpet during a road trip.

Run the vacuum nozzle over all seats and floor surfaces as it helps improve the smell of your car. If the car odor seems to be coming from your vehicle’s carpet, then you should sprinkle carpet deodorizer over the rug.

Leave the car carpet to sit for the time recommended on the package instructions before vacuuming it up.

A car seat being vacuumed by a lady

5. If Vacuuming Does Not Get Odor Out Of Car, Then Shampoo The Inside Of The Car

If you carefully vacuum your car and the odor persists, you should take a more aggressive approach towards cleaning the car carpet. You might need to purchase a car shampoo from the local car store and use a clean sponge for scrubbing.

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Mix the car shampoo with the required water ( i.e., according to the package directions). Scrub the shampoo deep into the car upholstery and the carpet to release any dirt that might be trapped inside the fabric folds.

When purchasing a car shampoo, remember to select one ideal for the type of material used in your car. Once you are done with the scrubbing, rinse the shampoo and let the interior carpets and seats dry.

6. Sprinkle Baking Soda To Over Odorous Stains To Remove The Smell

Baking soda is a great car odor eliminator as it absorbs unpleasant odors. Get a box of baking soda at your local grocery store, and by using your fingers, sprinkle a pinch of the powder over a smelly stain in your car.

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Let it sit for 4-5 hours. Afterward, use a regular household vacuum cleaner to vacuum up the baking soda. Remember always to use baking soda on dry surfaces. If you sprinkle the powder on wet stained surfaces, it forms a tough-to-remove paste.

7. Clean Out Your Car’s Cabin Air Filter

Does your car have a foul smell when you run the air conditioning? Contaminants might get caught up in your cabin air filter. Locate the pleated air filter behind the glove box, under your hood, or on the passenger’s side dashboard and remove it.

Hit the filter with a soft brush or spray it with an air gun. By doing that, you will get rid of the contaminants before you reinstall them. Some vehicles might place the cabin air filter in other places. Using the vehicle’s manual will help you locate it.

Best Methods For Getting Rid Of Bad Smells In Your Car

When on a road trip, you need to concentrate on driving only. You will ensure that you focus on driving if you don’t have any odor that keeps disturbing your nostrils. Here are some of the best methods for getting rid of bad smells in your car, so you concentrate on the road.

1. Air Freshener

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An air freshener is a simple but standard tip that you can use to remove odor from a car. Though an air freshener is effective for removing odor from the vehicle, you should ensure that there is nothing specific causing the foul smell in your vehicle.

An air freshener is great for mild odors. Rather than masking horrible smells, therefore ensure that your car is clean beforehand.

2.  Vinegar And Baking Soda

Suppose you are dealing with stinky odors, specifically from your pet or child’s sickness, accidents, food or drink spills, or even air conditioner odors. Vinegar also works great on surfaces that may be affected by cigarette smells. You can also use vinegar on your car seat, floor mats, and upholstery.

When applying vinegar to remove odor in your car, do not apply it to anything electrical like the radio or window buttons.

3.  Carpet Cleaner

For really tough smells on the floor mats or upholstery. You need to get a commercial car carpet cleaner. Saturate the area in the carpet cleaner of your choice, and leave it on as the manufacturers suggest. Then wipe off with a cloth.

4.  Vacuum Your Car

Although vacuuming might sound simple, it can help eliminate sources of odor and even odors themselves. Odors get easily trapped in the fabric. Therefore you should vacuum your car frequently to avoid bad smells.

Vacuuming your car is an excellent method as it also works to get into small corners and crevices to remove anything that could be causing odors. You will need a vacuum with an upholstery attachment and a hose.

Use the upholstery attachment to vacuum all the seats and car floor mats thoroughly. Then use the hose attachment to get into any other crevices and corners of the car. If you have a steam cleaner, you could also use it to bust out bacteria that cause odors.

5. Charcoal

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Did you know that activated charcoal is a natural way to eliminate the horrible smell in a car? Charcoal is an excellent thing to try whether you are dealing with sickness, smoke, dampness, or any other odor.

Get a chunk of charcoal or charcoal bags and leave it in the car for a few days. The more charcoal you use, the quicker it will get rid of foul odor in the vehicle. Remove the charcoal from the car when the smells are done, which should be after a few days.

6. Take Your Car To A Mechanic

Some car odors can only be handled by a mechanic. They might be odors caused by your car overheating – which can cause a burning smell or a gas smell.

Take your car to a mechanic and let them check it out. This helps to troubleshoot the thing that’s causing the odor.

7. Professional Cleaning

When you try all the above methods but still find that you still; need a car smell remover, you might need to take it for a professional cleaning. Professional cleaners use heavy-duty products, tools, and cleaners to ensure that your car is thoroughly cleaned.

You can include it in your budget to take your car twice a year for a full valet, as it is always worth the money!

Best Odor Eliminator- Preventive Measures

Cars get smelly, especially if you spend time on road trips. On road trips, you tend to eat meals on the go, subjecting your vehicle to many smells over time.

We have compiled for you tips that will help prevent car smells. With the tips below, you will not need to go through the hassle of deep cleaning as often.

1. Do Not Smoke While In The Car

Smoking while you are in the car can lead to odors. Smoking not only leaves odors but also leaves a nasty film on your car surfaces. Therefore if you want to prevent the smoke odors, ensure that you do not smoke in the car.

2. Always Empty Your Car Off Trash Immediately

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Having car trash can help remind you to take it out often. Whether it is candy wrappers, junk, coffee cups, or takeaway cartons, always take it out at the end of the day. All the trash in your car might eventually lead to a foul odor.

A good rule of thumb is to ensure that whatever item you get inside the car, you must come out with.

You can use a simple plastic shopping bag, or for something that looks a little nicer, try these car garbage bags!

3. Remove Your Gym Bag After Each Gym Session

 You probably drive to the gym and keep all the essentials in one bag. While it is tempting to leave the gym bag in the car for next time, you shouldn’t. The gym bag can lead to nasty smells in the car.

4. If You Have Pets, Remove Their Damp Dirty Towels After Every Walk

The damp, dirty towels can sit in your car and lead to a horrible smell. You also need to vacuum your vehicle more frequently if you have pets. Pets’ dander and the dirt they bring in can embed themselves into your upholstery which might lead to odors.

5. Keep Your Car Generally Clean

The more stuff you have in your car, the more you will likely find odors later down the line. While the vehicle is a great place to store certain items, you should never forget that it is not an overall storage solution for your family!

And also, the more stuff you have in the car, the easier it is to lose odor-causing items into unknown crevices. Keeping your car clean and tidy can stop odor-causing substances before they cause issues.

6. Always Get Your Car Regularly Serviced

Getting your car serviced and checked for any issues will help prevent surprises. The surprises may be from overheating or gas issues which might also lead to stinky smells in your vehicle.

Do you have any other tips and hacks for keeping the bad odors out of your car? We’d love to hear what works for you!

More Vehicle Care Tips

We hope you’ve found this guide to odor removal helpful. If you’d like more tips on car care and common vehicle issues on your family road trip, you may also be interested in:

© Family Road Trip 2024

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