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How to get rid of car smells

minute read

    If your car smells like rot instead of roses, you may be in for an unpleasant driving experience — one that you’re likely looking to fix. Whether it’s the smell of yesterday’s dinner, an unfortunate pet accident or something else entirely, your car may be due for a little TLC. There are a variety of car smells out there — some may be eliminated with a simple selection of cleaning products, while others could be a sign of a mechanical issue that requires professional assistance. Read on and learn how to get smells out of a car.

    Types of car smells

    While you may want to keep the new car smell intact for as long as you can, day-to-day life often makes that an impossible task. There are several reasons certain scents may develop in your car. Some may disappear on their own, while others require routine maintenance as a remedy. Common causes of car smells include:

    • Food
    • Pets
    • Cigarettes
    • Beverage spills

    While some car smells may be easy to fix on your own, there are others that might indicate an internal issue within your vehicle. To avoid trouble down the road, a trip to your trusted mechanic may be in order for odors that smell like:

    • Musty mildew
    • Gasoline
    • Exhaust
    • Rotten eggs (sulfur-like)
    • Burning rubber
    • A sweet syrup

    Getting smells out of a car

    Different car smells require different solutions. This is especially true if you’re planning on returning a leased car; stains left on the interior could cost you excess wear and tear charges. While some smells may be fixed with a little bit of DIY elbow grease, others might require professional help. Let’s take a deeper look at the odors you might encounter and how you can address them.

    Food smells

    Food remains are a common challenge. Consider trash removal, wiping down surfaces with antibacterial products, vacuuming the carpets and floor mats and opening the windows (when weather and driving conditions allow) to help get rid of the smell. If the source of the odor is a liquid stain, you may want to try using a professional car seat cleaning product to treat it.

    Pet smells

    If your furry friend comes on adventures in your pet-friendly car, they might leave an odor behind. You can typically treat a pet smell as you would a food smell. However, there are specialty car products for tackling pet odors. Before applying any product to your car, check out the directions and potential warnings to help ensure you’re using it correctly.

    Animal smells may be indicative of a problem somewhere else in the car. For example, mice are known to nest in the underbody of a vehicle. If you suspect an infestation, you may want to have a mechanic check it out.

    Cigarette smells

    Cigarette smells may be tough to get rid of completely. When someone smokes a cigarette in your car, smoke particles may embed themselves deep into the interior. You can try to eliminate the smell by wiping down your vehicle's interior surfaces with an antibacterial product. Then, sprinkle baking soda on all interior fabric surfaces, leave it to sit overnight, and vacuum the following day. If the smell persists, consider taking your car in for professional detailing.

    Musty, damp smells

    Musty smells coming from your AC vents may be caused by the buildup of moisture in the drain lines and air filters. Consider asking your mechanic if it’s time to change your cabin air filter. For mild cases of mustiness, you might consider using a mold-fighting disinfectant aerosol.

    Homemade solutions, such as a concentrated mix of water and vinegar, may be an option, but be prepared for a faint smell of vinegar afterward (this will typically clear on its own). A sprinkle of baking soda left overnight may work in some cases.

    Note that some common household cleaning products contain chemicals that could cause damage to your vehicle. In turn, it’s generally best to use cleaning products that are labeled as safe for cars.

    Burnt rubber smells

    If you smell burning rubber inside your car, it may be a loosened rubber belt or hose under the hood. When they make contact with a hot engine, they often cause the smell of burnt rubber. An oil leak, overheated tires or brakes may do the same. Your local mechanic may be the best route to help ensure your rubber belt and hose are secure.

    Gas smells

    Lingering gas smells after filling up your gas tank can indicate a few things, including a potential problem with your gas cap, or a leaky fuel tank or injector. In any event, your local mechanic may be able to diagnose where the gas odor originates from and perform a safety check. Gas leaks can be serious and have a long-term impact on the quality of your vehicle.

    Exhaust smells

    Exhaust smells normally require a similar level of caution. These smells may come from a leaking or dislodged exhaust pipe that needs fixing. Regular oil changes (in line with your manufacturer’s recommendations) may also help prevent oil from leaking and burning through your vehicle’s piston rings.

    Rotten-egg or sulfuric smells

    A lingering, rotten-egg smell in your car may be due to forgotten food that has begun to spoil. It could also be indicative of a mechanical problem, such as a damaged fuel filter, worn-out fuel pressure sensors or an issue with the catalytic converter. These are potentially serious issues so you may want to consult with an auto professional to check and maintain the safety and functionality of your vehicle.

    Sweet, syrupy smells

    If you notice a scent of sweet syrup inside your car, it may be more than the remnants of your on-the-go pancake breakfast. Rather, it could indicate a coolant leak that may lead to your vehicle overheating. Bringing your car into the shop is typically the best way to get this properly checked out.

    Additional tips for removing car smells

    While it’s helpful to know how to get smells out of a car, there are preventative actions you can take to potentially avoid the problem altogether. To keep your car’s squeaky-clean scent, consider the following steps to keep foul odors at bay:

    • Remove leftover food and drinks: While it may be tempting to crumple an empty food container under your seat, throwing this waste away quickly may prevent greasy smells from setting in.
    • Keep your windows open: When in suitable driving conditions, opening your windows and allowing fresh air to enter could be an effective way to prevent musty odors from taking hold.
    • Avoid smoking in your vehicle: Cigarette smoke may be one of the most difficult scents to eliminate. To prevent this challenge, you may want to avoid smoking in your car altogether.
    • Clean regularly: Regular vacuuming and cleaning surfaces within your vehicle may help prevent a buildup of dirt, dust and other debris. If you’re driving a new car, routine cleaning could help your vehicle keep its new car smell longer.
    • Take your vehicle in for regular inspections: Staying vigilant with car maintenance is important to the overall health and safety of your vehicle. Even if you don’t smell anything, a professional may identify an issue before it arises during a routine vehicle inspection.

    In summary

    Getting a whiff of bad car smells can make anyone’s day unpleasant. Now that you know how to get smells out of a car, you can start following your nose and freshening your vehicle up properly. And, if you sniff out a more serious issue, your local mechanic will be able to inspect your vehicle and possibly prevent any long-term damage.

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