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How to Clean and Remove Bad Odors From Your Car


Getting odors out of your car can be a big job. We allowed someone to use our car to drive to work. It reeked when she was finished driving it. She threw bags of food in the back seat and pop glasses that were half full leaked on the carpets. Whew! I'm not allowing her to use our car again. Have you ever smelled rotten fruit? That is what our car smelled like.

If you follow some easy steps, you can get any odor out of your car. It might take some hard work, but it is better than driving around with that stinky smell.

You'll need to clean even the doors.

You'll need to clean even the doors.

Getting Bad Odors Out of the Car

The first job is to locate the source of the odor. Get rid of those nasty items. I started by getting rid of all of the bags of fast food garbage and getting the pop glasses out.

Does the car still smell stinky? Vacuum the car out first. Shampoo all the areas you know were involved. Do a small spot check on the seats and carpets to make sure they are colorfast. Clean under the seats and every nook and cranny you can reach.

This is a good time to shampoo the entire vehicle. Cleaning all of the seats is a good idea. If you do this, you won't miss anything. If they are leather, use a good leather cleaner. Otherwise, shampoo these, too.

Don't forget the dash and the front of the dash.

Don't forget the dash and the front of the dash.

Don't forget the floor mats. If they are rubber, first use some soapy water on them. An old toothbrush will help you get in the crevices. Then rinse with a hose. Let these dry out in the air. I've taken carpet matting and cleaned them this way, too. Hang them so that they dry right away.

If it is a nice, sunny day, leave all the windows open. This will help the floors and seats to dry. The fresh air will help get rid of odors, too. Leave the windows open on any day that you know it won't rain. This alone helps clean the air in the vehicle.

If the vehicle still has an odor, sprinkle it with baking soda and let it stay there as long as possible. Then vacuum it up. Baking soda absorbs odor. If you have dark carpeting, crushed charcoal may be a better idea. Try to keep these out of the little nooks and crannies because they can be hard to vacuum up later.

After that, vacuum again. If needed, keep the windows open. It wouldn't hurt to clean the doors, dash, inside windows and everything else at the same time. The odor can be coming from liquid spilled in the beverage compartment in the doors.

Don't forget the seats and carpets. Clean the seat belts too.

Don't forget the seats and carpets. Clean the seat belts too.

If the Car Still Has Odors

Consider that the odor may be coming from your trunk. Clean the entire trunk by first removing everything in it. Then vacuum and shampoo. Now leave the trunk lid open until the carpeting dries.

If all of these steps don't work, try spraying Febreze or another, similar product. Keep your windows open whenever it is safe to do so. Keep the car clean at all times.

Removing Cigarette Smoke Odors

Smoke odors may be a little harder to remove. You are going to need to clean every surface of the interior. This includes windows, dashboard, doors and door handles, the ceiling—everything.This is going to take a while.

Be sure to vacuum and shampoo the floors and seats and any other fabric surface. This should go a long way towards getting rid of the odor.

You need to do this, especially if you are planning to trade your car in at a dealer or try to sell it. One of our friends worked at a car dealership and cleaned cars. He was told that the minute someone smoked in a car, its value went down. People that don't smoke don't like the smell.

It helps to put charcoal in the ashtray. You can purchase this crushed or you can crush some yourself. Charcoal absorbs odors. Baking soda will accomplish the same thing.

You should sprinkle baking soda on the carpets and seats. Be careful that it doesn't get into hard-to-vacuum places because it will show on dark carpeting and seats. Don't rub it in. Instead, sprinkle it lightly. Let it stay there for several hours. Then, you'll need to vacuum again.

If this still doesn't work, leave the windows open as often as possible. Leave bowls with vinegar-soaked towels in the car. This should be all you'll need to do.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


Barbara Badder (author) from USA on June 02, 2018:

Thanks for the tip. I have a charcoal bag in my basement and that works too.

SmileyCat2010 on June 02, 2018:

One more tip: I had a bottle of milk spilled in my car I cleaned the mat but still being bothered by the smell. I found a kind of air freshener bag on Amazon, which is called Nano Mineral Crystal Activated Carbon, that does a lot of help to absorb the odors. It is a brown linen bag containing black activated charcoal balls, and the package came with a small pink heart shape card, which is very cute.

Barbara Badder (author) from USA on July 01, 2016:

Eww! That is a bad one. I wish you the best of luck removing the odor. Your plan of attack should work. Try leaving the trunk open afterwards also.

Andrea on June 28, 2016:

My husband forgot a bag of chicken in the trunk for about a week. We didn't notice it until we had a couple of very hot days this past weekend. The stench was horrible. We sprinkled a box of baking soda in the trunk and carpeting overnight. It took a lot of the smell away but it's still lingering. I think we will try shampooing and then some Febreeze, after another box of baking soda.

Barbara Badder (author) from USA on February 04, 2015:

peachpurple, Thanks for reading.

peachy from Home Sweet Home on February 04, 2015:

good tips, i was looking for better ways to clean up. voted up

Barbara Badder (author) from USA on June 17, 2013:

peachpurple, Thanks for reading the hub. It is a lot of work, no doubt.

peachy from Home Sweet Home on June 17, 2013:

this is what i am looking for. Getting rid of the odors in the car is hard but with lots of wiping and vacuuming, i am sure the odor would be gone in no time. Smoking is out for us. However, kids love to eat in the car. Thanks for the tips.

Barbara Badder (author) from USA on June 09, 2013:

Au fait, Most seats are colorfast. I'd keep trying and if you didn't find one that worked, there are bottles of dry cleaning solutions you can get. They are more expensive though.

I've heard of using newspaper for musty books. They suggested putting them in a barrel with newspaper for a month and the odor would be gone. The ink in the paper is supposed to absorb odors. That is a great idea you came up with. Thanks for pinning the hub and commenting.

C E Clark from North Texas on June 09, 2013:

Lots of good ideas here. I wonder, if the seats aren't colorfast, do you just not shampoo them and leave them smelly? ;) Try a different shampoo or what?

Several years ago I bought a decorative Santa at a yard sale. When I bought it the Santa was outside on display in the fresh air, so I didn't notice until I got it home that it reeked something awful of cigarette smoke. I packed it into a box and put crumpled newspaper all around it. It took several weeks, but the newspaper absorbed every bit of that horrible stench.

I'm thinking crumpled newspaper in the car would work too, for cigarette smoke and maybe other unpleasant odors, too. Just stuff the newspaper up under the seats and in places it won't bother and leave it for a couple of weeks and see what happens.

I don't really know how long it takes for the newspaper to absorb odors because that wasn't my purpose when I packed Santa up. It may only take a few hours or days. Experiment to see just how long it does take. It's not as messy as some things and easy to remove if done in a reasonable time.

Pinning this hub on my 'Household Hints' board.

Barbara Badder (author) from USA on May 06, 2013:

teaches12345, It won't be such a job if it doesn't stink. Thanks for commenting.

Barbara Badder (author) from USA on May 06, 2013:

greatstuff, I can imagine how smelly fish could be. We used to do a lot of fishing, but my husband works a lot of overtime now and we don't get to anymore. Thanks for reading and I'm happy you found it useful.

Dianna Mendez on May 05, 2013:

Thanks for the suggestions. I do need to clean out my car soon.

Mazlan A from Malaysia on May 05, 2013:

Sounds like a lot of work but these are necessary steps to take, to completely get rid of odor in your car. I had this problem after one of our fishing trips. I was too lazy though and sent it to a professional car cleaner instead. Will bookmark this article for my future reference.

Barbara Badder (author) from USA on May 05, 2013:

ChristyWrites, Thanks for reading and sharing. I'm happy I gave some tips you could use.

Christy Birmingham from British Columbia, Canada on May 05, 2013:

Good tip Barbara about the toothbrush on the floor mats, to get into the crevices. My car does not smell but I do need to give it a once-over clean inside. Thanks for the tips! Vote up and sharing.

Barbara Badder (author) from USA on April 19, 2013:

Carlysullens, Yes a car can have all kinds of smelly things happen. Thanks for voting it up.

Carly Sullens from St. Louis, Missouri on April 18, 2013:

Ugh! When you have kids, all sorts of odors seem to come from the car. The worst is a sippy cup with milk! You have some great tips here. Voted +

Barbara Badder (author) from USA on April 17, 2013:

Sheri, I agree. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Sheri Dusseault from Chemainus. BC, Canada on April 17, 2013:

Very useful info. The worst smell is McDonalds!

Barbara Badder (author) from USA on April 16, 2013:

Victoria, Thanks for reading and voting it up.

Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on April 15, 2013:

Great advice. I need to do this to my car just b/c of general smells it has accumulated. How awful of that person to junk up and stink up your car! Great hub. Voted up and more!

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