Skip to main content

How to Clean and Remove Bad Odors From Your Car

Barbara is familiar with skunks and their unfortunate odor and is here to share the best methods of removal and prevention.

You can get any odor out of your car.

You can get any odor out of 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.