How to Deodorize a Car

Cars develop smell over time from food, pets, messes, and other sources. Luckily, a car is usually easy to deodorize in a few simple steps. Clean your car thoroughly and apply substances to remove odor. If you notice a potentially dangerous smell, like the smell of gas, seek professional assistance immediately. Most smells, however, can be dealt with without mechanics or professional cleaners.


EditCleaning out Your Car

  1. Look for sources of odor. If you notice an unpleasant smell in your car, search your car for a potential cause. Search the floor of your car for anything that could cause odor, like clothing, spills, or food. Be sure to search under seats, in between seats, any compartments or cup holders, and in the trunk.[1]
    Deodorize a Car Step 1.jpg
  2. Toss out any obvious causes of a bad smell. Get a large trash bag and toss any obvious causes of odor, such as food wrappings, old napkins, and anything else. Even things like magazines can cause a musty odor if they become damp. Removing any items from your car that don’t need to be there can help cut down on odor. [2]
    Deodorize a Car Step 2.jpg
  3. Use a vacuum to clean your car’s interior. Make sure to clean everywhere in your car, including under rugs and carpeting and under seats. Vacuum down the seats as well. Make sure to place the vacuum’s nozzle into the nooks or crannies of seats so you can get any dirt and debris lodged in between seats.[3]
    Deodorize a Car Step 3.jpg
    • You can use a handheld vacuum if you have one at home, but making a trip to a car wash is usually more effective. You can use the nozzle vacuum cleaner there, which should be able to thoroughly remove dirt and debris from your car that may be causing a bad smell.
  4. Remove any spills and stains from the carpeting. If you notice any spills while you’re cleaning, use a commercial carpet cleaner or a shampoo from a department store. Apply the cleaner to the floor according to package directions. Then, rub the cleaner into a stain with a soft cloth or sponge and then rinse the cleaner from the car with water.[4]
    Deodorize a Car Step 4.jpg
    • Most cleaners should be diluted with water prior to use.
    • Make sure to test the cleaner on a small, unnoticeable portion of your car’s floor first to make sure it’s safe to use on your car’s interior.
  5. Wipe down any non-carpeted surfaces. In addition to cleaning the carpet, wipe down any non-carpeted surfaces like the dashboard. Remove any spills and stains from these areas using a non-purpose cleaner.
    Deodorize a Car Step 5.jpg
    • You should test any cleaner you use on a small, inconspicuous portion of the car first to make sure it doesn’t cause damage.

EditApplying a Deodorizing Substance

  1. Spray down vents with an AC cleaner. With time, a car’s air conditioner vents build up dirt and debris that can cause an unpleasant smell in your car. Make sure to treat the AC while deodorizing your car. Buy an AC cleaner made for cars at a local hardware store. Spritz down the vents of the car’s air conditioning system with the cleaner. This will help reduce bad smells.[5]
    Deodorize a Car Step 6.jpg
  2. Place a container of dryer sheets in the car. Simply fill a container with dryer sheets and place it somewhere in your car. Dryer sheets can help absorb unwanted odor and also give off a pleasant scent. After cleaning your car, placing dryer sheets in the car can help eliminate lingering odors.[6]
    Deodorize a Car Step 7.jpg
  3. Treat your car with white vinegar. Mix equal parts white vinegar and water. Spritz this mixture onto any areas in your car that are producing a bad smell. Saturate the area and let the vinegar absorb into the car. Then, use a scrub brush or other cleaning tool to scrub out the vinegar mixture. This should leave the car smelling significantly fresher.[7]
    Deodorize a Car Step 8.jpg
  4. Use a pet deodorizer on pet smells. Pet deodorizers are made with specific enzymes that are designed to lift and eliminate pet odors. Brands of pet deodorizers vary in how they are used, but most of them are spritzed onto a stain and left to sit for a specific time period. You then rinse the pet deodorizer out.[8]
    Deodorize a Car Step 9.jpg
    • Make sure to test any pet deodorizer you’re using on a small, unnoticeable area in your car first to make sure it doesn’t cause a stain or damage your car.
  5. Sprinkle baking soda on seats and carpeting. Baking soda can work for a wide variety odors as it naturally lifts scents. All you have to do is sprinkle baking soda over areas in your car that smell. Let the baking soda sit for a few hours or overnight and then vacuum it up.[9]
    Deodorize a Car Step 10.jpg
  6. Leave a container of coffee beans in your car. Place seven ounces of coffee beans in a container and leave the container in your car. If you let the beans sit in your car, they should absorb some odor. You can also use coffee grounds, but these may spill and cause mess.[10]
    Deodorize a Car Step 11.jpg

EditSeeking Professional Assistance

  1. Recognize smells that indicate a problem. A fishy smell may indicate antifreeze is leaking into your car. Smells that come from the heat or AC system may indicate mechanical problems. These issues could be dangerous and indicate your car needs repairs, so take your car to a mechanic if you’re having trouble with these smells.[11]
    Deodorize a Car Step 12.jpg
  2. Call a professional if you notice the scent of gas. If your car smells like gas, do not attempt to treat the issue on your own. This can be very dangerous, as it indicates a leak somewhere in the car. Do not drive your car. Instead, immediately contact a mechanic for advice.[12]
    Deodorize a Car Step 13.jpg
  3. Seek professional treatment for tobacco smells. Tobacco scents can get into a car’s interior and usually cannot be removed without professional help. Even thorough cleanings do not always lift tobacco smells. If your car smells like tobacco, you will need professional cleaning to lift the odor.[13]
    Deodorize a Car Step 14.jpg
    • Keep in mind, even professional cleaning does not have a 100% success rate at lifting tobacco odor, especially if a car was driven for years by a heavy smoker.

EditThings You’ll Need

  • Trash bags
  • Vacuum
  • All-purpose cleaner
  • Carpet cleaner/shampoo
  • Pet deodorizer
  • Dryer sheets
  • Coffee beans/grounds
  • Baking soda
  • Air vent cleaner

EditSources and Citations

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