How to Get a Bad Smell Out of Your Car

If your car has a musty, mildew, smoke, or other unpleasant smell that you’d like to remove, there are a few methods you can try depending on the odor. Some odors might require a deep clean that involves disassembling the car’s interior, and other odors might involve a light cleaning that requires replacing the cabin air filter. Whether the smell is pungent or minor, this guide explains how to get a bad smell out of your car with fixes for common kinds of odors like smoke or smells from the carpet.

Easy and Simple Methods to Remove Bad Smells from Your Car

Steps for Removing a Bad Odor from the Car

  1. Remove Trash and Debris

    Remove any debris or trash that might cause a dirty or unpleasant smell, like food containers

  2. Clean the Windows with Glass Cleaner

    Clean the inside of the windows with glass cleaner

  3. Wipe Interior Parts with Interior Cleaner

    Wipe the dashboard and plastic interior trim panels with interior cleaner

  4. Vacuum the Carpet

    Vacuum and remove any sand and debris from the carpet

  5. Inspect and Replace the Cabin Air Filter

    Remove the cabin air filter, which is usually located behind the glovebox, and inspect it for debris and dirt. If the cabin air filter is dirty, replace it

How to Remove Pet Hair, Gym Bag, and Coffee Stain Odors

Cleaning the carpet with carpet shampoo

Use the steps above to clean the car.

In addition to the steps above, clean and scrub the seats and carpet with an upholstery cleaner or carpet shampoo.

Aerosol interior car odor eliminator

An aerosol car bomb or odor eliminator might also help remove any lingering odor from the air.

This video has some tips on how to clean a car’s interior

How to Get a Smoke, Mildew, or Musty Smell Out of Your Car

Some odors are stronger and might stay in the car even after using the cleaning methods listed above. These tend to be smells like sweat from the vents and smoke or mildew smells in the interior of the car.

Spilt gas canister

Water leaks can cause mildew and moldy smells, cars routinely smoked in can carry a smoke smell, and some pungent fluids like gasoline might spill and leave an odor behind.

Cleaning a car's metal surface

These smells are difficult to remove. You might need to remove parts like the seats, carpet, interior panels, the headliner, and clean all surfaces like the metal underneath.

Cleaning the seat with an industrial carpet cleaner
Cleaning the seat with an industrial carpet cleaner

You might also need to rent an industrial carpet cleaner to clean the seats and headliner, and you might need to replace the entire carpet.

How to Get Rid of a Smell in the HVAC System

Using disinfectant spray on a car vent

A disinfectant spray might help remove a smell from the vents, and steps involve spraying into the vents, and spraying into the intake with the fan on. These steps might also include running the car with the cabin air filter removed.

Ozone machine
Ozone machine

After using a disinfectant spray in the vents, use an ozone machine. Since you don’t want to breathe in the air, park the car outside, put the windows up, and crack a window to run the wire. Run the machine for at least 30 minutes.

Why Can I Still Smell the Odor?

The smell might not be entirely gone, but these methods should help reduce if not eliminate it. If any of the smell still remains after cleaning your car’s interior or you want to add a smell to your car’s interior, you can always place one of the following inside:

  • Air freshener
  • Box of baking soda
  • Charcoal without the accelerant or lighter fluid inside
  • Coffee grounds
Baking soda, bag of charcoal, and coffee grounds to help fix a bad smell in the car
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How to Get a Bad Smell Out of Your Car -  Remove Car Smells - 1A Auto
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How to Get a Bad Smell Out of Your Car - Remove Car Smells - 1A Auto
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Learn how to get a bad smell out of your car like a smoke, mildew, or musty smell out of your car interior with these expert tips from our mechanics in this video and article and clean your car with our how-to videos
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