How to Keep an Odor-Free Car

Few things are worse than being trapped in a smelly vehicle for hours at a time. It doesn’t matter where your odors come from—almost anything can cause lingering smells that make your drive a misery. From pets and cigarettes to kids, spills, and even your work as a rideshare driver, the cause isn’t nearly as important as getting rid of it.

Fortunately, odors are rarely so caked into a car that they can’t be eliminated. With the right treatment and upkeep, you can enjoy a fresh-scented drive every time.

  1. Identify the Cause: You can’t get rid of a smell until you know what’s causing it. For most people, this means locating the item of food or drink that’s been spilled or left behind (or, as is often the case, lost under a seat). Eliminating this item will go a long way in reducing the immediate smell. Make sure you check the trunk and any pockets in the backseat, too.
  2. Change Your Habits: Sometimes, a smell isn’t caused by an item so much as a habit. Eating in the car, smoking in the car, filling up the car with soccer players every weekend after the big game…these odors might be more difficult to get rid of because of your lifestyle. If you’re not ready to make a major life change, you’ll need to get in the habit of regularly deodorizing and detailing your car instead.
  3. Check the Air Filter: If you search for the source of the smell but can’t find anything conclusive, you may need to check the cabin air filter. This is where all outside debris is trapped so that it can’t enter your ventilation system. These filters do need to be changed from time to time, so ask your mechanic or detailer to take a look the next time they’re working on your car.
  4. Clean the Interior: It’s always best to start with a clean slate, so begin your deodorizing journey with a deep-clean of your car’s interior. At the most basic level, this means throwing out all trash, vacuuming the carpets (including under seats and floor mats), and wiping down the surfaces.
  5. Shampoo the Carpets/Upholstery: Stains that have worked into the carpet and upholstery will need to be deep cleaned. A steam carpet cleaner will do the trick fastest, but you can also use a spot carpet cleaner and scrub brush to hand-clean the problem areas. (Note: Make sure you always allow your interior to fully dry before you start using it again. Wet spots can make smells worse by attracting mold and mildew.)
  6. Choose an Odor Neutralizer: The best-smelling car is one that doesn’t smell like anything at all. Although cleaning products and air fresheners might be better than rotten bananas, they can cause long-term health problems, especially in those prone to headaches. Instead, find an odor-neutralizing option that works for you. A bowl of baking soda left overnight or crushed charcoal briquettes do a good job of filtering the air for you.
  7. Open the Windows: On nice days, don’t be afraid to open the windows and let nature do the hard work for you. A few minutes of driving through your neighborhood with all the windows open will do a good job of letting in fresh air and helping dry any damp spots in your interior.

We also strongly recommend that you build a regular car detail into your maintenance schedule. Nothing gets your vehicle as clean as a good detail, and this will give you a solid, clean base to build the rest of your habits on top of.