DETAILING MY CAR > Getting Odors Out of a Car

Getting Odors Out of a Car


Brad's car pics 028Get the Odor Out

Does your car smell kind of funky? Cars can collect odors from cigars, cigarettes, dogs, sweaty gym socks, spilled lattes – you name it. If it can happen at home, it can happen in a car. Someone roll down a window!

There are a lot of things that you can do to make your car smell like new again. In this post I am going to go over my methods and tricks for getting smells out of cars. Plug your nose and let’s find out how to get odors out of cars.

Gather Your Tools and Supplies

Here is a list I put together as a result of 25 years in the auto detail business. Note that you might not need everything on the list.

1. Shop vacuum – the type of vacuum that can handle both wet and dry stuff.

2. Bounce scented dryer sheets.

3. Simple Green all-purpose cleaner.

4. Soft nylon scrub brush.

5. Sponge.

6. Cotton towels.

7. Febreze odor removing spray.

8. Ozone machine.

9. Steam cleaner.

If your car is generally clean and tidy, you may not need to go through the whole interior auto detail process to make it smell like new. If your dog jumped in for a quick ride or the hubby smoked a quick stogie inside for a few minutes, then you may be able to get away with just misting down the headliner and seats with Febreze, which is available at any store that carries cleaning supplies. (Be sure not to soak the headliner – just mist it lightly so it won’t sag down permanently.) Simply spray it on and you will be left with a fresh smell. This is not just a cover up. Febreze gets to work by attacking the source of the smell, so it is really an odor eliminator. I always have a bottle on hand.

If this doesn’t quite do the trick, it’s time to try the Bounce scented dryer sheets. Simply grab a few of them and stuff them up under the front seats. This is a trick a lot of car dealerships use. It makes the car smell great.

Take Stronger Steps to Make the Car Smell Better

If a shot of Febreze and some dryer sheets don’t cut it, you will need to take some stronger steps. This can easily be done with the tools and products noted above.

I’m going to start with a condensed version of my steps for an interior auto detail. You can get in-depth information in my post on complete interior auto detailing.

To start, vacuum the interior of the car. Next, grab your Simple Green (read the label and dilute it to the proper strength), sponge, scrub brush and cotton towels. Mix diluted Simple Green and warm water in a bucket. Dunk your sponge into the mixture and wring out most of the liquid. Next, rub down the interior with the damp sponge.

Work in small sections and dry the areas off as you go. Don’t get headliners too wet. Just sponge them and then blot them with a dry towel. Read the post on interior detailing to find out what you can and can’t get wet when shampooing an interior, such as electrical switches, buttons, radios, navigation screens and instrument clusters. Water can ruin them. Use the damp sponge and clean towels to clean the seats, too.

When it comes time to clean the carpets, you will need to use the soft nylon scrub brush. Dunk it in the cleaning solution and scrub the floors and mats with firm pressure. Once you have scrubbed it down, take a dry towel and rub the carpets to get out the moisture and dirt. You won’t believe how dirty the towel gets.

After shampooing the interior, give the floors and seats a good vacuum – it helps pull up remaining moisture. Let the car dry out for an hour or so. Stick your head inside and give it the sniff test. If the car smells fresh, you can stop here. However, if it still smells like a sweaty gym sock, you need to bring out the big guns.

Bring Out the Big Guns – Steam Cleaners and Ozone Machines

You’ll need a steam cleaner and ozone generator for this step. Both are generally available at tool rental stores. These are the serious tools an auto detailer uses to conquer smells. Now don’t be lazy – read the directions on how to use this equipment. If you do it wrong, you will simply waste your money or make the problem worse.

Fill the steam cleaner with the recommended levels of water and appropriate soap. Use the small hand-wand to work over cloth seats and carpets. Work in overlapping strokes to get good coverage. DO NOT use this machine on the headliner. Let the interior dry. I would give the car another shot of Febreze.

If the steam cleaner didn’t quite get all of the smell out, it’s time to try the ozone machine. Ozone is able to penetrate into porous materials and kill smells that regular shampoo won’t get out. A word of caution here: Never let an ozone machine run for more than 30 minutes in a car. In my experience, going beyond this can leave too strong of an ozone smell that may last for months. Just give it a short shot of the stuff when the interior is fully dry. This method should kill any odor in a car. Let the car air out for an hour or so and then give it another sniff test.

These are the tricks I used at my auto detail shop for years – with great success. With just a little work, you can do this at home. Just be patient and don’t give up. No smell can outlive these tricks.

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