How to Remove Odours from Your Car

By Lori Straus

With winter pretty much here, we can no longer ignore those off smells emanating from some hidden corner in our vehicles. We can’t open windows during our drive, and because cars can get so cold, we keep them closed as we heat up the interior, intensifying odours. Thankfully, you can take steps to remove odours from your car.

Quick Word of Caution

If you smell gas in your vehicle’s cabin or anything you suspect might be a fluid from your vehicle, have the vehicle inspected immediately at your local garage. Cleaning it at this point will not help with the odour, and the leak may be dangerous.

Step 1: Take Everything Out

Remove everything that you can from the vehicle.

To find the cause of an odour, start by pulling everything out of your vehicle first. That includes the child seat, your emergency pack in the trunk, floor mats, seat covers, and glove compartment contents.

After you’ve emptied the car, do a thorough inspection of all your vehicle’s nooks and crannies. Sometimes all you need to find to solve your problem is that mouldy piece of fruit.

Step 2: Vacuum Your Interior

Use the upholstery attachment on your vacuum cleaner to suck up as much dirt as you can from your vehicle. Then use the crevice tool to get into tight spaces and corners. Don’t forget to vacuum your vent grills, under and between seats, and inside your trunk, etc. If you have a child seat, vacuum it well, too. (In addition, follow the instructions in the owner’s manual for your child seat to thoroughly clean it.)

Step 3: Deodorize Your Vents

Remove the cabin air filter (usually located behind your glove compartment). Using a vent cleaner (a product found in a spray can), clean your air vents and air intake according to the product’s instructions. Also remove the cabin air filter as you’re doing this. If your filter is relatively new, give it a gentle brush to remove accumulated dirt before putting it back in. Otherwise, buy a new one.

Vacuuming the interior of the vehicle.

Step 4: Sprinkle an Odour Absorber Everywhere

Whether you use baking soda, volcanic ash, or another similar odour absorber that’s safe for your vehicle, sprinkle the powder on your cabins carpets, seats (lean the backs back to make dusting them with powder easier), and in your trunk. Don’t use an air freshener, because that only masks odour. You want something that will absorb lingering odours so you can remove the absorbing agent, with the odour encased in it.

At this point, let the powder sit overnight, or at least for a few hours. The longer it stays in your vehicle, the better your car will smell when you’re finished.

Step 5: Clean the Headliners

The headliners are made of much more delicate fabric than the rest of your vehicle’s interior. Don’t soak the material with any kind of cleaner. Instead, spray, dab, and dry lightly.

If a smoker is a regular in the vehicle, clean the seatbelt they frequently use, too.

Step 6: Vacuum the Interior and Trunk Again

Vacuum the odour absorber up, preferably the next day. If you still smell something in your vehicle, look extra hard to find its source. You may need to repeat some of the cleaning steps above to eliminate it.

However, if you suspect at this point that the odour is coming from somewhere in your vehicle’s machinery, take your car in for an inspection. You may have a problem with a component. Also keep in mind that some odours, like smoke, can be difficult and maybe even impossible to remove.

Step 7: Reload!

With your car now odour free, you can reload your cargo and enjoy driving your vehicle in the winter without needing to air it out all the time first!