Removing Vehicle Interior Odors

Grumpy’s Tips To Remove Automotive Odors

I hate car odors. I really do. Once the new car smell leaves your vehicle it seems like we are on a never-ending mission to keep our cars smelling pleasant. Problem is that it seems any odor that you or your passenger brings in seems to want to stick around. I have collected many solutions over the years that I want to share with you.


Old Grumpy’s Quick Solution

  1. Prevent odors by maintaining a clean car
  2. Use protectant & cleaning wipes to preserve your car’s interior
  3. Deodorize with baking soda or vinegar
  4. Freshen the air with activated bamboo charcoal bags
  5. Schedule a shampoo and condition detailing treatment at least once a year


Odor Prevention Tips

Don’t be a dummy and wonder why your car smells if you haven’t cleaned it in a while. It is easy to leave small trash items around when we are on the go. Try to keep your car clean after cleaning everything out.

Start with the basics and clean everything out of your car and remove all trash. Don’t forget to check under the seats. Every time you break there is a chance something rolled underneath. If you have children, my condolences. Check every nook and cranny for what is best as unidentified blobs of…stuff. Also, clean out your trunk, odors from there can filter into the main cabin.

One of the best preventive measures is to clean spills immediately as they occur. Even if you have a scheduled cleaning routine, do not allow a lingering odor to stick in your car. This is especially the case for organic spills such as vomit or urine.

The cabin air filter is one source that many people overlook or are not aware of. It is not the same as the car air filter that is used for the engine. The cabin filter works like a home’s A/C filter in your car. If the air filter is dirty or clogged it can cause unpleasant odors when you turn on your A/C. Check your owner’s manual on how to change it. Most of them are replaced as follows:

  • Usually behind the glove compartment
  • Open it all the way and remove the plastic screw holding the back panel
  • The panel should slide back or down with minimal force
  • The filter is swapped out exactly how you would replace a home A/C filter


Grumpy Says: “The cabin air filter is one source of potential odor that many people overlook.”



Clean The Surfaces

Just as dust in a home can make the air stuffy, the same goes for the interior of your car. Make a cleaning schedule to wipe down all the seats and surfaces. It’s ok to use a rag for a quick clean but make sure to use Protectant & Cleaning Wipes to preserve your car’s interior. The Armor All band makes a variety of cleaner wipes for surfaces, glass, and even the exterior. I find the cleaner and protection wipes are good enough for most of my cleaning.

Although I like the Armor All band, I am not a fan of their leather wipes. I find that Meguiar’s Leather Cleaner and Conditioner works much better. Leather can become fragile with the heat that accumulates in a car. You will want to keep a more frequent cleaning schedule for leather items in your car.

Vacuum your seats and carpet every-time you wipe the surfaces. People don’t seem to realize that the act of dusting moves dirt around. The vacuum crevice tool will be your best friend to reach all those tight spots. Try sprinkling Baking Soda over the carpet and let it sit for 15 to 30 minutes before vacuuming. Don’t forget about the trunk.


Grumpy Says: “Make a cleaning schedule to wipe down all the seats and surfaces.”



Odor Eliminator Solutions

Deodorizer Spray

A Deodorizing Spray is a common way to freshen up the air. If you choose to use one, do not simply spray all over your interior. An effective method is to turn on your engine and put the A/C to high. Make sure to press the button that shows airflow entering from outside the car. Spray the deodorizer in the A/C intake of your car – usually a vent outside by the passenger side window, next to the wiper. This will freshen the entire car and ducts.


If you have a constant musty odor it may be due to a leak, mold, or both. First, make sure that you do not have an active leak. Assuming that you do not, try using a Dehumidifier. Place it under the passenger seat and check it about a month later.

White Vinegar

Vinegar is a natural antibacterial and anti-fungal solution that absorbs odors. Do not be concerned about the vinegar smell as it will dissipate along with the bad odors once it drys. Mix one part vinegar with two parts water into a spray bottle. You can allow it to dry on its own with cloth seats but you will want to wipe it off leather seats within 5 minutes.

You can use vinegar to help get rid of smoke odor from cigarettes. Place one bowl of vinegar in the front and another in the back of the car. Leave it overnight and repeat as necessary.

Baking Soda

The one solution you will find on almost every page is Baking Soda. This stuff works wonders for cleaning and odor elimination. You can sprinkle some directly on carpet or cloth seats overnight and vacuum the next day. However, do not use on leather seats due to the chemical composition of leather. Basically, it will likely damage it.

Coffee Grounds

Coffee grounds are a solution that has been passed around for a long time. They work just as well as baking soda, with the noticeable difference that a coffee smell is left behind. If you like the smell then place some unused grounds in a pan or small container. You should be able to hide it under the passenger seat for a short time. Just don’t forget about it!

Activated Charcoal

My number one recommendation for homes are activated bamboo charcoal. This stuff is great for absorbing impurity odors from the air. Just keep in mind that it can take a week to remove stubborn smells but it lasts a long time. They work just as well in cars.


If you don’t mind having something less inconspicuous than activated charcoal bags then I would suggest Volcanic Zeolite Rocks. They are literally freaking lava rocks that you put on a try to absorb odors! Leave it inside the car on a sunny day and it should absorb odors and moisture.


You can opt to remove odors at the molecular with an Ionizer. It releases negative ions into the air which neutralizes odors, smoke, and even allergens. It only removes odors and will not produce any pleasant scents. You can plug it into your DC plug and forget about it.

Enzyme Cleaner Spray

If you have stubborn stains or odors try spraying an Enzyme Cleaner. It is perfect for organic spills like vomit, urine, and all pet odors. Do not use it on leather because the same enzymes that eat away bacteria will eat at your leather.

Shampoo & Condition

The best way to remove all odors from your car it to give it a full shampoo and condition treatment. It is worth the money to take it to detailer every now and then. When you get your car back it will feel brand new. I used to take it at least once a year before I got my own shampooer appliance.


If you are curious about getting your own, I recommend the one my wife recently purchased. It has changed the way we clean our home and cars. It’s called a Rainbow Cleaner and it cleans surfaces like carpets and even the air we breathe. At my age, it should be no surprise that I live in Florida. But this vendor can get you connected with a local store if you reach out to them.


Grumpy Says: “Activated bamboo charcoal is great for absorbing impurity odors from the air.”