Morgan Pritchett
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7 Ways to Make Your Car Smell Better

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Febreze Car Vent Clip Air Freshener attached to car heat vent
Photo: The News Wheel

Whether it’s because of a messy spill, the previous owner, or years of use, a stinky car can be a real headache to you and your passengers. You don’t have to live with that smell, though. Removing bad smells from your car is easier than you realize. All you need to do is follow these simple tips!


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1. Freshen the air

The most common recommendation is to hang an air freshener in the car. Some products (like vent clips) work better than others and last longer or are more potent. However, while this may be a temporary fix, the scent eventually dissipates like a spray of perfume does on a person.

Other ways of masking smells include putting dryer sheets under the seats, spraying scented air fresheners, or putting unlit candles under the seats (the heat will function like a candle warmer).

2. Open the windows

A pungent smell often festers because of a lack of air circulation. Open the windows when you drive to reduce the intensity of the smell in addition to letting fresh air circulate in the car. Leave your windows rolled down at home too, when parked in a safe spot, to prevent the smell from worsening via greenhouse effect.

3. Clean it out

Chances are that your car stinks because of what’s going on inside it. Empty your vehicle of all unneeded or dirty items like trash and gym clothes. Next, clean everything thoroughly, including the upholstery, floor, mats, windows, ceiling, and dashboard.

Vacuum on a weekly basis and use an upholstery cleaning spray once a month. Spray disinfectant on messier areas of the cabin. Wipe the plastic areas with vinegar, as dirt can accumulate there too.

man cleaning interior of vehicle seats
Regularly cleaning the interior can help prevent smell buildup

4. Absorb the scent

Letting activated charcoal, vinegar, or coffee grounds sit in a bowl overnight in the cabin will absorb lingering scents in the air. Or you can purchase a plug-in mini air purifier for the auxiliary power outlet.

An old but trusted method of removing smells is to sprinkle baking soda on your car seats and floors, let it sit for a couple hours, and then vacuum the powder up. The baking soda will absorb noxious gasses and moisture in the air.

5. Rubber mats

Fabric-based car mats get dirty easily, are hard to clean, and can soak up messes (but not in a good way). Replace these with rubber mats that are easy to wipe and don’t absorb scents as much.

6. Clean the air ducts

If the smells are coming from your car when you turn on the air conditioning, run your car and spray a special duct cleaning disinfectant through the air intake, making sure to turn the AC on full blast to run the cleaner through (following the product’s directions). Your cabin air filter might be old and in need of replacement, too.


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7. Don’t do this

There are many bad habits we all have that contribute to having a smelly car. If we stop doing these habits, we can prevent smells from forming. Don’t eat in your car; if it’s a regular thing you do, the greasy smell of strong foods will gradually build up. Don’t drink non-water liquids in the car, especially passengers drinking (and spilling) soda. Finally, don’t smoke in the car! That’s probably the worst thing you can do.