You hoped you’d never have to learn how to deal with it, but it finally happened: You left your car’s windows down or your convertible top open, and a sudden rain storm completely soaked your vehicle’s interior. Or maybe a sunroof drain clogged making for a tiny waterfall in your sedan. Don’t panic, though; there are a number of things you can do to make sure that you don’t have to deal with any permanent damage. Here are some tips for how to dry out your wet car in three easy steps so you can get back on the road as soon as possible.
1. Water, Water Everywhere
Your first order of business is to get as much water out of your car as possible as quickly as you can. If your floorboards have an inch or more of standing water, you’ll want to use a wet/dry vac to suck it out, taking particular care to get into the nooks and crannies between the seats, center console and armrests. You can even park on a hill so the water run to the lowest side and is easier to collect. Some vehicles like the Jeep Wrangler actually have floor drain plugs that can be removed to let water out. Other vehicles may have drain plugs, but the are not always easy to remove.
Next, use shop towels to soak up any water from carpets and seats. It’s always better to use cloth rather than paper towels for this step, because cloth towels are much more absorbent. Cloth towels also reduce waste since you can reuse them. Really press the towels into the carpet and seats to soak up water that is below the surface layers. If you did remove your floor drain plugs, make sure to put them back in correctly. You may need a small amount of sealant to secure them.
2. Use Airflow to Clear Out Moisture
No matter how much you towel or vacuum off your car’s surfaces, any fabric and carpeting in your car, as well as the chassis beneath, will be damp to the touch. So, how can you deal with any lingering moisture?
Start by positioning a fan, two if possible, so that it blows across the car’s floors and seats from one side to the other. A shop fan is perfect for this. The more air flow the better. For real air power use a plug-in leaf blower to direct air under seats. Keep the car’s doors open and leave the fans running for at least a day inside your garage. This should thoroughly dry out any remaining moisture. If you can, station a dehumidifier in your garage while the fans are running to take as much wetness out of the air as possible.
If you’re stuck far away from home, don’t worry: You can also blast your car’s heater to simulate the drying effect of the fans. Turn on the air conditioning, crank the temperature to hot, fan speed high, and set the system to recirculate. The AC evaporator will collect moisture from the recirculating hot air and drain it out the bottom of the heater box. This method is less efficient, however, and should only be used as a temporary fix until you can properly ventilate your car.
3. Keep Mold Out of the Picture
Even after performing all of these steps, there’s still a chance that lingering moisture could set the stage for future mold growth and mustiness. Ditch the air freshener and target areas that might still feel wet with a blow dryer. Next, get some moisture-absorbent products, such as baking soda or dehumidifier packs, that you can leave inside the car behind each of the seats. This will work over time to dry out your car’s cabin and reduce the chance of funky odors taking root. Keep airing your car out whenever possible, but keep an eye on the weather so you don’t end up right where you started.
A wet car isn’t the end of the world. As long as you keep calm and follow these basic steps for how to dry off your car’s interior, you should be able to avoid any permanent water damage to your vehicle. These tips are geared more towards fresh water that came from rain or snow. If your vehicle was flooded or otherwise in deeper water, you will need to go a lot further than just drying thing out.
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Having been bitten by the car bug at a young age, I spent my formative years surrounded by Studebakers at car shows across Quebec and the northeastern United States. Over ten years of racing, restoring, and obsessing over automobiles lead me to balance science writing and automotive journalism full time. I currently contribute as an editor to several online and print automotive publications, and I also write and consult for the pharmaceutical and medical device industry.