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How to Get Rid of Car Odor

An air freshener hangs from a car's rearview mirror

Knowing how to get rid of car odor is important, even if you’re someone who keeps your car interior sparkling clean. If there’s an accidental spill or a missed piece of dropped food, getting rid of the lingering smell can make the drive a lot nicer for everyone. Here’s how to get rid of car odor so you don’t always have to drive with the windows down.

Remove Any Debris

The cause of an unwelcome odor in a car will often be a hidden bit of trash. It could be a chicken nugget your kids fumbled, a wrapper stuck beneath the seat or a leaky drink that left a mess in the cup holder.

If you’re trying to figure out how to get rid of car odor, then your first step should be removing any trash. Move the car seats and get into the crevices, especially by the seat belt buckles where there’s room for crumbs to hide. Get underneath all the seats, wipe down the cup holders and check all the door storage cubbies. Don’t forget the trunk or cargo area, as trash left back there can easily smell up the whole car.

Clean the Carpets and Seats

If a search for hidden trash turns up nothing, the next step is to clean all fabric surfaces thoroughly, including seats, carpets and floor mats:

  1. First, vacuum up the surface dirt.
  2. Next, give the interior a good scrub. Use a cleaner designed for car interiors, and take special care with leather seats, as they require their own treatments.
  3. As you clean, don’t go crazy with the amount of water you use. There should be just enough to do the job but not so much that the fabric is soaked and won’t dry.
  4. Allow the carpets, seats and floor mats to dry thoroughly so the smell of mold isn’t added to the mix.
  5. Once everything is clean, you can help keep the vehicle smelling fresh by spraying an odor eliminator on any fabric surfaces.

Try Baking Soda

Some smells, such as pet odors or cigarette smoke, can be tougher to eliminate and may benefit from a little baking soda. Sprinkle it onto fabrics, let it sit for a few minutes, and then vacuum the smell away. A few tablespoons of baking soda dissolved into water can work for wiping down hard surfaces like dashboards or vinyl seats.

The Good Old Air FreshenerHow to Get Rid of Car Odor

Once your car is free of odors, keep it smelling good with an air freshener. There’s a wide range of scents to choose from, so you should be able to find one you like. Many air fresheners not only add a pleasant scent to your vehicle but also help to remove residual odors from the air, so you won’t have to worry about the smell of sweaty gym clothes or onions on a takeout burger lingering for days.

No one wants to drive a smelly car. Fortunately, once you know how to get rid of car odors, you can ensure a more pleasant ride for yourself and your passengers.

Check out all the cleaning products available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on how to get rid of car odor, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Unsplash.


Nicole Wakelin View All

Nicole Wakelin covers the automotive industry as a freelance journalist for a variety of outlets. Her work includes news pieces, podcasts, radio, written reviews, and video reviews. She can be found in The Boston Globe, CarGurus, BestRide, US News and World Report, and AAA along with lifestyle blogs like Be Car Chic, The Other PTA, and She Buys Cars. She is active on social media with a large following on both Twitter and Instagram and currently serves as Vice President of the New England Motor Press Association.

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