Almost everyone loves the “new car smell” when they open the doors and get into a recently purchased vehicle. However, over time, this pleasant scent of novelty fades and is replaced by stale air, unpleasant and moldy odors. How to get rid of them?

Why does the car smell musty?

While upholstery and carpets are the places that most often accumulate unpleasant odors, door panels, mats, and other hard or semi-soft surfaces also contribute to poor air quality. To understand the process of removing odors inside cars, you first need to understand how they arise. And unpleasant odors can appear in many ways.

Mold and Mustiness

Odors from mold and mustiness are common in older vehicles. If you’ve ever happened to leave a window open during heavy rain, the car’s interior probably got wet. Such a situation is a perfect environment for the development of mold and mustiness in the car. Although plastic, which makes up the surface of many car interior elements, is not susceptible to mold and mustiness, dirt and other organic materials already present there allow these microorganisms to settle. Many luxury cars have leather inserts on doors, seats, and other similar places, which can also accumulate mold and mustiness if not properly maintained. The development of the aforementioned is accompanied by a characteristic, unpleasant smell.

Cigarette Smoke

The smell of cigarette smoke is one of the strongest and most difficult odors to remove in the car cabin. The smoke smell is difficult to remove because it penetrates the upholstery, carpet, hard surfaces, and infiltrates the ventilation system. Therefore, changing the cabin filter is mandatory when removing smoke from cigarettes or cigars.

Other causes of unpleasant car odor

Many substances can linger in the cabin of your car, even if you think they have already been removed. Most newer vehicles have drink holders in the doors, in addition to those in the center console. You’ve surely spilled coffee, a fizzy drink, or sticky juice once or twice. Leaving such spills for a long time results in the development of an unpleasant smell. External dust, dirt, and other microorganisms, cigar smoke, spilled drinks, pet hair and urine, and other substances leave invisible residues, which over time accumulate inside the car, giving your cabin a sour smell. Some odors are more stubborn to remove than others and may require different methods and substances to remove them. However, one thing is certain. Thorough steam cleaning of the car interior, followed by the use of a mild detergent solution, is the most effective way to remove odors from your vehicle.

How to remove mold smell and smoke from the car

The best way to get rid of unpleasant smells from the car interior is thorough cleaning of the entire cabin. Unpleasant odors can penetrate from such places as the ventilation system, which blows air into the car interior. Sometimes changing the ventilation filters alone is not enough. You also need to clean the vents, but how to do it? Is washing and scrubbing enough? In most cases, not. Consider the following tips:

  1. Vacuum all surfaces of the car before starting

Before steaming, vacuum all interiors thoroughly, including the door panel. Use a nozzle that allows access to cracks and crevices where ash and odor-causing residues may linger.

  1. Baking Soda

Baking soda is another miraculous agent that is a great freshener. It not only removes odors but is also great at removing stubborn stains and soap residue. Sprinkle it on the car door surface, carpets, seats, or anywhere else in the cabin where you smell an odd odor. Leave the soda for at least 15 minutes. For really stubborn odors, like smoke, leave the soda overnight.

Using a strong car steam cleaner

Steam cleaning is the best and most effective solution for detailing all surfaces of a car interior and refreshing the air. Industrial-grade steam cleaners, such as those produced by Fortador, have the ability to deep clean, disinfect, and protect every inch of your car cabin. The Fortador PRO Max and PRO offer steam cleaning at 295/232 PSI, removing residue and unwanted microscopic particles such as pollen, mold, mustiness, bacteria, and viruses. These machines not only clean the surfaces of your car interior, but also disinfect them, giving them a fresh scent.

What is also great about the Fortador PRO Max and PRO steam cleaner line is that they are all-in-one units. Detailers get a powerful steam unit plus a shampooer/extractor for cleaning seats, upholstery, carpets, and more. These industrial steamers are also equipped with a complete set of tools that allow detailers to reach hard-to-reach places where unpleasant odors usually hide. With a Fortador steamer, detailers typically only need the power of steam to remove unpleasant odors. However, some car interiors may require additional cleaning products. In such cases, you have several different options to choose from.

  1. Use a mild detergent

Using a mild industrial detergent from natural substances combined with steaming is one option. Some commercial car cleaning products even contain odor-eliminating particles that will make the car cabin smell fresher. Always choose the mildest cleaning agent that will comfortably handle the task. When removing cigarette odors from a car, clean the headliner carefully, as it absorbs all odors.

  1. Apply distilled vinegar using a spray bottle

Douse the area affected by the unpleasant odor with distilled vinegar, which is a cheap but amazing odor neutralizer. Be careful when applying vinegar, as too much can result in the sour smell of vinegar lingering for days or weeks, especially with the car windows closed. To avoid this problem, always dilute vinegar half-and-half with water and spray it where the smell is strongest.

  1. Repeat the cleaning

Some tough areas may require several approaches with a steamer and shampooer before completely getting rid of the odor. If necessary, perform several rounds of cleaning.

Don’t neglect the engine compartment

Sometimes unpleasant odors can emanate from the engine due to dirt and grease accumulation there. These odors can penetrate the cabin through the vents. Cleaning the engine with a steamer and then rinsing with water can eliminate the chances that these odors will settle on the door panels and other interior areas. Finish cleaning by wiping the specific area with a microfiber cloth.

How to refresh the car scent using an odor-eliminating ozone generator or enzymes.

If you don’t have an ozone generator in your arsenal, consider purchasing one. After deep cleaning, there may be a slight chemical odor, which can be easily removed using an ozone generator. The ozonation cycle usually lasts from 15 to 30 minutes, and after it, the vehicle needs to be ventilated with the doors open. This final treatment will make the car interior free from any smell.

You can also apply an essential oil using a spray bottle or applicator. Such a treatment is also effective in combatting unpleasant smells.

If you’ve tried everything and an unclear unpleasant odor still persists, this can still be remedied with a few drops of essential oil. While the essential oil won’t permanently remove the odor, it will mask the smoke smell, for example, for a long time, while also acting as a pleasant air freshener. Simply apply a few drops to a tissue and stash it in the glove box or lay it on the back seat.

How to maintain a fresh scent inside a car using an odor absorber

The best way to maintain a fresh scent inside is regular detailing using a vacuum cleaner and steamer. A few other substances can also help.

  1. Activated charcoal

Another great, natural air freshener is activated charcoal, which absorbs odors. Place a few charcoal packs in the car door pockets, glove box, and other small places in the car cabin. Remember to regularly replace the charcoal packs, as they will eventually lose their ability to absorb smoke and other smells in the air.

  1. Fabric softener for car odor elimination

Some people like to use the trick of placing fabric softener sheets in the car doors, under the upholstery, and in other interior locations. Pet owners may appreciate the power of a pet odor neutralizer.

  1. Apply a ceramic coating

A ceramic coating protects many different areas, including fabric seats, mats, and hard surfaces. The Fortador Ceramic System includes everything a professional detailer needs to protect clean surfaces. Your customers will not only have a cleaner car with odorless upholstery, but also one that smells wonderful and is easier to clean during subsequent detailing visits.