Car Odour Removal: How to get Rid of Musty Car Smells

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Aug 26, 2020

Car Odour Removal: How to get Rid of Musty Car Smells

When the wet weather sets in over winter, you might start noticing that your car has a bit of a lingering damp, must or mildew smell when you get into it in the mornings.

Once they set in, these smells can be quite difficult to remove for good. Fortunately, there is a away to remove car odours that arrive during the winter time. Simply follow the five steps below!

Check out our Stain Removal Guide

Step One: Identify where the smell is coming from

The first thing to do is to thoroughly search your car interior to find the source of the smell and make sure that it is in fact caused by mildew and dampness. Remove all your floormats, move your car seats, check in the glove box and other compartments to make sure there’s no other offending odour, as the process for cleaning out dampness related smells can be quite intensive so if you can avoid it from the get-go that’s a great outcome!

A tell-tale sign that the musty odour is in fact from must or mildew is dampness on the floor mats near the air conditioning units. When your air conditioning is running, the water condenses and brings dust, spores and pollen with it, which can later cause fungi to grow when left untreated. You can check out our full article explaining how these spores grow and cause odour, here.

It is also possible, particularly in older vehicles, that damaged panels can lead to leaks, allowing water to drip in and wet your car interior during the rainy winter months. Run your hand over your car interior to feel for cold and wet spots to identify if this could also be contributing to the smell. This can be exasperated by clogged draining causing water to run along the headliner and leak onto your car upholstery.

Once you’re certain where the smell is coming from, you’re ready to get cleaning.

Step Two: Prepare your car for a deep clean

Remove everything from inside of your car in preparation for your upcoming deep clean. Take the mats off the floor and remove any rubbish or loose items littering the car that could be adding to the damp odour or simply get in the way of you reaching those hard to get to areas for cleaning.

The next step is to dust down your car interior and give everything a quick vacuum to remove surface level dust and dirt. If you have any wet patches, you can dab these with a cloth to remove excessive moisture and wipe down all surfaces.

Step Three: Use a spray to get rid of AC smells

Now, it’s time to tackle the air conditioner. We’d recommend picking a nice and sunny day to get this job done and give your car the best chance of a full recovery! Begin by starting your car and turning on the air conditioning unit to run the fan on high with the windows open.

You’ll need a commercial odour eliminating spray from your local car accessory store. Take your odour eliminator and locate the cowl of your car which is usually just below the windscreen and the bonnet. This is where your car intakes air when you turn the air conditioning on.

Spray a large quantity (always check the instructions on the bottle, but usually a heavy application is better) into the vents while your air conditioner is running at a medium heat.

Switch the air conditioner onto high heat and rinse and repeat, spraying the same area again. This will get rid of the mould spores that are growing in the areas that are near-impossible to reach manually.

Step Four: Deep clean your upholstery with the Rug Doctor Carpet Cleaner and Hand Tool

If your car has fallen victim to air conditioning mould and mildew and has a few leaks which have allowed water to run into the car, you’ll need to deep clean the rest of the interior to properly get rid of the odour.

To do this, we would highly recommend hiring a Rug Doctor Carpet Cleaning Machine in combination with the Hand Tool to provide a full, deep clean. A regular vacuum cleaner won’t be able to get rid of mould growing in the upholstery fibres, whereas a professional level upholstery cleaner and machine will, along with using the Rug Doctor Odour Remover solution. Check out our recent article here, for a full break down on how to use the Rug Doctor Upholstery Cleaner, Machine and Hand Tool to thoroughly clean your car.

We’d also highly recommend looking into replacing any car mats and seat covers that are severely water damaged or pungent.

Step Five: Finish with Rug Doctor Odour Remover and an air freshener

Finally, we’d recommend using our Rug Doctor Odour Remover to get rid of any with standing damp smells. You can use the Odour Remover either during the deep cleaning stage by mixing the solution with the Upholstery Cleaner, or alternatively by shaking the bottle and spraying it directly onto the offending surface.

For a long lasting and pleasant smell (but only after a thorough clean, never to mask an odour), grab a scented air freshener to hang in your car as a finishing touch.

Want to learn how to remove tough stains? Take a look at our stain removal guide for a full breakdown and tips! You can download it for free below.


Gina Gibbs

Author: Gina Gibbs

Gina is the Business Manager at Rug Doctor NZ. With over 20 years at Rug Doctor, she's dedicated to helping New Zealanders keep their homes clean and healthy. Outside of work, Gina enjoys hiking, reading, and enjoying Vietnamese and Asian fusion cuisine. Oh, and let's not forget her expertise in cleaning up after everyone, especially her two kids!