How to Keep Your Car Smelling Fresh

air freshener hanging from rearview mirror

You love that fresh new-car smell, but sadly, it only lasts for a little while. But don’t worry! You can keep your car smelling good all year round and avoid unpleasant odors if you follow a few easy-to-do steps.

Part 1 of 4: Keep your car clean

Since it’s much easier to keep your car smelling good than to get rid of bad odors, be diligent in preventing bad smells from contaminating the interior of your vehicle by removing bad-smelling items.

Step 1: Keep your car trash free. Remove all trash, food items, laundry, or other odor-causing items every time you get out of the car.

You can either carry a small, portable trash can in your car or just take everything out by hand when you get to your destination.

no smoking in car

Step 2: Avoid smoking in the car. Smoking in your car will not only cause bad odors, but possibly ruin your car’s upholstery.

Step 3: Keep the car dry by not leaving the windows open and using floor mats. Water leaks can cause mildew and mold, which is not only smelly, but bad for your health.

spill proof cup holder

Step 4: Use spill-proof cups to prevent accidents. This cups can be found for a low price and save you the hassle of having to clean up coffee or soda from your car’s upholstery or mats.

Step 5: Keep pets in carriers if you must put them in your car. This helps to keep any pet messes contained to the carrier.

  • Tip: Use heavy-duty floor mats with lips on the edge to contain water and debris. This helps keep any spills or messes from flowing over onto the car’s floor.

Part 2 of 4: Dealing with common odors

No matter how hard you try, you may still end up with odors in your car on occasion, such as those that come from dust, grime, or sweat. Follow these steps to remove these common odors and keep your car smelling fresh and clean.

Step 1: Keep an air freshener in the car at all times. To be most effective, choose one that neutralizes odors rather than covers them up with a “masking” scent.

person vacuuming car floor

Step 2: Vacuum regularly. Vacuum regularly to reduce odors that get trapped in the carpets and upholstery. Using a hand vacuum is the easiest, but you can also park close to a garage outlet at home and use a regular vacuum as well.

Step 3: Shake out the floor mats at least once a week. Wash them down with a garden hose if they are vinyl, or wash them in a large capacity washer if they are fabric.

You can also just spray on fabric cleaner and wipe them down, letting them dry before putting them back in the car.

Step 4: Apply glass cleaner. Use glass cleaner to wipe down windows and chrome accents. Make sure to completely dry the surfaces to avoid leaving water spots.

Step 5: Wipe the dashboards. Use a special cleaner for dashboards to wipe down the dust and grime. You can find these cleaners in any local auto stores.

Step 6: Spray an odor-neutralizer. Spray the interior of your car with an odor-neutralizing spray. But don’t spray too much, or the scent may be too overwhelming at first.

  • Tip: After spraying the interior with the odor-neutralizing spray, start the engine. Turn on the AC and leave the car running for five minutes to eliminate odors in the air conditioning system.

Part 3 of 4: Get rid of unusual odors

No matter how careful you are, sometimes odors get trapped in your car and are hard to get rid of. Some of these uncommon messes include spoiled food, spoiled milk from baby bottle spills, mildew from wet carpets, or even dead animals. These smells can last for weeks in a car that is closed most of the time. You have to take extra steps to remove these types of odors.

Step 1: Find the source of the smell. Check under the car seats and floor mats and look in the glove box or other storage compartments.

Don’t forget to look outside the car; the grill may have a dead bird, or the bumper may have an unpleasant smell attached to it.

Step 2: Clean the area. Once you’ve removed the source of the smell, clean the area around it with the appropriate cleaning materials:

  • Use a wet/dry vacuum to clean water mess.
  • For carpets, use a stain remover.
  • For fabric or upholstery on the doors or dash, use a leather or fabric cleaner.

  • Tip: For more information about how to remove mold and other odors from the car, read our article “How to Remove the Smell of Mold From Your Car.”

baking soda on car floor being vacuumed

Step 3: Place carpet deodorizer on the floor and vacuum. You can also use baking soda.

Step 4: Follow the regular cleaning process listed above. Always make sure to let the affected area dry completely before putting anything on top of it.

Part 4 of 4: Detail your car

On occasion, you may have to do a thorough cleaning of your car to make it smell as fresh as possible. You can either detail your car yourself or pay someone to do it.

steam cleaner being used on interior

Step 1: Use a steam cleaner. Start on the interior of the car by using a car steam cleaner. This step will help freshen up the fabric.

person cleaning dashboard

Step 2: Apply an upholstery cleaner. Next, apply an upholstery cleaner in all of the corners of the car, including door pockets, around the dash and center console, and elsewhere to remove dust and smells.

Make sure to thoroughly dry the interior before moving on.

Step 3: Finally, detail the exterior of your car. Make sure to wash, wax if necessary, and dry completely. This will give your car both a clean interior and exterior.

Keeping your car clean on the inside and out will help keep your car smelling like new. And cleaning up spills immediately will help eliminate common or uncommon smells quickly. Implementing a monthly, or even weekly, detailing schedule will also help ensure your vehicle stays smelling fresh and pleasant.

Sometimes smells can be related to mechanical issues within the car or its engine. If you notice any persistent smells in your car, you can have a certified mechanic, such as one from YourMechanic, inspect the smell to determine how to best resolve the problem.

The statements expressed above are only for informational purposes and should be independently verified. Please see our terms of service for more details

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