Does your car smell? It’s okay. It happens to the best of us. Sometimes car odors are because you need to clean mold in a car. Often, car smells just build up over time because of food, pets, kids and day to day living. Perhaps you bought a used car and the previous owner smoked. Or maybe you have a bad odor in your car from someone vomiting from motion sickness. Whatever the car smell is, there is a way to remove odor from a car naturally!
Remove Odor Without Chemicals
There are lots of products you can buy that promise to mask or remove odors from your car. Many of them are made from nasty chemicals and artificial fragrances that aren’t necessary to effectively remove odors from a car or other vehicle.
If you’re like me, you get a headache and allergies from sniffing these artificial fragrance products. Putting them in a car, where you travel around with the windows closed and the smell just keeps getting more intense, would be horrible. I don’t understand why car rental companies, car dealerships and car detailing companies think that you would want to purposely smell some of the foul scents that they spray in the cars.
There are MANY effective natural odor removers that you can use in your car. They’re explained in more detail below, but some of the best products to remove odor from a car naturally are baking soda, coffee, vinegar, charcoal, and kitty litter.
One more thing. Purposely adding a new car smell back to your car is not recommended. That “new car smell” is actually a variety of chemicals off gassing in your car, creating a thick atmosphere of little chemical particles that you are inhaling into your body. It’s certainly not natural, either.
How To Remove Odors From Your Car
Removing odors and weird smells from your car, truck, RV or other vehicle isn’t as complicated as you might think. You don’t have to bring your car to a professional to get rid of odors.
In fact, with a few SIMPLE steps, you can easily deodorize your car naturally.
The first thing that you want to do, before any of the steps below, is to open your car windows and doors. This allows your car to deodorize naturally, as the fresh air can remove some of the smells. Be sure to clean your car in a place with shade and not in direct sun (it’s easier on you and helps keep the inside of your car cool). Consider cleaning your car early in the morning or later in the evening if heat and temperature are a problem. Turn off any lights, lamps, alarms, etc. that might drain the battery with your car doors being open.
Get Rid of Odor-Causing Trash
You might not think that you have any odor-causing items in your car. But you could be wrong.
Now is the time to give your car a good cleaning and decluttering. Remove all the trash that you can see everywhere in your car. Places where trash and random objects can hide (especially things that kids and pets bring in unknowingly into your car) will be:
- Under the seats
- In the glove compartment
- Under the floor mats
- In seat pockets
- Cup holders
- In the trunk
- Pushed down in-between seats or behind seats that can be folded down
Remove everything! Even if you want to keep items in your car, be sure to remove it all while in the process of cleaning. Then replace the items once your car has been cleaned.
If you have car seats or car booster seats in your car, be sure to remove them for the cleaning process. You never know what can be hidden underneath. It also makes vacuuming easier when the seats are removed.
Vacuum Your Car
Removing the trash is just the first step to eliminating odors in your car. Now it’s time to remove all of the little crumbs, dirt, and tiny particles that you cannot easily see.
Vacuuming can do wonders for naturally removing odors from your car. You have no idea how much tiny stuff builds up in your car’s upholstery, car mats, flooring, trunk, etc.
Whether you are using a car vac, a household vacuum or a hand-held vacuum (I use this one in my car because I can’t lug a vacuum to the garage), be sure to vacuum every surface and everywhere you see.
You can use a small, stiff brush on the upholstery first to loosen up dirt and particles. It depends on how dirty your upholstery is, and whether you think that there is a lot of ground-in dirt and crumbs.
It’s also important for pet owners to remove as much pet hair as possible before vacuuming, unless you are using a vacuum which is meant for removing pet hair (this hand held one is perfect for cleaning your car). Consider using a dog hair and cat hair remover.
Use the special nozzle attachments, if you have any, to really get into every nook and cranny. You want to use the smallest attachment possible for seat cushions, under the seat, in-between seats, around the curves of the interior of the vehicle, etc.
Be sure to empty out the vacuum canister if it’s full, either beforehand or during the cleaning process. For hand-held vacuums, you might need to empty out the canister frequently while vacuuming since they do not hold a lot of debris and material.
Wipe Down Surfaces to Remove Odors
Cleaning your car not only makes it look better, but can remove odors naturally, too. Some odors, like cigarette smoke, build up in residue that forms on your car’s interior.
Lots of car cleaners are full of chemicals to clean and shine your car. Here’s the deal: You can get a clean and shiny car with natural cleaners, too. There is no need to waste money on expensive car cleaners when you can use what you’ve got at home instead.
You are going to want to wipe down every interior surface that you can (think plastic, glass, metal, wood and other hard surfaces in your vehicle). This includes:
- Glove compartment
- Steering wheel
- Cup holders
- Gear stick
- Any hard surface in your car
Any all-purpose cleaner will do the trick when it comes to cleaning your car inside. However, many homemade natural cleaners use vinegar. While I have no problem using vinegar on hard surfaces such as kitchen countertops, toilets, floors, etc., I’m just a little unsure that wiping down car’s dashboard with vinegar is a smart idea. Maybe that’s just me being paranoid. But I certainly wouldn’t want my dashboard to start cracking or changing colors in the heat of the sun because I used a too-harsh vinegar solution.
Always read your car manufacturer’s suggestions and tips on how to clean your car. Because every car’s material is different.
With that being said, I personally use a gentle soap and water solution. Just fill a spray bottle with water and add about 10 drops of dish soap to it. Spray and wipe off.
If you want to buy a natural all-purpose cleaner, this Shine Society Interior Cleaner is natural, non-toxic, kills germs and promises to be multi-purpose (can clean upholstery, leather, the engine, scuff marks, etc.)
Use a microfiber cloth or other soft cloth rag to clean your car. Do NOT use paper towels which are rough and can scratch the surface.
Tip: For best results, make sure your car is in the shade and not the direct sun. The cleaner will not evaporate as fast and will work better if your car is not hot.
Washing Car Windows
Washing your car windows can be another step in removing odors from your car naturally.
I was always so frustrated with washing the interior windows in my car. There would always be streaks, no matter what I used. And I tried using vinegar in a variety of ways and it never worked well. There was always steaks left behind, even with using a microfiber cloth. And hazy, streaky windows are not safe and rather annoying.
The absolute BEST way I found to wash car windows was to use this Window Cleaner cloth that only uses water to effortlessly clean your windows naturally. Seriously, this cloth is amazing (check out my review of the entire car cleaning kit, too). The first time we used it on the cars, we were so stunned by how well it worked that we went inside the home and cleaned all of our windows and mirrors. Seeing that it worked inside, too, we bought five of these cloths to keep on hand. Seriously. This is my favorite way to clean windows and glass.
I’m also a fan of this homemade no streak glass cleaner that DOESN’T use vinegar. You’ll be surprised at the secret ingredient that is the key to no-streak windows.
If you want to buy a natural glass cleaner for your car’s windows, I’d suggest trying Method’s Natural Glass Cleaner, which comes with a Mint fragrance and can help additionally deodorize your car.
Cleaning Leather in Your Car
To remove car smells, you want to clean every surface. That includes leather seats or leather interiors. Cleaning leather take some special precautions, though.
I discovered how to clean leather furniture with coconut oil. It really works! It’s easy to use a kitchen ingredient to gently and effectively clean leather naturally.
Not everyone wants to open up the kitchen pantry to clean their leather seats, though. There are plenty of natural leather cleaners available to clean your car and help to remove odors. I’ve listed some of my suggestions below:
Odor Absorber for Car
Okay, now that you have cleaned your car to remove odors, you want to see if that nasty smell that you were trying to get rid of is still lingering.
If your car still smells, there are plenty of natural ways to remove odor from your car. Here are some additional steps that you might take to get rid of the smell in your car:
Using Baking Soda in the Car to Remove Odor
Baking soda is wonderful for removing odors in a car, just like in your home. Baking soda is one of the first odor remover solutions that you should consider after cleaning your car. Here’s how to use baking soda:
- Sprinkle baking on upholstery and carpets. Let the baking soda stay on the surface for at least a few hours, if not overnight. Go back and vacuum up the baking soda. This simple non-toxic trick often removes odors quickly since it absorbs the smells.
- Add some essential oils to your baking soda before applying if you want to add a pleasing smell to your car. You can add whatever essential oil (or combination of oils) that you like. You will want to add a few drops (probably no more than 10-20 total) to a shaker filled with baking soda (such as a clean parmesan cheese shaker). Close the lid and shake to blend the oil with the baking soda. Then apply.
- You can apply baking soda to hidden places in your car and not vacuum it out. This will allow the odor absorbing properties to continue working for a while. This is best done under car seats or in the trunk.
- Don’t sprinkle baking soda on wet floors or any other wet surfaces. It will just clump and not work effectively.
- The baking soda odor removers for refrigerators work just as well in a car. Consider buying some and leaving in the trunk, under a seat, or some other place that is safe and won’t get under your feet while driving. (See these other great ideas for removing odors from your refrigerator naturally.)
Activated Charcoal in Car to Remove Odor
Activated charcoal is another one of the best solutions for getting rid of mold, mildew and odors in a car.
Unlike baking soda, you don’t have to constantly reapply charcoal to get its odor neutralizer effects. Just add the product to your car and it works for up to 2 years. PLUS, all it takes to refresh the odor absorbing properties is to put the activated charcoal in the sun for a few hours, and it will work like new again.
I’ve shared how activated charcoal products help me remove mold and mildew from my car. We have several charcoal air filters in our vehicles and they work well.
While activated charcoal can be shaken on surfaces just like baking soda, I DO NOT recommend it! Charcoal is dark and black and can stain light colors. It’s messy and not something that I want to deal with.
It’s so much easier using packaged charcoal odor neutralizers for a car. This charcoal air purifier is brilliant because it hangs on the back of a car seat. And I love these air purifying bags which can be laid underneath your seat, in your trunk, glove compartment, etc.
And if you like to smile on your commute, consider some of these weird and wacky natural air fresheners for your car that use activated charcoal.
Coffee to Remove Odor
Surprisingly, coffee beans and coffee grounds are highly effective at removing odors from your car. And if you love the smell of coffee, they’ll make you pretty happy, too!
To use coffee beans or coffee grounds to neutralize odors, place the coffee beans or coffee grounds in a bowl or bag inside your car. Leave overnight.
If the smell is gone, you can remove the coffee. However, if you love the smell of coffee, consider keeping a small bowl of coffee beans in your car. Or make a little bag of coffee beans with some cheesecloth or muslin.
Kitty Litter to Remove Odor
Just like baking soda and bamboo charcoal, kitty litter can absorb smells in your car. After all, kitty litter is supposed to neutralize odors of cat urine and poop, right?
The problem with using kitty litter to remove odors in your car, though, is that it has to be removed afterwards.
And it might not be that easy to vacuum it up if you don’t have a heavy duty vacuum.
If you’re up for the challenge and have extra kitty litter on hand, either sprinkle the product on the carpet and in your trunk, or make some sort of bag of kitty litter to keep in your car.
Essential Oils to Remove Odor in a Car
Just like in the home, essential oils can mask smells and provide a pleasing aromatherapy that makes you happy. You might want to add essential oils to your car even if you don’t have any weird smells that you want to hide.
Here are the ways to use essential oils to deodorize your car:
- Place a few drops of essential oils (or even vanilla extract) on a cotton ball. Leave the cotton ball in a cup holder, under the seats, in the glove compartment or some other place where the essential oils can be smelled. Replace once the scent has vanished.
- There are essential oil diffusers for a car. You will be surprised at all of the options. Some essential oil diffusers attach to your air conditioning and heating vents and you add whatever fragrance you like to a felt pad. Others plug into a USB drive or 12 volt plug (previously known as a cigarette lighter). This essential oil diffuser for your car fits in the cup holder.
- Make your own natural odor eliminator spray. You can customize the fragrance and save money.
- Use a spray made made with essential oils, such as Citrus Magic, which has been making natural air fresheners with citrus oils for years.
Change Your Car’s Air Filter
If you’ve had a strong odor in your car, such as cigarette smoke or vomit, then you might need to change your car’s air filter.
Ozone Treatment for Your Car
Ionic air purifiers can remove stubborn odors. They use ozone to destroy smells, bacteria, germs and other nasty stuff that can be causing foul smells in your car that don’t seem to disappear.
There are safe levels of ozone and unsafe levels. You always want to be careful with any product creating ozone and always read directions and use as directed. This ionic car air purifier states that the levels of ozone are safe.
Need to keep your car organized now that it’s clean and smells good? Here’s my favorite car organizer.