Buying Guide

That Stank Is Rank! How to Remove Odor from Your Car & Stop It From Returning

There are many reasons why your vehicle might be smelly. Whether it is smoke, mold, mildew, or dog related odors — all of them stink — literally! Not to mention, it is pretty embarrassing having passengers jump into your car and they either make a funny face, casually cover their nose or just flat out tell you your car stinks.

You notice it, they notice it, and it sucks! Now, rather than suffering through the smell — and embarrassment, it is time to deal with that stank and find out how to remove odor from your car!

This can be tough because smells get sucked into your car seat upholstery, making it extra difficult to remove. But all is not lost! There are plenty of ways to reduce and eliminate car odors. And this article will offer you a few options and tips to do so.  

Unfortunately, removing the stench is only half the battle. Once you’ve removed the odor from your car, you’re going to want and keep it that way, right? But before we get to that, let’s get rid of that stank

Alright, well let’s get started everyone and check out the different car odor removal methods. Most of these are actually pretty easy for you to do yourself which is awesome.


First Step: Car Odor Removal


Hire a Professional ‘Stink Buster’


The easiest way to remove bad odor from your car is to hire a professional. You can have an automotive detailer do a full clean, top to bottom. You just have to sit back and relax while they destinkify your car especially your upholstery which is like a moth to a flame when it comes to smells.

The professional ‘Stink Buster’ will know how to remove the odor by using specific products depending on whether they need to remove smoke from your car, nasty mildew, and mold smell or the overwhelming ‘eau de wet dog’ embedded in your car seats.

But while hiring a pro may be the easy way out, it is the most expensive way to deal with your smelly car.

The other option, rather than calling a ‘Stink Buster’, is to take matters into your own hands. Here are some alternatives that are a bit more cost effective.


Top 3 Common Smells & Car Odor Removal Methods


Smoke: How to Get Smoke Smell Out of Car


You could have to deal with a car that smells like cigarettes not because you yourself are a smoker, but because you’ve recently purchased a used car and the previous owner was. This happens quite frequently and it can be a bit bothersome to the new owner and nonsmoker.

  1. First things first, make sure there are no smoke remains anywhere. For example, ash left in the ashtray for cup holders. No hidden butts that might have been missed or lost underneath the seat
  2. Now, once you’ve de-ashed and de-butted your care entirely, you need to have at ‘er and leave no rock unturned. In other words, wipe down every surface and every crevice. Smoke settles into everything. The more time you take in cleaning absolutely every exposed surface your car, the more successful you will be eliminating cigarette smoke in your car.
  3. Now tackle your carpet and upholstery. Start by actually brushing out the carpet to lift the smoke particles to make it easier to vacuum. Then tackle the upholstery, including all side panels. This should make a huge difference right off the bat.
  4. If you still notice that the smoke smell lingers, try using an odor eliminator like Fresh Wave, spraying all upholstery, carpets and even the vents. The process of how to eliminate cigarette smoke odor in the car is reasonably simple but can take time before you notice no scent.

You might have to repeat this process a few times before you finally rid yourself of the lingering smell, just depends on how smokey the car is.


Mildew and Mold: How to Get Mildew Smell Out of Car (And Mold)


Mmm… Mold and mildew… How about… no.

This is not only a terrible odor but if left for too long can be hazardous to your health. So to remove the smell of mold and mildew is not only going to make your car smell better (duh) but will also help to avoid possible respiratory issues. While mold and mildew may look different, the mold being black and mildew being more on the white and gray side, they are both nasty fungi that can be dealt with the same cleaning method.

There are a couple different ways of getting rid of mold or mildew smell in your car, but I’ll describe one for less severe cases. For extreme mold and mildew problems, there are stronger measures that you can take.

  1. To eliminate mold odor or remove mildew smell from a car, you must first find the source. Once you’ve found the culprit, it is time to get to business and terminate it! I don’t know about you, but if you’re a bit grossed out by these types of things, I’d get yourself some rubber gloves and a gas mask. Well maybe a gas mask is a bit extreme, but definitely, don’t do any deep breathing while you’re on the hunt for fungi.’
  2. It might take some time to find the culprit. Be sure to look under floor maths and under seats using a flashlight to see properly. Once located, you will want to completely wipe and scrub the area using proper upholstery shampoo.
  3. If you’ve scoured every inch of your car and have found no mold or mildew there is another possibility. It might also be that the source of the smell is damp car seats. Be sure to check that all upholstery is completely dry. If you feel any dampness, there is a good chance this is the source.
  4. The key to getting rid of the mold smell is to remove all moisture from the car. You should air out your vehicle in your garage with the windows cracked. You should do this for a few days, but really this depends on how muggy it is in your car.
  5. If you find that the upholstery is just not drying, the next step is to use a shop vacuum to suck all the excess moisture out. You should consider doing this even if you don’t feel dampness. It is better to be sure that your car seats are completely dry. You can easily rent a shop vac or ask around to see if you can borrow one from a friend.
  6. Once you’ve followed the steps, you should find that the air in the car seems a bit more ‘fresh’. To finish off the job, you can use a car odor eliminator. There are tons out there to choose from but start by looking at the Moso Natural Air Purifier Bag or the Ozium Odor Eliminator. These have been rated as some of the Best Odor Eliminators money can buy, so definitely worth checking out.


Dog Smell: How to Remove Dog Smell from Car


So your car smells like a dog and while you might furry companion to bits, you’re not a fan of having his odor follow you wherever you drive. One way to remove dog odor from your car is by using the baking soda and vacuum technique. This is a good place to start to avoid using chemical cleaners. Cleaners can be harsh on you, your upholstery, and can be toxic for your four-legged friends.


“Wait, you don’t like ‘Eau de wet dog?'”

  1. Before applying the baking soda, be sure to give the upholstery a solid brush and vacuum. And don’t forget the carpet too. You might as well get as much stinky dog hair out of the car before applying the baking soda.
  2. For the upholstery sprinkle baking soda all over the car seats, you may want to recline your seats so it is a bit easier to apply the deodorize on the backrests. If you’re finding the baking soda is just falling away, try using a damp cloth to press it in. Leave the baking soda overnight. Come back the next day and vacuum up the baking soda. You might need to use a brush to lift the baking soda if you notice it sticking to the upholstery.
  3.  For your carpets, apply baking soda with a damp cloth pressing it into the fibers. Sit back and let the baking soda dry. Once all moisture is gone, brush the carpets and use a vacuum to suck up all the baking soda.

EXTRA TIP: You can also keep a bowl of baking soda in your car overnight to help suck up remaining dog smells.


Second Step: Prevention of Bad Odor


As mentioned, removing bad smells from your vehicle is only half the battle. Nothing is worse than spending the money, time, and effort in cleaning your car interior and upholstery just to have it come back, right?


Prevent Smells from Settling In with Seat Covers


You’ve just spent how long removing smoke, mold or mildew, and dog odors out of your seats, the last thing you want is to have it happen all over again. One way to avoid this is by installing car seat covers after you’ve designed your car.

Once installed, the custom seat covers will protect your seats and stop odors from settling into your upholstery. There are tons of custom seat covers out there that are easily wiped down and vacuumed as well. Installing them right after you’ve cleaned your car will prove to be the most effective in ensuring smells do not return. Just make sure that the upholstery is completely dry before you do this. You don’t want to trap any moisture.

The effort of buying a set of car seat covers and installing them is going to be a heck of a lot easier than constantly deodorizing your car. Also, for those that are thinking ahead. Seat covers will stop the odors from ever happening in the first place.


Keep It Clean with These Products


Now, the most obvious answer to keeping those nasty odors from returning to your car is to clean it on a regular basis. Give it a good detailing and make sure everything is wiped down and vacuumed thoroughly.

While you might decide to clean your car on a monthly or bi-monthly basis to eliminate any odors from coming back, there are ongoing steps using these products to make your habitual car cleaning so much easier and less time-consuming.


Wet Wipes


Spills and messes are unavoidable, yes, but cleaning them up before they start to stink is completely doable. Having wet wipes to clean up small messes on the go will make your life that much easier when you go to do your monthly or bi-monthly deep clean. An untreated coffee spill could result in a massic stain and a rank smell. Wet wipes are only an interim solution though. If you spill quite a bit, you should probably take some time to clean it properly when you get home.




If you own a dog, you know the importance of owning a delinter. It is super handy to leave one in the car, not just to de-hair yourself, but to get all that dog hair off of your seats. Think about it, your dog jumps in wet, shakes off, hair flies everywhere. Now, not only do you have hair all over your seats, but you have wet and dirty dog hair all over your seats. We all know what wet dog smells like, so getting rid of it with a delinter is super effective to preventing that “eau de wet dog” to stick to your car’s upholstery all over again.


Garbage Bags


If you always put your empty soft drink cups or fast food remains into a garbage bag then you are consolidating the mess and more likely to remember to take it with you when you get out of the car. Have a few extra garbage bags in your glove compartment or map pockets so that you always have one on hand.


Air Freshener and Essential Oil Diffuser


Make your car smell nice all the time with an air freshener of your favorite scent. These are super cheap and you normally get a few in a pack so you’ll have one handy when you need it the most (when passengers hop in).

For those that are jumping in on the trending essential oils, you can get diffusers for your car now. This way you can bring your favorite aromatherapy scent with you on the road. Plus, with the therapeutic properties, you can bring one that eases stress to help keep you calm with all the bad drivers out there. Add a touch of lavender to your drive and all your anger will just melt away!


To Sum Up the Stank


A stinky car leads to a less enjoyable drive, wouldn’t you agree? Rather than suffering from the stench, it is time to take control of the situation and remove that bad odor from your car. Whether you choose to hire a pro ‘Stink Buster’ or opt to remove the smoke, mold or mildew or that love ‘eau de wet dog’ yourself, the end result will be far better than what you’re currently driving with. By using these simple car odor removal methods and using preventative measures like seat covers or keeping specific products in your car, you’ll enjoy the pleasures of driving once more, stink-free.

Now that you know how to do remove and prevent, it is time to get out there and get rid of that stank!

RELATED: Don’t Get Your Car Reupholstered Before Readin This
3 Comments on this post.
  • Bethany Birchridge
    18 July 2018 at 12:44 pm
    Leave a Reply

    I really like that car seat covers can help keep odors from setting into your seats. My dad bought a used car for my little brother, and it smells like smoke. These tips will help us get rid of that nasty smell, so thank you for sharing. Which scent or air freshener is best at keeping your car clean smelling?

  • lori lacey
    23 September 2018 at 6:22 pm
    Leave a Reply

    I rent cars and they all stink of tide dryer sheets or febreze or other “fresheners”, which I hate and make my asthma flare up, while imbedding these in my clothing. I don’t want to smell like an advertisement for these products. Any ideas on how to prevent it?

    • Madi McLellan
      24 September 2018 at 8:25 am
      Leave a Reply

      That’s a tough one! There may be unscented de-odorizers that help reduce the smell. However, because the cars are rentals, you don’t want to spray too much onto the seats. This is just a suggestion, of course.

    Leave a Reply



    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.