Car Care

Five ways to remove unwanted smells from your car

When buying a new car, it’s normally a mystery as to how the previous owner treated the car’s interior. It could have been smoked in, eaten in, or used to transport the previous owner’s beloved pet. And often, you may not realise there’s a smell until the nice fragrance from the pre-sale valet disappears.

Opening up a vehicle after it’s been closed for a long period of time, particularly on a hot day, can be like opening the oven door with your burning dinner inside; you get an instant blast of awful-smelling hot air. 

Here are five ways to help eliminate those nasty odours that can become engrained into your vehicle’s interior upholstery:

1) Remove the cause

You must get out all the obvious causes of the bad smells. Pay particular attention to the centre console and any little cubby holes where dust and dirt can accumulate. Remove and vacuum all of your car’s floor mats to get rid of things like food scraps and pet hair. With the door mats out, it’s the ideal time to treat them with some carpet cleaner, or sprinkle on some wash-n-vac powder to get the job done properly.

In more extreme cases, the seats may need to be removed to get to those hard-to-reach areas. (It’s usually a good idea to get a professional to do this if your vehicle has airbags or any sensors fitted).

2) Clean and deodorise

Fabric cleaners or deodorisers should also be applied to all seats and trim to help flush out any engrained smells and neutralise those foul-smelling odours. You may also find a pet odour eliminator or fabric shampoo than will do the job effectively.

3) Check your filters

Visit an AA Auto Centre to get them to check and replace the vehicle pollen filter (if fitted) as it could be clogged up with years of atmospheric pollution, leaves and (of course) pollen. This will help re-introduce fresh air from outside back into the cabin and will stop leaves being sucked into your car’s heater fans.

4) Natural remedy

Here’s a natural remedy for you to use. Baking soda is a natural deodoriser that can be sprinkled on and brushed into the seats and carpets, best to leave to sit for up to a day, before vacuuming up. Interior panels and glass can be sprayed with a diluted solution of water mixed with white vinegar at a recommend ratio of one part vinegar to eight parts water. This concoction wipes away stains on glass and other materials, leaving a light fresh scent.

Coffee beans can also be a great natural way to replace unwanted odours, simply pop a handful of beans into a cupcake sized dish and store under the car seats.

5) Use your air con

Air conditioning odour eliminators are available from most automotive supply stores in aerosol forms. These are designed to be sprayed into your vehicle’s air vents, and both deodorises and cleans them, while also removing bacteria in the form of mould and mildew. 

A temporary solution in the meantime would be hiding a run-of-the-mill air freshener in a compartment in order to gently release the perfume in order to not overpower the car, unlike someone going overboard with perfume/cologne on a first date.

AA Shop

Visit to view our range of items that can help you next time you give your car’s interior a thorough clean. Don’t forget, AA Members get up to 10% off at AA Shop!

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