Ways to Get Rid of Unpleasant Car Odors

2015 Honda Odyssey Touring Elite.

The last thing you want is for people to climb in your car and gag. They might be diplomatic about it and not make a big deal, but rest assured they won’t be pleased. Such a situation is embarrassing, and it reflects poorly on you.


Even if the odor in your car isn’t your fault, you need to do something about it. Maybe the previous owner liked to store fish in the trunk, or had other disgusting habits. Whatever the cause, you need to correct the situation quickly, and fully. After all, you don’t want to remove the offending smells, only to have them come back full-force just days or weeks later.


Cabin Air Filter


Most people never think to change the cabin air filter in their car, even though it’s listed in the recommended maintenance. The filter, which is usually located behind the glove box, is designed to trap pollen, dirt, and even odors.


A dirty cabin air filter can just be blowing stinky smells around each time you turn on the AC or heater. By swapping it out for a fresh one, you can immediately improve things. While you’re at it, take a Q-tip and clean the air vents throughout the car, just to be thorough.


Junk in the Trunk


Garbage, sports equipment, clothing, food wrappers, drink containers, and other items left in your car can generate plenty of bad smells. Most people wouldn’t dream of leaving such things in their home, yet they barely have a second thought about doing it with their vehicle.


The solution is simple: go through your car and clear out all the clutter. It will look and smell much better.




Beyond just clearing out items, you need to clean your car’s interior regularly. Again, just like with your house, if you don’t clean it, the cabin will start to smell.


Get a vacuum and remove anything stuck in the carpet fibers, plus the seat creases and upholstery. If you don’t have automotive cleaners for the plastics and other materials, get some. Those surfaces smell from sitting in the heat and sunlight, plus getting everything from skin oils to dust on them. Also, clean the inside of all the windows. They fog up over time as the plastic in your car oxidizes, and that carries an unpleasant odor.


You can even clean the headliner, since it often traps odors. Just remember that the headliner is sensitive, so proceed with caution. Get a good carpet cleaner and spray it on a microfiber cloth or small paint brush. Dab the cleaner onto the headliner, scrubbing gently. Go back over everything with a dry microfiber cloth, again being careful to not push hard.


Baking Soda


One of the best odor removal agents out there is baking soda. Maybe you’ve put a box in your fridge and noticed an improvement overnight. The same can be true with your car.


As you drive along in the heat, you sweat. That becomes trapped in the seats. You walk through disgusting things on the ground, and then track them onto the vehicle carpeting or floor mats. These smells don’t leave easily.


After you’ve cleaned the interior, sprinkle baking soda on all the carpeting, floor mats (outside the car), and cloth upholstery. It’s ideal to let the baking soda sit overnight, so it soaks in as much of the smells as possible. In the morning, vacuum out the baking soda, taking the stench with it.


Keeping Smells Out


Obviously, staying on top of regular cleanings for your car helps greatly with keeping the odors from returning. Also, avoid leaving food, food wrappers, or open drink containers in the car.


Beyond cleaning and maintenance, you could get a moisture absorber product to leave in the car. This is especially helpful if you don’t drive much, which can lead to a musty stench.