What’s that smell in your car?

What’s that smell in your car?

We have all been forced to sit in a car that just plain stunk. At some point, you begin to wonder what could possibly be causing that smell. Well, that is a question a detailer answers a lot when it comes to working on the interiors of cars. There are different smells you can come across when detailing a car. For example, there are food odors, smoke, pets, odors caused by kids spelling some food or a drink, and sometimes from chemicals. When someone brings in a car that has begun to develop a strong odor we start with the basics to get rid of the smell. Vacuuming, cleaning all surfaces, seat cleaning, carpet shampoo, and if it’s really bad or a long term odor like smoke, a cabin air filter, and HVAC steam cleaning. Here is a look behind the curtains to what we do to rid your car of that unwanted guest.


Trash Day

The best and most effective step is a trash removal combined with a very detailed vacuum. Starting from the top down with your interior and we use a quality medium stiffness interior brush to help to agitate every surface before going over with the vacuum. This helps dislodge any debris that may have become stuck on headliner seats/seat cracks and carpet. We make sure to be very thorough when performing this step as many odors are caused by spills of drinks and food that go unnoticed and begin to ferment and rot. Food has a way of getting into some weird places with the help of kids in the back seat. We also lean all of the seats forwards and back up and down while looking for any little areas it could wedge itself.


Wipe Me Down

Now that the first vacuum is complete it is time to start cleaning and disinfecting of all surfaces. This step is going to finish up what the vacuum has left behind. Same as before, we will start from the top down. Using a PH balanced cleaner and a quality microfiber towel is key to ensure proper cleaning. Top down that means headliner first. This is a delicate process compared to other interior areas that get cleaned because of the adhesives used on headliners. It’s crucial that they are not saturated with a cleaner. To prevent this from happening we mist cleaner onto a clean folded microfiber towel and proceed to wipe the headliner in a single direction scooping motion. Making sure to flip and fold your towel to a fresh section every 1-3 passes. If there are deeper more set in stains we use a gentle interior brush and a small amount of cleaner put directly on the brush. Lightly agitating the spot and wiping with fresh towel we repeat until satisfied and then we work our way down into the rest of the interior.

The approach for the rest of the interior surfaces doesn’t differ from the headliner. It might require a bit more aggressive brush in some areas but the overall concept is the same. Using the most gentle technique, first clean from the top down starting in the backseat working your way forward, being sure to hit all plastic/leather/vinyl and any other spills or stains found while vacuuming. It is important to always go in the same order when cleaning that way no area of the car goes untouched.


Problem Areas

Since we are focusing on the smell in this article, it’s important to clean those areas that are notorious for causing these problems. The majority of cup holders, ash trays, center consoles all have removable liners in the bottom and are an area for major build up. When cleaning these areas make sure to always remove the liners to be cleaned and allowed to fully dry before replacing. The last Major spot is the gap on either side of the center console between the driver and passenger seat. Wiping/scrubbing these areas will all contribute removing the odor from an interior.



Moving down the line to one of the final areas in the interior of a vehicle is the carpet and floor mats. You remember that the first thing we did was a very detailed vacuum and for some cars, that may be all that is required because the cause of the odor was elsewhere. But for the sake of this article, we are going to say this car belongs to a pet owner or a smoker and the carpet stinks. First, we determine if there are just a few problem spots and stains or if a full carpet shampoo is needed. If it’s just a few spots and stains a good PH balanced cleaner and a stiff brush, combined with a little scrubbing will do the trick. Now if it’s a situation where all the carpet needs to be shampooed we use a steam cleaner like the VX5000 or carpet extractor like the Mytee Lite III 8070.


Fresh Air

Last but not least (excluding seats which will get their own blog) is the cabin air filter and HVAC.  Just like your house, your vehicle has a heating and cooling system. Also just like your house, it needs to be cleaned and maintained. All vehicles have a cabin air filter, some are easier to change than others but all can be looked up in the owner’s manual. Our professional recommendation is to replace every two years or when your car’s HVAC begins to smell of mold or mildew. This is a potential remedy that can be done on your own. Other causes of odor in the HVAC is the buildup of dead skin, hair, fine ash from smoke and other fine particles. To correct this issue we would use a VX5000 or similar steam vapor machine and vent wand. We would place the steamer wand in the cold air return under the passenger side dash by the kick panel, watch for vapor to be sucked up by the return. The steam will start to come out of every vent up top on the dash, using a wand we gently clean the inside of every vent as far as you can reach inward.
If your car does develop an odor that won’t go away contact us, (816) 783-7579 and we’ll make sure that you and your nose can drive in peace.

By | 2017-06-05T17:40:31+00:00 June 19th, 2017|Detailing|0 Comments

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