When you think about it, we spend a lot of time in our vehicles. We drive to and from work, take the kids to school and practices, and run errands. Occasionally, we take long road trips. So, it is no surprise that our vehicles may develop smells that are undesirable.

Some of the aforementioned smells may come from:

  • Trash and old food
  • Coffee stains
  • Mold
  • A dirty cabin air filter
  • Dirty clothes/sports gear


Mechanical problems

Sometimes odd or bad odors coming from your vehicle can indicate that there are mechanical problems. For instance, leaking coolant may smell like syrup, and electrical problems may smell like burnt toast. If you are noticing persistent odors, first make sure your vehicle is running in optimal condition and repair any problems you may find. You can learn more about different mechanical odors in our blog post titled WHAT’S THAT SMELL? 7 CAR ODORS YOU SHOULD NEVER IGNORE.

Cabin Air Filter

The cabin air filter is responsible for cleaning the air that makes its way into the interior of your vehicle through the air conditioning system. When the cabin air filter is dirty it can create a musty, dirty smell throughout the vehicle. Changing the cabin air filter at least once per year can prevent a stinky interior. Twice a year is better if you live in areas that are a bit more dusty or smoggy.

Dirty Interior

If you have determined that the smell is not mechanical, consider cleaning the interior of your vehicle.

  • Inspect the interior for dirty clothes, trash and food. Go through your vehicle and remove any trash or food that may have been left behind. Remove any dirty clothes and sports equipment from the vehicle and store them outside of the vehicle until you need them.
  • Vacuum the carpets and upholstery. Sprinkle some baking soda over the carpets and seats and allow it to sit for a couple of hours to absorb odors. Then vacuum. You may want to consider doing this every few months.
  • Shampoo the carpets and upholstery. If the smells remain after vacuuming, consider steam cleaning the interior with a carpet cleaner and shampooing the seats. If you have leather seats, make sure you are cleaning and conditioning them every few months. More if they are dirtied by pets, kids or outdoor activities like camping or going to the beach.
  • Wipe up any sticky spots. Center consoles and cup holders may wind up with a spill or two. Coffee and milk spills can leave a rather unpleasant aroma behind. Use a cleaner made for car interiors and wipe these spots up as needed.

Dirty Exterior

Sometimes the smell may not be coming from within. Instead, it could be coming from something environmental like a dead bird or other animal stuck in your vehicle’s grille or undercarriage, or perhaps skunk spray. You may not be able to see the source of the odor, but a good washing will usually help to eliminate the smell. Make sure you thoroughly spray the undercarriage as to not leave anything behind. You can read more about our car washing tips here.

Use air fresheners

There are many air fresheners for car interiors available for purchase that work great. There are also a few fun alternatives you can try.

  • Dryer sheets. A box of opened dryer sheets left under the seat will last you longer than most air fresheners. We recommend changing the box every couple of months. You can also rub the sheets on all your vehicles fabric surfaces – including the ceiling- for a quick refresher.
  • Coffee beans. If you like the smell of coffee, then you will like this! Coffee beans are a great way to cleanse your palate of other smells. Create a simple coffee-scented air freshener by placing coffee beans into two socks, tying them closed, then placing them under the driver’s and passenger’s seats.
  • Essential oils. Add around 10 to 15 drops of your favorite essential oil to a clay disc and place it in your car. The aroma will usually last for a few months.

If you’ve tried all the above tips and still can’t eliminate or identify the cause of your odors, have your vehicle inspected by our automotive repair specialists. At Meridian Automotive, we provide complete automotive repair in Meridian, Idaho, for most cars, light trucks, and SUV’s. Call today (208) 297-5573 or schedule an appointment online.

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