Getting Rid of Odors Inside Your Car

From someone smoking or built up moisture, car odors can have a multitude of causes. Eliminate those odors and get your car back to smelling like new. This is a page about getting rid of odors inside your car.


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Here's a solution that works for getting rid of odor problems on anything and anywhere; such as on clothing, furniture, refrigerators, freezers, rooms, semi-trailers with stinky cargo (see below); anything and everything! No matter what the odor! At least, I've never heard of an odor it wouldn't get rid of!

Years ago, I had an old upright freezer that was full of rock shrimp my brother brought back from Louisiana. My young son accidentally left the door ajar, and it had defrosted long before we discovered the mishap. Talk about stink, and it was throughout the insulation too. There's not much that stinkier than rotting seafood! I tried everything I knew, then tried everything everyone else told me to try. Nothing worked. We finally set it outside with the door removed to let the sunshine and fresh air work on the smell. That didn't work either. Nothing worked until an acquaintance told me what to do.


My acquaintance was a long-haul truck driver. His route took him back and forth to Mexico. He hauled freight to an industry down there. He would then pick up a load of untanned cow hides to deliver to an industry back here in the US. He had a refrigerated truck, so no problem, right? Wrong! On one trip with a load of those hides, his truck broke down, and was down for a couple of days in 100+ degree weather, with no refrigeration! He couldn't get any repairs done for at least 24 hours, so he was hoping that, if he didn't open the trailer doors, the remaining coldness would be enough to keep the hides cool until he could get the refrigeration back on. Wrong, again! Well, the odor that hit him in the face when he opened the trailer doors 24 hours later is unimaginable! He off-loaded the stinky cargo, but it had already permeated every porous part of the trailer, wooden framework, floor, etc.!


Luckily, someone who worked in the stockyards there told him to set an open can of fresh coffee grounds inside the trailer and close it up for 24 hours. He didn't believe it would work, I mean, "one 13oz. can of coffee, no way!" But he gave it a try anyway, he didn't have anything to lose and he couldn't go anywhere until the repairs could be made. After the time was up, he carefully opened trailer doors. Voila! Stinky smell all gone!

So, if you have a small item (smaller than a freezer or semi-trailer, that is), do the following:

Place item(s) into an appropriate size plastic bag, along with an uncovered bowl (or other OPEN container) with about 7 oz. (half a can) of fresh coffee grounds in it. Seal bag with twist tie, but be careful not to spill the coffee grounds. It probably won't harm your item, but why take the chance? Leave bag sealed for a few days. Remove item from bag, do sniff test, the offensive odor should be gone.


NOTE: if you are a frequent eBay buyer, and hate receiving smoky smelling items, this will take care of the problem.

Oh, yes, don't try making coffee with the grounds, but don't throw them in the trash either. Sprinkle them in your flower bed. Your flowers will love you for it!

Donna in the Land of Oz, USA

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March 19, 2005

If you don't have a lot of time to deodorize your car, use dryer sheets. You just hold or tuck one in the vent and turn the fan on! It works for me and sends a nice scent through the car. Also, I slip one under the seats.

By Jessica

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May 7, 2009

While vacationing at our home in Baja, a bag of fish guts leaked into the carpet of our Suburban. We tried to clean it with carpet cleaners but the still the odor was terrible.

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Ask a QuestionHere are the questions asked by community members. Read on to see the answers provided by the ThriftyFun community or ask a new question.

April 19, 2018

When it gets warm/hot outside the inside of my car has a weird chemical smell and when I get out my hair and clothes smell like I have been riding on a go cart or something. It's gross and I can't figure out how to get rid of it!


I tried leaving baking soda in there for a few days and it didn't work. I bought it in October and had it detailed in December because some food leaked into the back seat. So idk if it's from the actual car factory or if it's from whatever they used when they detailed my car. Any suggestions? The smell burns my eyes and nose when it's really hot outside and I live in SW Louisiana.


April 21, 20180 found this helpful
Best Answer

You probably should return to where your car was detailed and ask for their help since this seems to have happened since the detail job was done.
Just so you know - this is not really an unusual complaint about "smells" after car has been detailed.

  • It is possible whatever cleaner they used is causing a reaction on/in your upholstery or carpets when the heat builds up so they may have to reclean it with a different product.
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  • If a return to the detail shop is not possible, then you may have to clean your upholstery and carpets yourself.
  • Whatever cleaning is done should include removing (at least pulling out) your back seat to be sure there is nothing remaining that should be removed. That also includes cleaning under the seats and the trunk.
  • You should also have your engine checked to be sure there are no leaks (from anything) that could be coming into your car when it is hot weather.
  • Spray some of the odor removing product into your AC unit while unit is running.
  • There are a lot of good odor removing products available (white vinegar does a pretty good job) but it would be a better idea for you to visit an auto parts store or department and check out what they have.
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April 21, 20180 found this helpful
Best Answer

The car you purchased was it a clean title or salvage title? In the past, my fiancé had a salvage title car and once a car is salvaged (it would never be the same original condition) but anyway, in the vents there was a chemical smell and I couldn't stand it. We sold it immediately the following month as the place we bought it said sold - as is only. In the air vents the odor would spread into the car, like from the exhaust or something smell. It was horrible, I tried everything and anything.

I would definitely return back to the car and tell them you've smelt this smell since purchased and they need to find out what it is because you can't stand it.

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October 15, 2018

Last Friday I had a crockpot full of broccoli soup, needless to say it spilled all over the floor and I can't get the smell out. I've tried baking soda. Any other ideas?


October 15, 20180 found this helpful

Use a product called Nok Out. You can get it on Amazon

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October 15, 20180 found this helpful

You can try either activated charcoal (or old fashioned charcoal briquettes--NOT THE KIND WITH Lighter fluid-- put them in a cheesecloth and let them set in the smelly spots for a few days. Be sure to leave the leave the windows down and let a good breeze blow through. Note....if it is going to rain you can try to do this inside...don't leave the windows down in the rain or you will make things worse :(

I have done similar (both spilled stuff and forgot and left the car windows down in the rain) and it just takes a while sometimes for it to dissipate...the rain makes it worse.

You can scrub the rub with a rug cleaner designed to get pet smells out (sometimes this works best with any bad smell). BE SURE TO TEST IT IN A SMALL PLACE FIRST SO AS NOT TO RUIN the color.

We buy the generic in a red bottle at dollar general and it works great!

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How do I remove a smell from my old truck? It smells like oil, grease, and mildew.


August 20, 20180 found this helpful

Nok-Out, a highly rated product, is available on Amazon

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August 20, 20180 found this helpful

spray with a homemade spray with vinegar and a few drops of tea tree or lavender smell

buy activated charcoal sachets and lay them about everywhere

liberally spray baking soda over every surface, wait an hour, then vacuum

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August 21, 20180 found this helpful

If I may suggest if you have not already done this....please have your car checked out by a mechanic and then figure out how to get rid of the smell.

Why do I say this...based on something I just went through last month...I had a smell like you are describing, ignored it, then one day as I was driving home I started having white smoke pour out from under my wheel well and had to have my car towed to the dealer and then to replace an axel boot. This was an expensive fix and I let it go because I just thought it was a bad smell...turned out to be a big issue and that I drove on the smell for weeks made it WAY WORSE and could have been a fire if I had gone one more mile!

Once you determine there are no leaks or car issues, then talk to the mechanic to see what he/she recommends to get rid of the smell.

I have had luck with true smell issues with activated charcoal being placed around the car with the offending area being left open to a cross breeze.

Let us know what you find! SAFETY FIRST!!!

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August 7, 2010

I have a problem. I spilled baked beans in the back of my truck, and when I cleaned it I used Pine Sol and water and, not good. After about 6 hours I have this really bad order in my car it smells like spoiled milk or something spoiled. What can I do to remove the smell? I did try to re-scrub it with just soap and water and that didn't work. Please help me someone!

By Elonda from Barberton, OH


August 10, 20100 found this helpful

Go for a spot cleaning at your local car detailing service.

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August 11, 20100 found this helpful

Ditto the spot cleaning; you can also try activated charcoal (aquarium charcoal). Put some in an old sock and put that in your trunk for awhile.
Good luck!

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December 5, 2015

I went to a restaurant with my friends, we ordered a lot of food, so I had to take it home with me. Three hours after I got home I remembered that I left the food in my car. When I went down to get it, my car smelled so bad and it lost the new car smells that it use to have, and it still smells like Chinese. I tried everything, opening the windows for 2 days, cleaning the car, buying air fresheners, nothing works. :(


October 3, 20170 found this helpful

Nok-Out is very effective, and can be purchased at Amazon.

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April 9, 2015

A neighbor recently bought a used vehicle that the former owners said the dealer had put some spice scent in the vehicle. It's been 3 months and it still is one horrible smell.
We were wondering if anyone has had any experience with a chemical smell that coffee works to resolve?

By L Eastman


December 3, 20170 found this helpful

Where is the smell the strongest?? Is it an antifreeze type smell? Is it stronger in the trunk, seats, or carpet of the car, or in the insulation in the hood? A friend of mine bought a car that someone had spilled lighter fluid in. The smell never went away until the removed the carpet from the trunk, cleaned the truck and put new carpet in.

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November 23, 2014

The car sat for over a year and smells horrible inside. We tried baking soda, shampooing the interior and the trunk with a Rug Doctor machine, even added vinegar to the cleaning solution. Nothing worked. Then we found 3 different mouse nests - 2 in the back speakers, and 1 in the air vent blower below the dash board. We've removed the nests and bleached these areas, but it hasn't helped. Now it's cold out so I'm not sure how to clean/get rid of the smell now. My clothes smell from it and I can't believe it's a good thing to breathe while driving. Help!

By Jesse H. from Osseo, MN


April 18, 20170 found this helpful

Try buying a 13 oz can of cheap coffee and open it,sit it in vehicle with windows up for 24 hours and that should work. Throw coffee away when finished. Read this in an article.

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January 23, 2010

We bought a car and it smelled pretty good for a few days. All of a sudden the smell is out. It is baby poo. It actually smells like someone filled the car with dirty diapers. I have tried everything short of pulling up the carpet and changing out the seats. Please help.

By Linda from Winlock, WA


January 24, 20100 found this helpful

I am curious if it is baby poo or dog poo you are smelling. In either case I think you could treet the interior the same way you do an accident on the carpet in the home. Nature's Miracle is a liquid neutralizer that you can spray on the area, let sit for a bit and then sop up with towels. I would just be certain to color test with it first and follow directions on the bottle. You can find this at most pet supply places in containers from a pint to a gallon.

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October 24, 2014

We found a dead mouse in the frame under the back seat of our BMW x5. It is in a very small hole. How do we get it out and how do we get rid of the smell?

By Diana

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August 27, 2013

When I get out of my car my clothes often have a medication, vitamin smell. This hasn't always been the case as the car is brand new and it started about 3 months after I bought it. I do run the air conditioner all the time, but don't smell any odor when it is on. I don't notice it when I get in the car, but when I get out I can smell it on my clothes. What could this be caused from? I literally have to change my clothes afterwards.

By Susanne H

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January 23, 2010

I just bought a used car that has a really strong chemical smell in it. I think it is paint thinner that the former owner must have spilled in the car. I have had it detail cleaned, but the smell will not go away. Does anyone know how to clean up paint thinner or at least get rid of the fumes/smell?

By Mandy from UT


Getting Rid of Odors in a Car

Open a bag of charcoal briquettes and put it in the car for a few days. (05/11/2009)

By joan pecsek

Getting Rid of Odors in a Car

I'd become the best bloodhound in history until I found the exact location, then I'd sprinkle plain baking soda for as long as it smells. If that doesn't work, I'd try coffee grounds. If that doesn't work, I'd try the mouthwash idea, same as if for pet urine. It should work. As a last resort after vacuuming each of the above up between applications, I'd use vinegar. It may be WD-40 which is fish oil and very strong when in an enclosed place. Because it is oil, if this is the chemical, I'd also add a little Ivory liquid to the vinegar/water, and wash before trying the second thing mentioned above.

If it's a spill in the crack of the seat, on the floor, or all over the car from cleaning with it, I'd open all of the windows every time I drove, and park out of the sun where possible.

What sort of chemical smell is it? Minty, oily, alcohol, perfumy, woody, tarry, leathery, or what? It could simply be some bad cologne that went rancid, or a combination of things the owner tried to
clean with in desperation?

Certainly try the charcoal briquettes, but I'd put them in a double paper grocery sack and crush them with a hammer first. It's one of the best air fresheners for a lot of things, even soured swamp water and sewer smells.

Airwick or Renuzit has a neutralizer spray that kills many odors that might also work, but the aerosol could be dangerous to breathe so be careful about using it then trying to drive before it evaporates over 13-36 hours. Many aerosols are formaldehyde that have killed teens. Good luck and god bless you. (05/19/2009)

By lynda

Getting Rid of Odors in a Car

Go to the local auto parts store and ask for a bottle of "Pink Stuff" (it's the actual name) this will work on kerosene, gas, etc. It should work on paint thinner. First I always put down baking soda, vacuum and try again.

I put the Pink Stuff in one of those little green machines (rug shampooer) and did my dh's car when he spilled kerosene. This worked great. I did have to do it more than once, because he didn't have anything to mop up the spill with so it was a bad spill (this is the disadvantage of having a clean car, in mine there would have been something).

Ria (05/21/2009)


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May 11, 2009

I recently bought a used car, the only problem I have with it is the smell. The previous owner spilled transmission fluid in the back floorboard.

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