Chances are, from the commute to work to leisurely weekend drives, you spend a good deal of time inside your automobile. Until offensive odors creep in, you may even take for granted that those driving times are generally odor-free. Unfortunately, mold odors are a common problem with automobile interiors. Such smells are caused by standing water or moisture, uncleaned spills, window or door seal leaks, or condensed moisture in the air conditioning system.
In order to combat the mold odor inside your automobile, you must first identify its origin. This means thoroughly inspecting the interior of your vehicle. Look under floor mats and seats, in the crevices of cushions, and – if all else fails – turn on your air conditioning and take a sniff. Once you locate the molded area and gain an idea of its severity or determine it is an issue with your air conditioning system, you can then choose the most appropriate of the following methods to fit your needs.
Method 1 of 6: Air dry and brush
This method is ideal for small molded areas due to dampness in your vehicle and may not be effective for more severe odor issues.
- Shop-vac or handheld vacuum
- Stiff-bristle brush
Step 1: Park your vehicle. Park your vehicle either in the sun or in a warm garage.
Step 2: Air out vehicle. Open the windows and/or doors of your car to allow the mold odor to dry and "air out." Depending on the amount of moisture on your carpet and upholstery, this could take 24 hours or longer.
Step 3: Brush away mold. With a stiff-bristle brush, brush away any signs of mold.
Step 4: Vacuum. Vacuum away the molded dust and any other grit or grime.
Tip: If you opt to leave the doors open to more quickly dry and air out your vehicle, disconnect your battery first, removing first the negative terminal and then the positive. Replace the terminals when you are finished in reverse order.
Method 2 of 6: Odor remover spray
Try this method, using an odor remover spray indicated for automotive use, for minor issues stemming from an already removed item from your vehicle or for mildew that has built up inside your air conditioning vents. Bear in mind, however, that this method may only mask odors instead of removing them at the source.
Step 1: Spray odor remover. Spray a moderate amount of odor remover throughout the interior of your vehicle, being more liberal on the carpeting and upholstery that can hold offensive smells.
Step 2: Spray inside vents. Generously spray the odor remover inside each of your air conditioning vents to treat odors resulting from mildew, bacteria, or stagnant water. Repeat this annually to prevent future odors.
Method 3 of 6: Anhydrous calcium chloride
If your mold odors have originated from stagnant water caused by something like a leaking window seal or convertible top, the use of anhydrous calcium chloride may be your solution. This substance is highly effective in removing the moisture that causes the odor, holding up to double its weight in water. Often, anhydrous calcium chloride comes in a kit that includes a perforated lid to hold the chemical and a receptacle to catch excess water.
- Anhydrous calcium chloride
- Enamel pot the perforated plastic lid can rest on, if needed
- Perforated plastic or waxed cardboard lid, if needed
Step 1: Place product onto lid. Put a few tablespoons or the amount indicated on your product's instructions into the perforated plastic lid.
Step 2: Place lid on pot: Place the lid on top of the enamel pot or other receptacle included in a kit.
Step 3: Place in cup holder. Leave somewhere in your vehicle the apparatus will not tip over, such as in a cup holder. Depending on the amount of stagnant moisture in your vehicle, you may need to leave this inside your car or truck for a week or more.
Step 4: Repeat as needed. Empty the receptacle and add more anhydrous calcium chloride as needed.
Method 4 of 6: Baking soda
For spot treatments to rid yourself of offensive mold odors, baking soda is a cheap and effective tool to neutralize the smell.
- Baking soda
- Shop vac or handheld vacuum
Step 1: Sprinkle baking soda. Thoroughly sprinkle baking soda (enough for an opaque white appearance) on the affected area. Let sit for at least two hours.
Step 2: Vacuum. Vacuum up the baking soda, and enjoy the fresh, mold-free smell.
Method 5 of 6: Laundry detergent
Laundry detergent works well on clothes odors, and your car's carpeting and upholstery are not so different. It is safe to use on the interior of your vehicle and is inexpensive, making it an ideal method to treat small to moderate mold issues.
- Clean cloth
- Laundry detergent
- Putty knife or spatula, if needed
- Shop vac
- Spray bottle
Step 1: Scrape up grime. Scrape up any grimy build-up from the affected area with a putty knife or spatula, if necessary.
Step 2: Prepare mixture. Mix two tablespoons of detergent with eight ounces of water inside a spray bottle
Step 3: Wet target area. Liberally wet the area with the detergent/water mixture. Allow it to set for a few minutes
Step 4: Blot excess moisture. Blot the excess moisture away with a clean cloth.
Step 5: Use shop vac. Shop vac away the remaining moisture and grime.
Method 6 of 6: Get a professional cleaning
When other methods fail to completely remove the offending mold odor inside your automobile, turn to a professional to get the job done. It may cost anywhere from $20 to $80, depending on how thorough a detailing your vehicle requires, but the smell will be gone and your driving experience greatly improved.
Once you have finally rid yourself of mold odors, take action to prevent them from recurring. This is best done by promptly repairing any leaks, keeping your vehicle clean in general, and performing routine maintenance on your air conditioning system. On sunny days, you may also periodically leave your windows down to allow fresh air to circulated throughout your automobile's interior to keep odors at bay.
This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as How to Remove the Smell of Mold From Your Car and was authored by Elan McAfee.