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Getting the Smell of Fast Food Out of Your Car

Young woman smells something bad in the car

Yesterday was a good day because you had no idea your car smelled bad. You took your dogs to the park. You were able to make it to the gym and later, you and your friends went out and had some great hamburgers and fries while stargazing.  

Unfortunately, when you got into your car to go to work today you noticed a strong odor. You wondered… could it be pet odors from playtime in the park? Is it possibly a sweaty gym odor? Or how about an unseen spill from a friend’s fast food? Whatever it is, it’s leaving a stench that has to go! 

We all spend more time in our cars than almost anywhere else. It’s only natural that after a certain number of years, that new car smell is going to fade away and be replaced by the odors that come from living our lives. But don’t despair – there are plenty of tried-and-true methods for ridding your ride of any unpleasant smells. 

Find the Source of the Odor 

The source of the smell will have a direct impact on the nature of the odor. And it could be that there are different sources contributing to an overall bad odor.  

Musty Smells 

Finding the source of a musty smell can be tricky. Car mold and mildew combine with humidity to produce that earthy odor we call “musty”. If you live in a humid environment and you leave anything in your car (like sweaty gym clothes), you may end up with a musty smell. 

So, even though the gym clothes have long been sent off to washing machine heaven, the smell may have permeated your car interior, especially soft surfaces such as car seats, upholstery and carpet. 

Additionally, if you turn on your air conditioner and a musty smell blows forth, it may be due to water condensation inside the HVAC system. You can fix this with a DIY can of AC disinfectant found at your local auto parts store. 

Mildew Smells 

That lovely waft of mildew you get when you open your car (especially if it’s been sitting in the hot sun) is a result of mold caused by humidity and moisture. So that friend’s spilled fast food? If it sits long enough, it can start to generate mold spores, producing that tell-tale odor that says you need to take action. Those mold spores may have moved around to various locations in your car’s interior, even sticking to hard surfaces like door panels. 

If your windows leak or do not hold a good seal, moisture may be getting in that way and it could be breeding a mold colony inside the door panels. Mold spores will produce an odor that permeates fabric, like your carpet and seats. If you are looking at a car to buy and you smell mold, always keep in mind it could be a flood-damaged vehicle a sneaky seller is trying to unload. 

Pet Smells 

We love our pets and we want to spend time with them. Most of us don’t really even care if they get back in our vehicle a little muddy or dirty, panting and grinning like a fool. In the long run, however, those lovable goofballs are contributing their own special odor to the inside of our auto. You may not know it, but that particular pet odor is caused by yeast and bacteria found in your pet’s fur. This icky combo shoots little molecules of foul odor right into the soft surfaces of your interior. 

Fast Food 

Pity the poor fast food delivery person. If our car smells bad after one trip to the fast food joint, can you even imagine what someone who delivers food for a living must be facing every time they open their car door?  

Obviously, if you leave fast food containers in your auto, the smell will be more pronounced. But even if you don’t, we tend to smell the particulates that fast food sends up into the air for longer than we think is reasonable. Again, these little odor bombs settle into the surfaces of our interiors and greet us like an unwelcome friend the next day. 

Cigarette Smoke 

If you are the second (or third) owner of a car that belonged to a smoker, you may feel like you are battling the smell of smoke for infinity. Like with the other smells we’ve mentioned, cigarette smoke tends to infiltrate all the soft surfaces in the car – the seats, carpet and other upholstery. Unfortunately, cigarette smoke also gets into the air system, which can make it really hard to dispel. It may seem like every time you turn on the air conditioner, a nasty cigarette smell comes blowing out of the vents and filling the car cabin. 

Mechanical Problems 

There are certain odors associated with mechanical and other problems with an automobile. Most of these will need some attention from your favorite mechanic. 

  • Rotten eggs: Catalytic converter problems. Need immediate attention. 
  • Maple syrup: A coolant leak. 
  • Burnt paper: Clutch problems. 
  • Burnt oil: Check your fluids because something may be leaking. 
  • Burnt carpet: Could be a problem with the brakes. 

Getting Rid of Unpleasant Odors 

Don’t despair. There are measures you can take to address all of these sources of unpleasant smells.  As long as you are willing to put in a little work, there is a good chance you can eliminate foul odors and make your car smell fresh and new. Here are some tips. 

Throw Away all Trash 

Before you get started on the hard work, get a trash bag and throw away all things that shouldn’t be living in your car. This includes that old French fry stuck in the crevice underneath your front seat. All wrappers, hair ties, receipts, plastic bags and whatever other detritus from your life has been left behind must go. Before your next step of vacuuming, sprinkle dry carpets, seats and other surfaces with baking soda and let them sit for at least an hour, if not overnight. 

Vacuum Before Beginning 

Either drag the household vacuum outside or go to a car wash and use the dry vacuum there. Thoroughly dry vacuum the entire car. This means not only the front and back seat, but all carpeting (visible and hidden underneath seats), upholstery and cup holders. You can even run the vacuum over the harder surfaces to pick up any remaining stuck-on dog hair.  

Remove all floor mats and vacuum, then shampoo if carpet or clean with detergent if plastic.  

Deep Clean on Carpets and Surfaces 

Your deep cleaning will involve products, steam, water and elbow grease. You’ll want to make sure and use the correct products on your surfaces so you don’t cause harm. Use a mild detergent spray and rent a steam cleaner to really get rid of odors. A good steam clean can get rid of all the little microscopic particles that are lingering around and offending your nose. 

Some other possible cleaning solutions that help are isopropyl alcohol and white vinegar. Just use a light touch and dilute your vinegar since you don’t want to replace one unpleasant odor with another. 

Air Fresheners for Your Automobile 

For the most part, you don’t want to try and mask a horrible smell with an air freshener. Air fresheners do have their place, however, and can be a pleasant addition to a clean vehicle that doesn’t have a bad odor underneath. Here are a few choices: 

  • Mirror hangers: Everybody has seen these ubiquitous hanging air fresheners. They are cheap, plentiful and come in an amazing variety of design and fragrances. 
  • Essential oils: Specifically for the DIY person who is fastidious about certain smells. You just mix a little up with some water in a spray bottle and voila – your own personal fragrance. 
  • Charcoal: There are several good charcoal products on the market and charcoal is known for its odor-absorbing properties. These can sit under the seat. 
  • Products that target: Wet dog smell? Cigarette smoke? There’s a product out there advertised as targeting these hard-to-fix odors. 
  • Handy DIY: Get a small container, put some baking soda in it and poke holes in the lid. Hide it under a seat and it should absorb odors. Or fill a jar halfway with vinegar and leave it open in your auto overnight to combat pesky bad air. 

Just keep in mind that these are not miracle workers. They won’t eliminate a foul odor. If you start with a squeaky-clean interior, your fragrance generator will be a pleasant companion to the odor of clean car. 

Affordable Online Auto Insurance is as Good as a Clean Smelling Car 

When you are looking for ways to make your automobile more pleasant, don’t forget to find affordable insurance to keep you protected on the road. At Freeway Insurance, we can help you get the coverage you need at a price that smells right! Get a fast and free online car insurance quote today, reach out to us at 800-777-5620 to speak to an agent or stop by one of our convenient locations

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