6 Easy Ways to Keep Your Car Smelling Fresh

6 Easy Ways to Keep Your Car Smelling Fresh

You spend a great deal of time in your car while on your daily commute, and driving should be an experience that you enjoy. A car is an extremely small environment for the amount of time that you spend in it, though, and being stuck in such a small space can really magnify musty or unpleasant smells that you might ordinarily overlook.

Are you the type of person who hangs an air freshener from the rear-view mirror or sticks a can of scented gel to your dashboard, hoping that it’ll make those musty smells go away? It won’t – and a small environment that concentrates unpleasant smells will also concentrate the chemicals in air fresheners that may help to disguise odors but do nothing to actually eliminate them. Inhaling those chemicals, by the way, is also doing nothing for your health.

It is actually possible to keep your car smelling fresh without using harsh chemicals and without performing back-breaking labor. Doing that, however, requires you to remove odors at the source. Once you’ve finished the job, you’ll find that the time spent in your car will become infinitely more enjoyable. Follow these simple steps to keep your car smelling fresh and clean – and ditch the chemical air fresheners for good.

Clean Your Car Regularly

Because your car is a small and enclosed environment, it’s going to collect dust, dirt and crumbs rapidly. It doesn’t take long for those things to start making a car smell horrible, but the good news is that giving your car a deep cleaning really isn’t all that hard. If your car is especially smelly, you’ll want to start by removing any trash from the car. Sprinkle baking soda liberally on the upholstery and floor of the car, leaving it there overnight to absorb odors. In the future, always take your trash with you when getting out of the car.

The next day, take the car to the local carwash and use a high-powered vacuum to remove the baking soda along with any dust, crumbs and other contaminants. If you can, fold the seats down and vacuum under and behind them. Clean the windows and hard surfaces with a mild mix of water and vinegar.

This simple process will remove the vast majority of lingering odors from your car. Now, it’s a simple matter of maintenance.

Don’t Smoke in Your Car

If you’re a smoker, you should avoid smoking in your car at all costs. It’s difficult to avoid the temptation to light up during long drives, but nothing is quite as effective as cigarette smoke at making a car smell thoroughly foul. Nobody ever said that quitting was easy, of course, but it’s fairly easy to just keep a package of nicotine lozenges in your car instead. Alternatively, you can do what tens of millions of people around the world have already done and switch from smoking to vaping. Vaping will leave no lingering odor in your car if you crack a window – and even if it does leave a little bit of a scent in your car, blue raspberry smells a heck of a lot better than stale tobacco smoke. Just remember to grab a ROBO2020 vape coil cleaner for yourself, so you won’t vape in the car with an old, gunky atomizer coil.

Don’t Eat in Your Car

After smoking, the next worst thing that you can do in your car is eat. It’s okay to drink in your car, of course. It’s hard to avoid getting thirsty on a long drive. When you eat in your car, though, there’s no way to prevent the crumbs from collecting on the upholstery; it doesn’t matter how careful you are. Few things can leave a car smelling stinky more quickly than rotting bits of lettuce, tomato and French fries. If you’re on a long drive and need to stop for some food, eat it outside of the car. You’ll be glad you did.

Replace the Cabin Air Filter

There are a few odor-causing problems in your car that you can’t fix just by removing the trash and vacuuming the upholstery. One of those is the cabin air filter, which filters the fresh air that enters your car through the air-conditioning system. The cabin air filter traps pollen, fine dust and other airborne contaminants to keep them out of the air-conditioning system and out of the cabin of your car.

Just like the air filters that you might use in your house, though, the cabin air filter can’t do its job if it’s so packed with contaminants that air can’t pass through it easily. Organic material trapped in the cabin air filter can also harbor mold, which will make your car’s interior smell musty – especially when you first start the car, and the air-conditioning system hasn’t fully kicked in yet.

A new cabin air filter usually costs around $20, and your car’s instruction manual has directions for removing the old air filter and installing a new one. This is something that you can easily do yourself, even if you’re ordinarily squeamish about performing your own car repairs.

Find and Fix Water Leaks Promptly

At least once a year, you should examine the weather seals in your car’s windows and doors, trunk and sunroof. You should prioritize this if you notice a musty smell in the cabin or trunk even after replacing the cabin air filter, because it’s highly likely that water is entering your vehicle when it rains. Cracked or torn weather seals will require replacement. If you notice wet spots around your sunroof, open the sunroof and check for leaves and other debris blocking the drainage channels. Remember that water ingress isn’t just a problem that can make your car smell bad. Stagnant water leads to mold growth, and mold in your car can become a serious health issue.

Place Activated Charcoal Under the Seats

If you’ve given your car a good cleaning and have changed your habits to prevent the unpleasant smells from returning, you should have a fresh-smelling car that’s always enjoyable to drive. It never hurts to have a little help, though, and you can get that without using a chemical-laden air freshener. As an alternative to a traditional air freshener, buy some bags of activated charcoal and place them under your car’s seats. Activated charcoal is very good at absorbing unwanted odors, and it’s also very inexpensive. Every month or two, place the bags in bright sunlight to refresh them. When the charcoal no longer seems to be doing its job, discard the bags and replace them.

John Norwood
John Norwood is best known as a technology journalist, currently at Ziddu where he focuses on tech startups, companies, and products.