Car Smells Like Teen Spirit? Not Anymore

It feels like summer just arrived a couple of weeks ago, yet I'm already facing the start of my kids' school year in a few weeks. We're trying to soak up every last bit of fun in the sun we can, which means I have a constant supply of wet towels in my car's trunk. I feared the musty odor that accompanies them had permanently permeated my vehicle's carpet. I haven't had such a nasty smell in my car since The Great Strawberry Milk Incident of '09.

Since I know I'm not alone in encountering a stubborn, gag-worthy smell from one family related joy or another (potty training, car sickness, leaking "spill-proof" sippy cups), I thought I should share my wealth of knowledge in banishing these embarrassing automotive odors for the greater good.

Sure, there are a million and one products out there that claim to eliminate tough vehicle odors, but as with many things in life, what works best is simple ... and buying stock in Arm & Hammer. That's right, plain old baking soda. It's removed odors from our fridges and freezers for decades, and it works just as well in cars.

Step 1: Locate and remove the offending odor creator from your car. In my case, I've not only removed and washed the musty towels, but I've also learned to drape them over my kids' booster seats to help keep the boosters cool when the car is parked in the hot summer sun. This also dries the towels to a Saharan crisp.

Step 2: Sprinkle (or better yet, dump) several boxes of baking soda onto your car's carpet. Be sure to use fresh baking soda and not boxes stolen from your freezer that are full of years' worth of lingering garlic odors. Pouring baking soda on car carpet seems scary, especially if you have black carpet, but just trust me and dump away.

Step 3: Give the baking soda time to work its magic. The longer you leave it on — about a week seems to work well for stubborn smells — the more odors it will absorb.

Step 4: Find an industrial-strength vacuum cleaner. Now that the odors are safely trapped inside the baking soda, you must remove every trace of it. A shop vac works well, but an industrial-sized one at the gas station or car wash works even better. You get bonus points for sucking up loose Polly Pocket shoes.

Step 5: Now that all the gross smells are gone add a light scent to the car's interior. Some people like the "new-car smell" on those little cardboard trees that you buy at the car wash. I prefer a small sachet of dried lavender or fresh rosemary from my garden. Check out our recent rundown of the latest car air-fresheners for some guidance.

What other secrets do you have for getting gross smells out of your car? Share them with us in the comment section below.

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By Kristin Varela | August 13, 2012 | Comments (6)




No, Arm and Hammer for these hard working writers who apparently have so little time hauling around their crapping and upchucking kids, their pooping dogs, and their favorite foods left or spilled in their cars, that they are compelled to share their experiences with those of us who care for cars and won't allow these incidents to happen. I wonder how well these hard working mothers care for their husbands and their homes. This is truly a sad commentary on today's modern woman. Too bad the management sees fit to befoul these otherwise excellent pages.


"...those of us who care for cars and won't allow these incidents to happen..." = no friends, no family, no pets, never has any fun. Enjoy your spotless car and pathetic non-life.


Wow. Panayoti, you need some serious medication.

I'm a modern woman, stay at home mom (with some part time work), and I still occasionally (SHOCK!!!) do not have a sterile driving environment!!!! Holy Toledo, say it isn't so!!! And guess what? I don't have the cash to drive my 7-year old almost paid off Honda (one-car family, too, with 2 kids, 2 adults and a 60-lb. dog in a Civic if you can believe it) to a detailer/driver/chauffeur/car-carer to be kept in pristine working order. I know, I waste all my husband's hard earned money on Cheerios and string cheese, I am such a spendthrift. Occasionally, I even waste my own modern woman time talking to people about it on the internet! I should be barefoot, pregnant, scrubbing the cup holders and weaving clothing for the poor with my feet, right?

That being said, I bought a carpet shampooer for my home, since I have small kids (who have lots of friends), and one day spent a few hours shampooing my car's seats and carpets. It's not showroom clean, but it smells a lot better and looks a lot nicer. Worth a try.

We still use those cardboard trees they work good but not cheap anymore. Trying to figure out perhaps splitting the card board with my wife then adding baking soda to make up for the cost. Will give it a shot!


Man, people will fight about anything.

Now I know just how to get my car stains and smells out! WIll try next time

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