How to Get Mildew Smell Out of a Car - The Ultimate Breakdown (2023)

Maintaining a spotless and fragrant car inside makes a world of difference. Whether on a shopping run or a rural drive, the cabin becomes a little more opulent when the seats, flooring, and plastic surfaces are cleaned. But occasionally, odors from your car’s interior persist even after washing it. You might smell mildew, and obviously, it doesn’t smell very good. And when stale scents remain in the air, even a spotless car inside loses its attraction. But there are methods for finding and getting rid of automobile odors. Mold or even an issue with the engine could be the cause. It is all required to find the tough spot, clean it properly, and then relax in your newly cleaned interior.

You spend a lot of time inside your car, and keeping the interior clean will improve your driving experience. A clean automobile interior is a pleasant place to relax and take in the scenery, just like a tidy home. A clean interior looks great and helps keep unpleasant odors from developing so that you and your companions may ride in comfort.

Let’s look closely at the mildew odor in car interiors and how to remove mold from your automobile.

2-step kit makes interior look like new

The Best Interior Cleaner



The one-two punch your interior has been missing.

(Video) Auto Detailing : How to Get Rid of Mold Smell in a Car

“So far I’ve used Mirror Shine, Turbo, Tire shine, and now Intra Shield and Clean. All products have performed as advertised and I am very happy with the results. Now to try the car wash and my detailing kit will be complete.” – Bill L.

Why Does My Car Smell So Musty?

The interior of a car may smell like mildew for various reasons. The causes of mildew smell can range from minor to significant, and some call for a mechanic’s help. If your automobile has a musty odor or mold, it may be leftover food in small cracks or trash tucked behind the seats. In some cases, mold growth on moist carpeting is possible. When it snows and there is a lot of slush on the ground, moisture can accumulate and cause the growth of mold spores. A clogged drain could result in water leaks over the seats or saturation of the headliner if you drive a car with a sunroof. The cabin filter of your automobile being blocked with leaves is another potential source of mold in your vehicle.

Additionally, occasional leaks in the trunk let moisture inside, giving off musty odors. Other offensive interior odors could be a symptom of severe problems with your car’s heating core or conditioning system.

Mold issues

How to Get Mildew Smell Out of a Car - The Ultimate Breakdown (2)

Mildew and musty odors are brought on by fungus colonies that release their reproductive particles into the atmosphere. Such automobile odors are typically caused by excess moisture of more than 50% relative humidity, which provides the ideal situation for these bacteria to flourish. Your car is the perfect environment to establish a nation of mold and mildew colonies. If you add heat, mold grows fastest between 77 °F and 120 °F. While mildew typically grows on non-porous objects like vinyl and plastic, mold usually inhabits porous materials like form, leather, felt, and paper. What could possibly provide a home for mold and mildew in your car?

Forgotten apparel

Average daily sweating without activity is about 20 ounces, but vigorous exercise can increase that to almost 1 quart per hour. A large portion seeps into your socks, shoes, and clothing. Your towel will get wet while drying off after a swim in the pool or ocean. Evaporating water from the rear seat or trunk boosts the relative humidity in the vehicle.

If food particles remain unchecked

The majority of foods and drinks incorporate some level of moisture. Similar to how liquids can soak into the carpet padding and seat cushions. The humidity rises everywhere in your automobile, even in places you can’t see or access, as food dries out and fluid evaporates.

Water-related harms

Weather factors

Other sources of moisture and recent mold spores include rain, snow, and muck. If it gets on your footwear, it may seep into the carpet and floor mats, where it may take a few seconds to dry out. This water can evaporate inside a car on a hot day and permeate the entire thing.

Water Leakage

Water leaks inside the car can be caused by damage and aging. Body panels or bodywork with poor seals might leak. Many vehicles have difficulties with doorways or trunk seals that are worn out, loosened, or damaged. Another frequent issue is clogged sunroof drains, and if you accidentally leave a window or sunroof open in the rain, your seats and carpets can get a quick soak.


When used in automobiles with air conditioning, evaporation is naturally moist since it expels moisture from the air. This liquid typically drips from a tube outside the cabin. This water could collect or flow into the car through a clogged drain tube, wetting the carpeting. The evaporator might not dry entirely if left in the recirculate mode, which could promote the formation of mildew on the evaporator and in the air box.

Cigarette smoke

Strong and difficult-to-get-rid-of odors in a car’s cabin are cigarette smoke. Because smoke odor permeates upholstery, flooring, hard surfaces, and the air system, it is challenging to eliminate it from cars. Therefore, changing the cabin filter is necessary to remove smoke from cigarettes, cigars, and marijuana.

Exterior debris such as dust, grime, and other microscopic creatures, cigar smoke, spilled food, pet hair, and urine, among other things, can leave residue inside the car that will eventually build up and give the cabin an unpleasant odor. Depending on which scents are more challenging, unwanted odors can be eliminated using various techniques and materials. One thing is sure, though. The most efficient approach to eliminate doors and windows, as well as other cabin areas, is through thorough detailing of the vehicle cabin using steam cleaning, followed by a mild detergent solution.

Other causes

Even if you believe you have removed a substance from your car’s cabin by wiping it off, many compounds can still be found inside. In addition to those in the center console, drink containers are typically seen inside doors on modern vehicles. Most people eventually spill coffee, cola, juice, and other beverages on the area near their drink holder, which results in a foul odor.

Stage 1. Clean The Major Odor Sources

Be a detective and search the vehicle for anything that might be the source of the stink. Search for infant bottles, rotting fruit, or unidentifiable blobs that may have been carried in on the bottom of someone’s shoe in pockets, beneath seats, on flooring, or even in the glove compartment. Remove and discard any of them immediately, and then leave the doors open to let whatever odors remain. Remember that an unpleasant scent sometimes indicates an overheated automobile or that you may need to change your oil.


How to Get Mildew Smell Out of a Car - The Ultimate Breakdown (3)

Although it seems straightforward, vacuuming can eliminate scents and their causes. You should vacuum your car repeatedly to keep track of unwanted smells because odors can quickly become trapped in the fabric. However, a vacuum can also reach tight spaces and remove anything that might be odor-causing.

(Video) 3 Quick Tips To De-Stink Your Car | Autoblog Details

Remove musty AC odor from a car’s air conditioner

The air conditioning unit can also be the cause of that musty odor. Damp floor mats close to the air conditioner are one warning indicator. Open the front cover of your car and remove the filter if you notice an odor emanating from this location. Any mold development should be scrubbed away with a nylon scouring pad and then dried with a cotton swab. Turn on the warmth in the car to complete the drying process. Spray an enzymatic cleaning, odor absorber, or anti-mildew treatment once you are sure the area is arid. Torque Detail Intra cleaner goes best for this purpose.

How to Get Mildew Smell Out of a Car - The Ultimate Breakdown (4)

Alternatively, you might sprinkle baking soda over the upholstery and let it sit there for a few hours or a day before vacuuming it. The scent ought to have gone away by then. Of course, you can also take off car carpets and give them time to air out. Additionally, dust can amass inside the vents, sharing a car a musty odor. In this situation, vacuum the vents and clean the interior with a water-vinegar solution.

Stage 2. Deep Cleaning & Removing that mildew smell from your car

Before having your vehicle professionally detailed, several tools and products can help eliminate odors. You may even already have some of these in your home

Use a Solution composed of Vinegar and Water to Clean the Mold

How to Get Mildew Smell Out of a Car - The Ultimate Breakdown (5)

This concentrated cleaner with a clean smell does wonders for overpowering scents. It can be kept overnight in a small cup or bowl in your car. The evaporation process will significantly diminish even the most potent odors. Another choice is to spray and scrub a smelly spot with a vinegar-and-water solution while using a moist cloth. Just be careful not to get vinegar that hasn’t been diluted into your vehicle. It is powerful enough to damage materials like carpet and leather.

Use Baking Soda as a Smell Eliminator

How to Get Mildew Smell Out of a Car - The Ultimate Breakdown (6)

Few things like baking soda, often sodium carbonate, work the best. Additionally, it should be your excellent alternative if you’re dealing with vomit. This powder has abrasive and alkaline properties that assist blanch stains and consuming odors.

Easy to use: Scrub the stinky area clean, wet it down, liberally sprinkle baking soda on top, and allow it to air dry. The dried powder should then be vacuumed at least a few hours later. Baking soda is a natural air deodorizer and can be kept in a closed jar with a few holes in the top, similar to the charcoal treatment.

Use an Interior Cleaner and Protector

Torque Detail Intra Clean & Shield is the one-two punch your interior has been lacking. This package makes deep cleaning your inside easy and will leave it looking brand new. With this convenient one-stop kit, interior finishing is simple. Use Intra Clean to thoroughly clean and freshen up the surfaces within your home first. Next, apply Intra Shield to your interior surfaces to provide Ceramic & UV Protection. Then, using Intra Clean as necessary, finish cleaning the interior.

2-step kit makes interior look like new

The Best Interior Cleaner


(Video) The Only REAL Way to Remove Cigarette & Smoke Smell From Your Car


The one-two punch your interior has been missing.

“So far I’ve used Mirror Shine, Turbo, Tire shine, and now Intra Shield and Clean. All products have performed as advertised and I am very happy with the results. Now to try the car wash and my detailing kit will be complete.” – Bill L.

The Interior Kit Includes:

Intra Clean

  • All interior surfaces are secure
  • Deep cleans dashboard surfaces, leather, and fabric
  • Disinfects surfaces
  • Doesn’t change the colors or fabrics

Intra Shield – Interior Ceramic Detailer

  • UV Protection for Interior Surfaces using Ceramic
  • Creates a transparent, breathable layer
  • Doesn’t change the colors or fabrics

Simple Instructions to a Clean and Protected Interior

  1. Apply to a mild to moderately contaminated interior surface. Vacuum the feeling first if it is unclean or soiled.
  2. Spray the area down with Intra Clean
  3. Use a microfiber towel to buff in the product.
  4. Wipe off the excess product using a second, clean microfiber towel.

Use a Steam Cleaner for a Deeper Clean

Anotherconvenient method for cleaning all inside automobile surfaces and sanitizing the air is steam cleaning. Steam cleaners of commercial quality have the power to thoroughly clean, sterilize, and safeguard every square inch of your car’s cabin. Top brands can blast away dirt and unwelcome microscopic particles such as pollen, mold, mildew, bacteria, and viruses. In addition to cleaning the surfaces inside your automobile, these devices sterilize them and leave them smelling clean.


The poison absorber of nature is this traditional home treatment. Therefore, the fact that the same substance used in water filters may also filter your air is not surprising. Leave an open pack of charcoal briquettes in your car overnight to do this. Due to its enormous porosity, activated charcoal can absorb virtually anything in the air. The charcoal is not consumed in any way, which is the best part.

Air Fresheners: Yay or Nay?

After deodorizing the atmosphere in your car, adding fresheners, scents, and other items that give it a particular smell is the last step to enjoying the clean air. Never mask unpleasant scents with pleasant ones. Once you’re sure the offensive odor has vanished, but not before, you can use one of these. It’s preferable to inhaling an odd concoction of lemon zest and stale cigarette smoke.

The Final Verdict

Mold, mildew, and musty odors can make your car’s interior uncomfortable. Whether traveling for business or a weekend break, you want to feel at ease, enjoy the ride, and not be distracted by unpleasant odors. If you think your automobile has mold, looking in several places will help you identify the problem and perhaps even remedy it. Torque Detail Intra interior cleaner, which is effective and affordable, is the superior solution for these problems!

2-step kit makes interior look like new

The Best Interior Cleaner



The one-two punch your interior has been missing.

“So far I’ve used Mirror Shine, Turbo, Tire shine, and now Intra Shield and Clean. All products have performed as advertised and I am very happy with the results. Now to try the car wash and my detailing kit will be complete.” – Bill L.

(Video) DIY Odor Neutralizer for Home, Boat, RV, Car, Basement, Garage, etc...

How to Get Mildew Smell Out of a Car - The Ultimate Breakdown (9)

Written by Dan Sweeney

COO of Torque Detail & Certified Car Detailer

I help run the day to day for America’s Number #1 Car Wax Mirror Shine by Torque Detail. As a Certified Detailer by the International Detailing Association, I use that knowledge to help create products that get professional grade results with super simple application techniques.

(Video) 8 Car Smells That Spell DOOM! 👃 [Tips]


How do I get the musty mildew smell out of my car? ›

When you're sure the area is completely dry, apply an anti-mildew solution, enzymatic cleaner or odor absorber. You could also sprinkle baking soda on the upholstery and leave it in place for a day or so before vacuuming away. By then, the smell should have dissipated.

How long does it take to get mildew smell out of car? ›

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.

What absorbs the smell of mildew? ›

Odor absorbers like baking soda, charcoal briquettes, and kitty litter are all effective in keeping mildew at bay. Fill a large container about halfway with your chosen deodorizer and leave it to work its magic in whichever rooms you've been encountering issues with mildew. Replace every month or so.

How do you get moldy smell out of car carpet? ›

If you believe the cause of mold in your car is your carpeting and floors, try washing them with a steam cleaner. Then, park your car in the hot sun with the windows rolled down to let fresh air inside, ensuring that any residual moisture evaporates.

Does mildew smell eventually disappear? ›

A musty odor can be a telltale sign of a mold or moisture problem in a home. Perhaps in your own home, the odor was what prompted you to schedule a mold inspection! Once the mold is discovered and remediated, the odors will likely go away.

What kills the smell of mold and mildew? ›

Odor absorbers like baking soda, charcoal briquettes, and even cat litter can abate mold smell and prevent new smells from taking over your home. Fill containers with the odor absorber of your choice, and place them in the rooms where mold is most likely to accrue. Be sure to change these out monthly.

Can you get rid of mildew permanently? ›

Simply mix one part bleach to four parts water. Using a damp cloth gently scrub and wipe the mould until the mould is gone. Once finished, dry the area well with a soft cloth.

Why does my car always smell like mildew? ›

“What you're probably smelling is the condensation that comes from the evaporator inside your heating and cooling system,” says Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports' senior director of auto testing. “Basically, water collects in that area and, if it sits long enough, creates the musty smell.”

Does Heat get rid of mildew smell? ›

Heating and drying the air takes away one of the things - moisture - that molds need to survive.

What is the most powerful odor eliminator? ›

The 17 best odor eliminators for every gross smell, from cat pee...
  • Ozium Air Sanitizer Spray. ...
  • Lysol Disinfectant Spray. ...
  • DampRid Moisture Absorber With Activated Charcoal. ...
  • DampRid Fresh Scent Hanging Moisture Absorber, 3-Pack. ...
  • Harris Cleaning Vinegar. ...
  • Zero Odor Laundry Odor Eliminator.
Feb 3, 2023

What is the best mildew smell remover? ›

Borax is effective as a mildew odor remover because of its unique pH level. Borax is alkaline and is at about a 9.3 pH level. The powder creates a sort of dry, alkaline space wherever it is placed. The extremely alkaline nature of the Borax makes it easy to remove the mildew odor.

How do you get rid of a musty smell permanently? ›

The best ways to get rid of musty smells
  1. Open windows to get rid of stale air and bring fresh air into the space.
  2. Run a dehumidifier to remove excess moisture from the air.
  3. Keep air circulating with box and ceiling fans.
  4. Decorate your home with houseplants that naturally clean the air.
  5. Dust regularly and thoroughly.
Jun 21, 2022

How do you deodorize a car? ›

Stinky Car? Try These 5 Tips to Remove Odors
  1. Charcoal. This old home remedy is like nature's toxin absorber. ...
  2. Baking Soda. Few products have as many uses as sodium carbonate, or baking soda. ...
  3. Vinegar. This harsh but clean-smelling liquid is ideal against overpowering smells. ...
  4. Carpet Cleaner. ...
  5. Air Fresheners.
Feb 2, 2017

What to do if the inside of your car gets wet now it stinks? ›

Baking soda is a wonder. It absorbs moisture as well as odours and because it's a baking ingredient is also non-toxic. Put your car seats back and liberally sprinkle baking soda evenly across them. Ideally you'll want to let the baking soda sit overnight for maximum absorption.

Why does my car smell like mildew from AC? ›

If your car A/C smells like mildew or mold, it could very well be actual mildew or mold! As your vehicle ages, bacteria can grow in the system where moisture typically collects — particularly on the A/C's evaporator. When this happens, a pungent, mildew-like smell can get blasted into your cabin through your A/C vents.

What stops mildew from coming back? ›

To Prevent Mold Growth in Your Home. Keep humidity levels in your home as low as you can—no higher than 50%–all day long. An air conditioner or dehumidifier will help you keep the level low. You can buy a meter to check your home's humidity at a home improvement store.

Is the smell of mildew harmful? ›

A moldy odor suggests that mold is growing in the building and should be investigated. The health effects of inhaling mVOCs are largely unknown, although exposure to mVOCs has been linked to symptoms such as headaches, nasal irritation, dizziness, fatigue, and nausea.

Can mildew smell make you sick? ›

Exposure to damp and moldy environments may cause a variety of health effects, or none at all. Some people are sensitive to molds. For these people, exposure to molds can lead to symptoms such as stuffy nose, wheezing, and red or itchy eyes, or skin.

Does vinegar absorb mold smell? ›

White vinegar is an acid that kills mildew, mold and other bacteria. It also strips away any build-up left on towels from soaps and from using too much detergent. The baking soda is an extra step to neutralize any leftover smell from the vinegar. Baking soda also works as a natural fabric softener.

What absorbs mold mildew? ›

Getting Rid of Mold With Baking Soda

It's safe for your family and pets, and it not only kills black mold, but it also absorbs moisture that attracts mold. Add one-quarter of a tablespoon of baking soda to a spray bottle of water and shake until it has dissolved.

Can mildew smell be washed out? ›

In most cases, washing as usual with a quality heavy-duty detergent will remove the mildew smell. You can also add 5 cups of vinegar directly to the drum with your laundry detergent, but Zinna says this is more effective for removing smells than it is for removing stains.

How do you get rid of severe mildew? ›

Dissolve 1/2 cup washing soda (not baking soda) in 1 gallon of warm water. Lightly apply to the affected area and scrub with a soft-bristled brush. Rinse with clean water and buff dry. Another option for cleaning mildew is a solution of 1 cup ammonia, 1/2 cup vinegar, 1/4 baking soda and 1 gallon of water.

Is it OK to breathe mildew? ›

Exposure to mold can cause health effects in some people. Mold spores are always found in the air we breathe, but extensive mold contamination may cause health problems. Breathing mold can cause allergic and respiratory symptoms.

Does vinegar get rid of mildew? ›

Does vinegar kill mildew and mold? Vinegar has antifungal and antibacterial properties, and it can be a cheap and effective treatment for many types of mold. Household white vinegar typically contains about 5 to 8 percent acetic acid.

Is it hard to get mildew out of a car? ›

Removing mold from your car interior may seem difficult, but it's not impossible. All you'll need is the right cleaning method and the proper safety gear to get it cleaned up. If the DIY tricks fail to do the job, you can always turn to a professional for assistance.

Can mildew in car make you sick? ›

The presence of mold in a car can cause health responses when exposure occurs. Once inhaled, particles can affect the heart and lungs and in some cases cause serious health effects. Many studies directly link the size of particles to their potential for causing health problems.

Can you put something in the vents to get rid of mildew smell? ›

If your air duct has become dirty or obstructed, it can result in a musty smell as well as a decrease in indoor air quality. For a temporary solution, you can sprinkle baking soda inside the ducts to help reduce the smell. Dust filter pads, which inhibit airborne particles, can also be inserted inside the vent grates.

What is better than Ozium? ›

Veil is a super-effective, non-toxic, non-aerosol air freshener for marijuana smells that comes without the safety and health concerns associated with Ozium. No need for ventilation or PPE, you can breathe easy when you spray Veil.

Can you spray Ozium while in the car? ›

Point the Ozium nozzle away from you and press the trigger of the fogger. Place the fogger as close to the center of the vehicle as possible. Close all the doors so Ozium can circulate within the vehicle. Wait 15 minutes for the air fogger to complete the sanitation cycle.

Does Ozium spray work? ›

an most effective room deodorizer just a few sprays does it! Bought this to use as an air sanitizer for my car, immediately eliminates odor, trust it also eliminates germs. Smells clean. I will recommend this product to friends and relatives .

Does WD 40 Remove mildew? ›

Over time the elements can leave your white chairs looking green with mildew and mould. A simple spray of WD-40 and a wipe down with a paper towel can remedy that.

Does OxiClean get rid of mildew smell? ›

Nothing smells worse than musty, damp laundry. But OxiClean™ Odor Blasters™ Powder or Liquid can help you get musty smells out of clothes, towels and other fabric.

What does it mean when your car smells like mildew? ›

WHY IS THERE MOLD IN MY CAR? Musty smells and mildew smells are caused by colonies of fungus releasing their reproductive spores into the air. Such car smells can usually be traced to excess moisture, over 50 percent relative humidity, providing the perfect breeding ground for these microorganisms.

Why does my car smell like mold and mildew? ›

“What you're probably smelling is the condensation that comes from the evaporator inside your heating and cooling system,” says Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports' senior director of auto testing. “Basically, water collects in that area and, if it sits long enough, creates the musty smell.”

Why does my car smell like mildew? ›

Why does my car smell musty? A musty smell probably means mold or mildew has formed in the depths of your air-conditioner. To cure this, run your fan on high without AC for a mile or so to dry out the system. However, if the odor recurs, it may be a clog in the drain tube or a leak into the interior.

Why does my car air smell like mildew? ›

Your A/C Smells Like Mildew or Mold

As your vehicle ages, bacteria can grow in the system where moisture typically collects — particularly on the A/C's evaporator. When this happens, a pungent, mildew-like smell can get blasted into your cabin through your A/C vents.

Can you spray Lysol in your car vents? ›

On the outside of your vehicle at the bottom of the windshield, you'll see air intake vents. With the AC fan running at full power, you should be able to feel air being sucked in. Take the can of Lysol and spray into this vent thoroughly and on both the driver's and passenger's side.


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