We recently purchased a used minivan and it wasn't until we got it home and let it sit overnight that we noticed there was a distinct smell to the interior. The smell is not offensive but it is not welcoming either.

What are the best methods to remove smells from the interior of a vehicle?

  • 1
    What does it smell like? Cigarette smoke? Mildew? Jun 28, 2011 at 20:10
  • It smells like cleaning supplies and a faint hint of cigarette smoke.
    – Scott
    Jun 30, 2011 at 17:05
  • 1
    I don't understand why this question was closed for being off topic. Vehicle Maintenance and repair is more than just the outside of the cabin.
    – Scott
    Jun 30, 2011 at 17:07
  • this question has been discussed on meta meta.mechanics.stackexchange.com/questions/110/… Jul 9, 2011 at 0:27

4 Answers 4


I successfully used some Griot's "Odor Exterminator" to remove a smell from my new-to-me car just this weekend. It was some sort of sweet-ish chemical smell, either from something the previous owners spilled or from something the dealer used to clean it.


Some tips:

  1. Probably obvious, but a thorough cleaning of the car is always in order! Wipe down all surfaces and vacuum the carpets. Be comprehensive, and check for any sources of odor while doing so (spills, stains, etc).

  2. If the odor is coming from the carpets or upholstery, an even more thorough steam cleaning of the interior surfaces might be in order. Steam cleaning machines use hot water to lightly soak the surfaces (with some shampoo) then draw it away. It's a lot more work, but it is a better deeper clean.

  3. Use a car deodorizer product and follow the recommended instructions on the tin. Note that wildly spraying it on every surface isn't necessarily the way to go; you may need to specifically treat the internals of the AC and heating systems by spraying into their intakes while they are running. Odors can get trapped in the AC and heating systems, too!

  4. If your car has a cabin air filter, look at replacing it.

If the smell still persists, you might want to look at a professional cleaning service that specializes in car odor removal.. they can do things like high ozone shock treatment.


I have been really sucessful with Auto Shocker (It used to be called Auto Vaccine). It's a odor eliminator and it really penetrates the upholstry to get rid of odors. I used it all the time, between dogs and athletic children my car stink a lot. You should give it a try, it's my favorite. You can find it at http://www.biocidesystems.com/auto3hslanding.html


I recently bought a car with three air fresheners in it that made it smell awful (to me). I bought two Fridge-It® odor absorbers and hung them in different parts of the car, and aired it out as often as possible, and the odor went away. I also changed the cabin air filter, and the new one had a black coating which I assume is charcoal for odor absorbing.

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