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  • There are several ways to keep your car smelling fresh including using baking soda, charcoal deodorizers, and carpet cleaners. You can also get new floor mats and seat covers. You can also vacuum and recirculate the air inside.
  • Sometimes, an unpleasant car smell can be caused by cabin air filters filled with bacteria. Replacing your vehicle’s cabin air filter can remove the unpleasant smell.
  • The unpleasant smell can also be caused by bacteria buildup inside your A/C system. It might be a good idea to have it cleaned.

It isn’t uncommon for vehicles to develop a musty odor in the cabin over time. Many factors can cause unpleasant smells to build up in your car, such as old floor mats and issues with your A/C. Here are some quick and easy ways to get your vehicle back to smelling fresh and clean.

7 Ways to Keep Your Car Smelling Fresh

Here are some quick and easy tips you can try to eliminate foul smells from your vehicle.

Buy a Charcoal Deodorizer

activated charcoal to remove car smell
Active charcoal has a wide surface area with many micro pockets and holes, making this material perfect for absorbing unpleasant odors.

Charcoal deodorizers are commonly used to keep refrigerators odor-free. But did you know that you can also use charcoal to eliminate odor inside your vehicle?

Active charcoal has a wide surface area with many micro pockets and holes, making this material perfect for absorbing unpleasant odors. All you need is to purchase a bag of charcoal briquettes and leave it open in your car overnight.

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Try Baking Soda

Like active charcoal, baking soda is a natural odor eliminator. Sodium bicarbonate neutralizes acidic odors like those from sour milk. If you don’t like the strong smell of car air fresheners, you’re better off with baking soda. However, air fresheners and car deodorizers only cover up the smell instead of removing them.

Using baking soda to clean your vehicle is easy. Simply wipe the area, sprinkle baking soda, and let it dry. You can vacuum the dried baking soda powder after several hours.

Get a Carpet Cleaner

Your vehicle carpet can absorb spills and dirt, making it give off a damp and unpleasant smell. If you often drive with your children or pets, it’s a good idea to wipe any dirt, spill, or stain as soon as you see it. This will help prevent the growth of bacteria and mold, which can stink up your vehicle cabin.

But if it’s too late for that, a carpet cleaner might help. Remember to read the instructions before applying any solution to your carpet or flooring. Some carpet cleaners can be harsher than vinegar, so you might need to dilute the solution first.

Shop for New Floor Mats

It’s also a good idea to replace your floor mats with new ones. There are many aftermarket options available, so you’ll easily find one that fits your vehicle.

Floor mats protect your floor from dirt, wear, salt, and corrosion. Although these mats are easily removed and cleaned, they can still get old and smelly over time. The edges of these mats can also begin to curl over time. This allows dirt and liquids to make their way onto your vehicle’s floor.

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Replace Your Seat Covers

Aside from carpets and floor mats, your seat covers can also absorb spills. Although there are ways to clean them, it’s a good idea to replace worn or damaged covers with a material that’s easier to clean.

Vacuum Your Vehicle and Recirculate the Air

The soft surfaces in your vehicle are prone to absorbing smoke. If you’re wondering how to get the smell of cigarettes out of your car, recirculating the air inside your ride with the doors open might help. You can also use a vacuum cleaner to get rid of scent-clinging particles.

Hire a Professional

If you don’t like the hassle of cleaning your car yourself, you can always ask a professional to do the cleaning for you. On average, you can expect to pay $50 to $125 for a car or $80 to $150 for an SUV or van. Cleaning your car’s interior should be done regularly to avoid musty odors from building up.

Have Your A/C System Checked

Musty odors don’t only come from your interior. Sometimes, the problem can come from the inner parts of your vehicle—like your A/C system. Here are the most common reasons why your car A/C smells musty:

car cabin air filter cleaning to remove odor
Dust and bacteria can build up in your A/C if your cabin filter is faulty.

Bad Cabin Air Filter

Dust and bacteria can build up in your A/C if your cabin filter is faulty. Good thing there are many aftermarket cabin filters available on the market, so you’ll not have a hard time finding a replacement for your ride. You can check your owner’s manual for detailed instructions for replacing your cabin air filter.

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Clogged A/C Evaporator Case Drain Hole

Road debris, leaves, pine needles, and sludge can clog your vehicle’s A/C evaporator case drain hole. Moisture can build up on the A/C evaporator and evaporator case, promoting the growth of molds and mildew inside your A/C system.

There are some known remedies to this problem. For instance, flushing the air intake vents with a household disinfectant and cleaning the ducts with an anti-bacterial spray can help remove the musty odor from your A/C. However, it is still best to let a professional do the cleaning for you. They use commercial-grade bacteriostats and microbials to remove molds, mildew, and other contaminants that can cause a bad odor.

Heater Core Leaks

Leaks in the heater core may produce a sweet pungent odor. If you start to notice this type of smell along with slimy films on your windows, there’s a good chance your heater core is seeping engine coolant into the A/C ducts.

About The Author
Written By Automotive and Tech Writers

The Research Team is composed of experienced automotive and tech writers working with (ASE)-certified automobile technicians and automotive journalists to bring up-to-date, helpful information to car owners in the US. Guided by's thorough editorial process, our team strives to produce guides and resources DIYers and casual car owners can trust.

Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.

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