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Even if you do your best to keep your car clean, dirty and bad smells are inevitable, especially in the summer when the cabin gets hot and may be in direct sunlight. Regardless of the amount of time you spend in your car, bad smells can be quite unpleasant.

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Get your ride ready and smelling fresh for those summer road trips and activities. Here are some reasons your car may be giving off a foul odor, and tips for removing the smells (and preventing them in the first place).
Back seat stain
When you smell something stinky in your vehicle, the first step is to investigate and find the source of the odor. Look in pockets, under seats, on and under floor mats, in the glove box, and in the side doors for anything that could be causing the smell like old food, spills, spoiled beverages, etc. Don’t forget under the baby seat or any seat covers.

If your vehicle smells like something is burning, it could be that it’s overheated or you may be in need of an oil change. Park your car in the shade, open the windows, turn the floor air vents on, use the fresh air setting, and keep your eye on the car temperature gauge. You can also check your oil level.

If you’re a smoker, have a passenger who smokes, or purchased a used vehicle from someone who smokes, that could be the source of the smell. Cigarette smoke can get everywhere, including the vents and intake valve under the hood, and can be difficult to remove completely.

If a child or pet got sick or had an accident, it could still cause odors even after you’ve cleaned it up. A deeper clean may be necessary to fully get rid of the smell.

Mildew can be another source of unpleasant smells, caused by a buildup of condensation, a leak (like through a cracked window), or even spilled liquids. Another source of mildew smell could be your air conditioning system. Check if your floor mats are damp near the air conditioner, which can be a sign of an air conditioning unit condensation.
Washing carpet
There are a number of things you can do to remove odors in your car.

Vacuum. Many odors are trapped in the interior fabric, like seats and carpet. Use the upholstery attachment on your regular vacuum to get into the cracks and crevices. You could also use a wet/dry vacuum.

Dehumidifier. If your car smells like mildew or wet carpet, try getting a small portable dehumidifier to help absorb any dampness in the upholstery or air.
baking soda with wooden spoon

Baking soda. If the odor is caused by something that spilled, or you’re trying to clean up a spill to prevent it from smelling in the future, try using baking soda. Sprinkle it on the area, leave it for a few hours, and then vacuum it up thoroughly. You can also use kitty litter, as that will also absorb liquid and odors.

Charcoal. Charcoal absorbs smells, so you can use activated charcoal (typically found in the aquarium section of a pet store) or charcoal grill briquettes (that don’t contain lighter fluid). Put a piece or two in your vehicle and leave it for a couple of days. This works particularly well with organic odors, such as sweat, food, or mold.

White vinegar. A natural antibacterial and antifungal, a mix of one part white vinegar and two parts water in a spray bottle can help clean your fabrics and get rid of odors. Simply spray it onto the seats or carpet. You can leave the spray to dry on cloth seats, or wipe it off of leather seats.
shampoo carpet

Carpet cleaner. If you do have a spill or stain in your vehicle, chances are it will eventually start to smell, even if you think you’ve wiped it all up. It’s best to use carpet cleaner to make sure you’ve cleaned up all of the mess. Look for a cleaner that’s best for the odor since different cleaners work better on different messes.