Car Smells Like Teen Spirit? Not Anymore

By Kristin Varela  on August 13, 2012

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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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Senior Family Editor Kristin Varela blends work and family life by driving her three tween-teen girls every which way in test cars.  Email Kristin


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