how to remove musty smells from your car


After the new car smell has faded and your own scents begin to fill the inside of your car, you start to get used to the scent, like the one in your home. Imagine opening your car door and being greeted by a mildewy musty smell that no ordinary car air freshener can remove. Follow our guide to learn more about the cause and how to get rid of damp smell in car interiors.


Because we drive our cars almost every day, we’re bound to notice both subtle and very obvious changes in the scents inside. This is thanks in part to our noses, which can detect nearly 10,000 different scents (and odours)! Sometimes our noses are graced with delightful scents like fresh linen, fields of flowers, or the ever-popular new car smell, while other times they’re subjected to less pleasant smells like rotten food or spoiled milk. What causes these smells? A human’s sense of smell is the product of three different elements, and when combined, can produce a smile or a gag depending on what’s creating them.

The three elements that make up the sense of smell are:

  • Molecules - Like all matter on the planet Earth, all scents are caused by molecular volatile organic compounds that evaporate off of items like food, flowers, and even your car’s upholstery.
  • Neurons - The messenger to our brains, neurons play a big part in how we perceive scents and odours. Every time we inhale, molecules pass through our nose’s nearly 6 million olfactory receptor neurons. Depending on the scent or odour, different combinations of these neurons are triggered, sending signals to our brains about what we’re smelling.
  • Memory - Your memory is where the sense of smell happens. When our brains receive the signals from the neurons in our noses, it triggers a sensation of a specific smell based on scents we’ve encountered before. What’s even more interesting is that our sense of smell varies from person to person, and factors like age, sex, overall health, and genetic makeup determine how good our noses are at detecting scents.

Molecules, neurons, and memory - these are the three components of a smell that, when combined, allow you to smell something pleasant or disgusting. If your car smells like the latter when you take the wheel, there’s a good chance there is mould and mildew growing in your car.

what's that musty smell in my car


Mould is a fungus. When mould exists in the interior of your car, it will attempt to reproduce by emitting spores in the air, and as we’ve just learned, molecules make up one of the three key components that comprise a smell.

Mould can be introduced into your car in a number of ways, but a damp, enclosed area with over 50% relative humidity is the ideal breeding ground for it to spread and continue to release its musty-smelling spores. To make matters worse, mould colonies love a warm environment, and if the inside of your car is subjected to temperatures between 25 °C and 50 °C, there’s no telling how large the mould and mildew colonies can become.

If you’re attempting to find the source of a mould infestation in your car - your upholstery is a great place to start. Mould colonies prefer to grow in porous materials such as foam, felt, leather, and other surfaces that cover the inside of your car. Mildew, another culprit of musty smells in your car, prefers the opposite and can be often found on non-porous surfaces like the vinyl on your dashboard and interior plastic trim.

If you’re wondering how mould or mildew might have had the opportunity to call your car home, look no further than things we often leave in our cars, such as food and clothing:

  • Spilled drinks that aren’t cleaned properly are an open door invitation to mould or mildew. As the temperature in your car increases, the liquids soaked into seats and upholstery evaporate, raising the relative humidity in your car.
  • Towels and Gym Clothes are also common culprits of a mould infestation in a car. Throwing your pool towels in your car’s boot and forgetting about them or losing your favorite gym shirt in your back seat also helps increase the relative humidity in your car. The moisture from these items, sweat or otherwise, begin to evaporate inside the car, creating the ideal breeding ground for mould and mildew.
why is there mold in my car



Musty smells in a car can be experienced by even the most diligent person. Sometimes, the culprit is unknown and has nothing to do with spilled drinks or soggy clothes. For the same reasons, water-based damage can also cause mould and mildew to spread inside your car. This type of water infiltration isn’t always the easiest to spot in your car, making it difficult to pinpoint the source of your car’s musty odor. Here are some things to check for:

  • Leaks: Whether from rain or a trip through the automatic car wash, water can sometimes make its way into your car through small cracks in door and window seals or poorly sealed body panels. If your car is plagued by musty smells, it is worth checking for moist spots in your car’s upholstery, especially the boot, in order to try and track down the source of the leak.
  • Weather: Mould spores can be sneaky and more than willing to hitch a ride in your once beautiful smelling car. Planting your feet firmly on your car’s floor mats after walking through puddles or a wet sidewalk can soak them, introducing moisture that will evaporate and increase the humidity in your car.
  • Air Conditioning: Your car’s air conditioning system is another source of moisture. The evaporator, a part that forces water out of the air, becomes wet while the AC is running. Ideally, the moisture in the evaporator is cycled through a tube and exists outside the vehicle, but a clogged drain tube may allow the water to pool up and permeate your car’s floor mats and carpeting. Running your air conditioning in recirculation mode can also cause mould and mildew growth, as your evaporator may not dry completely and recirculate moist air throughout the car.


Now that you’re aware of all of the reasons why your car has a musty smell, it’s time to take control and fix it. Read on to learn how to remove musty smells from your car.

water-based damage


Although easier said than done, getting rid of the smell caused by mould and mildew in your car requires stopping the mould from growing. This is where air fresheners fail - they only mask the odour caused by mould and mildew, but do not stop it from spreading in your car. The first step is to identify the source of moisture in your car - whether it’s an old pair of gym socks under the passenger seat or an old beach towel in the boot. Once you’ve found the culprit, there are only two steps left to successfully remove musty smells from your car.

  1. Remove the Source - Take the opportunity to perform a deep clean of your car, making sure to remove any water bottles, food bags or wrappers, and articles of clothing. If the mould is caused by a water leak in your car, find the source of the leak and patch it up. Once you’ve made sure the source of moisture in your car is gone, it’s time to kill the existing mould colonies. A steam cleaner is the best tool for the job, as mould cannot survive temperatures in excess of 60 °C, and a wide spray is a great way to kill mould you can or cannot see. If you’re looking for a non-chemical alternative, a solution of water and white vinegar can also do the trick. Once you’re done removing the mould from your car, opening your windows on a dry, warm day is a great way to air your car out.
  2. Remove the Smell - Now that you’ve removed the source of the mouldy smell, you can also remove the smell itself, instead of simply masking it with an air freshener. Use our Power Out! Odor-X Spray and a soft cloth to wipe down hard and smooth surfaces like your door panels or dashboard. Our Odor-X spray is versatile and can also be sprayed into your car’s air vents and air box to help cleanse the air conditioning system of musty, mouldy smells. Finish the job with our Power Out! Upholstery Cleaner - its built in brush can penetrate porous surfaces like car seats and floor mats and remove musty smells in them.

Another way to ensure that the musty smells in your car are gone for good is to blast it with our Odor-X Whole Car Blast. The Whole Car Blast emits a fine mist that spreads throughout your car and deodorises hard to reach areas of your car.

remove mildew and musty smells


Now that you’ve kicked the mould and mildew out of your car, it’s time to ensure they don’t reappear. By removing the three things mould needs to thrive from your car - food, heat, and humidity - you’ll discourage it from colonizing your car in the future.

  1. Reduce humidity by not leaving anything wet in your car, and fixing any water leaks you may have in your car. Check your car’s air conditioning system for a clogged evaporator drain tube, as this can also introduce water into your car’s interior. All-weather floor mats can also keep moisture from soaking your car’s upholstery and carpeting.
  2. Remove food and drinks from the car after each trip. You should also promptly and thoroughly dry up any accidental liquid spills as soon as possible.

If your car doesn’t smell like it belongs to you, taking these steps can help restore your car’s once clean, relaxing environment. By using our products, you can eliminate musty odours and get rid of mould and mildew from your car once and for all.

prevent smells

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