how to remove musty smells from your car


When it comes to car smells, most people can readily identify new car smell or their favourite air freshener. Sometimes, you’re greeted by a different sort of car smell. What causes mildew and musty smells in your car? More importantly, how do you get rid of musty and mildew smells in your car?

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The sense of smell is remarkable, able to detect some 10,000 different odours. Depending on the origin and the person, these can range from pleasant aromas to unpleasant odours. Fortunately, the human sense of smell isn’t nearly as acute as most animals’ sense of smell – where we might smell a rotten apple in a barrel of good apples, a dog could smell a rotten apple in a warehouse of good apples – but what is smell, anyway? The sense of smell has three facets.

  • Molecules – Smell starts with molecules floating in the air. These are usually volatile organic compounds and esters that evaporate easily from foods, flowers, or car seat cushions.
  • Neurons – Every breath you take, air passes by a patch of some six million olfactory receptor neurons in your nasal cavity. Different odour molecules trigger various combinations of receptors, sending signals to the brain.
  • Memory – Depending on which signals are received by the brain, you get the sensation of a specific smell, which can vary depending on previous experience, genetic makeup, age, sex, and health.

When all these come together, you smell something. If your car smells like a gym when you open the door, whether you work out or not, it’s likely none too pleasant.

what's that musty smell in my car


Musty smells and mildew smells are caused by colonies of fungus releasing their reproductive spores into the air. Such car smells can usually be traced to excess moisture, over 50 percent relative humidity, providing the perfect breeding ground for these microorganisms. Add heat – mould grows best between 25 °C to 50 °C – and your car is the perfect place to raise a nation of mould and mildew colonies. Mould usually lives in porous materials, like leather, foam, felt, and paper, while mildew usually grows on non-porous surfaces, such as vinyl and plastic. What might give mould and mildew a place to live in your car?

  • Forgotten Food – Most food items and all drink items are moist to some extent. Similarly, spilled drinks can soak into the seat cushions and carpet padding. As food dries out and water evaporates, the humidity rises everywhere in your car, even places you can’t see or access.
  • Forgotten Clothes – Not exercising, the average person sweats about 600 ml per day, though strenuous exercise can push that over a litre per hour. Much of that soaks into your clothes, socks, and shoes. Drying off after a dip in the pool or ocean will soak your towel. Forgotten in the boot or the back seat, evaporating sweat or water raises the relative humidity in the car.
why is there mold in my car


  • Water Leaks – Damage and aging can create water leaks into the car. Poorly sealed body work or body panels can leak. Aged, loose, or cracked door or boot seals are common problems that afflict many vehicles. Clogged sunroof drains are another common problem, and mistakenly leaving the window or sunroof open in the rain might give your carpets and seats a good soaking.
  • Weather – Rain, snow, and mud are another source of water and fresh mould spores. If it’s on your shoes, it can soak into the floor mats and carpet, where it is slow to evaporate. In a closed car on a warm day, this water can evaporate and permeate the entire vehicle.
  • Evaporator – On vehicles equipped with air conditioning, the evaporator is inherently wet when in use, as it forces water out of the air. Normally, this water drips through a tube outside the vehicle. A clogged drain tube might allow this water to pool or even leak into the vehicle, soaking the carpets. If left in recirculate mode, the evaporator may not dry completely, leading to mildew growth on the evaporator and in the air box.

Besides being offensive and possibly embarrassing, musty smells might even cause allergic reactions, but is there a way to remove mildew smells from your car? Even better, is there a way to remove musty smells from your car without using harsh chemicals?

water-based damage


Because it’s a living organism, though microscopic, the only way to stop mildew smells is to stop its growth – you can’t just cover up car smells with an air freshener. There are two basic steps to remove musty smells from your car.

  1. Removal – Start by removing any visible mould and mildew and possible sources, such as old food or clothes. Because mould can’t survive above around 60 °C, steam cleaners are a great non-chemical method to kill mould both seen and unseen. White vinegar and water is an excellent alternative to harsh chemicals. Leaving your car out with the windows open on a sunny day helps dry everything out, even better if it’s breezy.
  2. Deodorize – For hard surfaces and smooth surfaces, like door panels or dashboard, use Turtle Wax Power Out! Odor-X Spray and a soft cloth. Odor-X Spray can also be sprayed into the air conditioning vents or air box to eliminate musty smells from the air conditioning system. For porous surfaces, such as seats and carpets, Turtle Wax Power Out! Upholstery Cleaner and its built-in brush work both on stains and odours.

A great way to remove lingering musty smells in your whole car, after you’ve cleaned everything out, is to blast it with Turtle Wax ODOR-X Whole Car Blast Kinetic. The fine mist circulates through the whole car, under seats, in the air conditioning system, even inside door and roof panels, eliminating musty smells in just a few minutes.

remove mildew and musty smells


Now that your car is clean and fresh, mould and mildew evicted, how do you keep musty smells from returning? Because mould needs heat, humidity, and food, eliminating these will keep mould and mildew from moving back in.

  1. Be Unhospitable – Make your vehicle as unhospitable to mould and mildew as possible. To reduce humidity, repair water problems and don’t leave anything wet in your vehicle. Leave the air conditioning system in fresh air mode when parking the vehicle to allow for air circulation. In rain, snow, and mud seasons, all-weather floor mats keep most water from soaking into the carpets. Keeping your car clean inside and out is the best way to help it last longer and stay fresher.

Truly, the sense of smell is a wonder, with which we can smell the morning brew, evening snifter, significant other, even detect danger. Car smells can be pleasing or displeasing, too, but using the right products can eliminate musty smells from your car and prevent mildew smells from returning.

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