7 Causes & Solutions To Bad Smells In Your Car

Bad smells in your car can be caused by a variety of things, such as spilt food or drink, mould or mildew, a component malfunction, and even pets. It can be frustrating and overwhelming to try and eliminate these odours.

In this article, we will discuss the causes of bad smells in cars, ways to eliminate them, and whether or not bad smells in cars are bad for your health.

Common Causes of Bad Smells in Cars

  1. Spilt Food and Drink: One of the most common causes of bad smells in cars is spilt food or drink. When not cleaned up promptly, spills can attract bacteria and mould, leading to a foul odour.
  2. Chemical Smell: Most commonly caused by Leaking antifreeze or coolant, leaking power steering fluid and leaking brake fluid.
  3. Pets: Pets can also be a source of bad smells in cars. Pets that are not properly groomed or trained can leave behind urine, faeces, or even pet hair. All of which can lead to unpleasant odours.
  4. Plastic Smell: This can simply mean the vehicle is new, and the odours of new plastics and glue will fade over time. More dangerously, it could be an electrical component overheating which will need to be examined by a garage as soon as possible.
  5. Cigarette Smoke: Another common cause of bad smells in cars is cigarette smoke. The smoke can linger in the fabric and upholstery of the car, leaving behind a strong odour that is difficult to remove.
  6. Mould and Mildew: Mould and mildew can also be a source of bad odours, particularly in humid climates. These odours can be caused by leaks or condensation and can lead to a musty smell.
  7. Rubbish: Leaving rubbish in your car can cause bad smells, as well as attract insects and vermin.
Food smells in car
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Ways to Eliminate Bad Smells in Cars

  1. Clean the Interior: The first step in eliminating bad smells in cars is to clean the interior of the car. This includes vacuuming the carpets, wiping down the dashboard and upholstery, and cleaning the windows.
  2. Use an Odour Neutralizer: An odour neutralizer can help to eliminate bad smells in your vehicle by neutralizing the odour-causing molecules. These products are available in sprays, liquids, and gels, and can be found at most car supply shops and supermarkets.
  3. Use Baking Soda: Baking soda is a natural deodorizer that can help to eliminate bad smells in cars. Simply sprinkle baking soda on the carpets and upholstery, and leave it overnight before vacuuming it up.
  4. Use a Car Air Freshener: Car air fresheners can help to eliminate bad smells in cars by masking the odour with a pleasant scent. Though, this can just mask the odour without addressing the underlying cause.
  5. Try Charcoal: Charcoal is a natural deodorizer that can help to eliminate bad smells in cars. Simply place a piece of charcoal in a sock and place it under the seat of your car.
  6. Go to a Garage: More concerning chemical and plastic smells will require the attention of a garage or dealership. These odours can be caused by a variety of leaks and malfunctions that will need to be addressed quickly.
  7. Use a Wet Vac: To really deep clean carpets and cloth upholstery a wet vac may be required. It penetrates the material with water and detergent and removes them with a powerful suction. This is far more effective at removing persistent odours than a traditional vacuum.
Car interior cleaning
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Exhaust Smoke Smells In Cabin 

Smoke in a car cabin can be caused by a variety of factors, including problems with the engine, exhaust system, or air conditioning system. Some common causes of smoke in a vehicle cabin include:

  • Oil leaks: If oil is leaking into the engine or exhaust system, it can create smoke when it burns. This can be caused by worn or damaged engine seals, gaskets, or other components.
  • Clogged air filter: A clogged air filter can restrict airflow to the engine, causing it to run lean and produce smoke.
  • Exhaust leaks: If the exhaust system is leaking, it can allow engine fumes and smoke to enter the cabin. This can be caused by holes or cracks in the exhaust pipe or muffler, or by a damaged exhaust manifold.
  • AC issues: If the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system is not working properly, it can cause smoke to enter the cabin. This can be caused by a clogged cabin air filter, a malfunctioning blower motor and it can lead to additional problems.
  • Turbo: A faulty turbo can sometimes cause the engine to burn oil. This will usually result in a pungent burning smell in the cabin.
Car Smoke Smell
Image Credit: Unsplash

Cabin Smoke Solutions

To fix smoke in a car cabin, it is important to first identify and address the underlying cause. Some possible solutions include:

  • Replacing worn or damaged engine seals and gaskets to prevent oil leaks.
  • Replacing a clogged air filter and checking for other air intake restrictions.
  • Repair or replacement of exhaust system components like a muffler, exhaust pipe or manifold.
  • Replace or refurbish the turbo to eliminate oil leakage.

It is important to have your vehicle inspected by a professional mechanic if you are experiencing smoke in the cabin, as this can be a sign of a serious problem that needs to be addressed.

Car Engine Problems
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Are Bad Smells in Cars Bad for Your Health?

Bad smells in cars can be bad for your health, especially if they are caused by mould or mildew or smoke. These types of odours can lead to respiratory problems, such as asthma and allergies. Mould and mildew can grow in cars due to a combination of factors, including high humidity levels, poor ventilation, and the presence of organic materials such as food or dirt. If a car is not regularly cleaned, mould and mildew can grow in the upholstery, carpets, and other areas.

Additionally, if a car is left in a damp or humid environment, such as a garage without proper ventilation or in a climate with high humidity levels, mould and mildew growth is more likely. To prevent mould and mildew growth in cars, it is important to keep the interior clean, use a dehumidifier, and park in a well-ventilated area.

Cigarette smoke can be harmful to those who are sensitive to it and can cause eye and nose irritation. The long-lasting odour can also devalue your car and put off potential buyers.

Coffee smell in car
Image Credit: Pexels


Bad smells in cars can be caused by a variety of things, such as spilt food or drink, mould or mildew, and even pets. To eliminate these odours, it is important to follow the steps above and use a car air freshener.

While bad smells in cars can be unpleasant, it is important to note that they can also be bad for your health. Especially if they are caused by mould or mildew or smoke.

Fortunately, these issues are usually very easy to address and are usually not a cause for concern. Smoke and chemical smells however will require immediate mechanical attention.

If you have your own tricks to eliminating bad smells in your car, feel free to leave a comment below.

Andy Marchant
Andy Marchanthttps://autozilla.co.uk/
Andy has had a passion for cars from a young age. Since graduating from University where he studied journalism. Andy has been able to combine his love for literature and the automotive industry as a freelance writer.

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