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Blog: Smelly car solutions

If you own a malodorous motor, don't worry: there are lots of cheap and easy solutions to your problem, as motoring journalist Maria McCarthy explains.

Air freshener 

We all take personal hygiene very seriously, and we want our homes to be clean and fragrant too. But what if your car suffers from the automotive version of BO?

As with any personal problem, there's an initial sense of embarrassment and a feeling that you're the only person struggling with this issue.

But take heart: even though I haven't faced this particular problem myself (that's my story and I'm sticking to it) you're certainly not alone.

Smelly car syndrome

There could be a variety of reasons why your car is smelly. It might be old and uncared for, or it could have been involved in an "accident" of some sort.

Sometimes the problem can be cured - which may involve anything from using a quick and easy tip to skilled car-cleaning professionals labouring over your vehicle for hours.

But some cases are beyond help, such as that of a friend of mine whose car suffered flood damage.

She could never bring herself to drive her car with the windows closed again.

Tried and tested tips for tackling car smells

All of the following strategies have worked for various friends and colleagues who have struggled with car odour.

They're all inexpensive and can absorb unwanted smells so try a few and see what works for you.

  • A pair of old tights filled with cat litter, knotted and hidden under the seat. 
  • A natural sponge. 
  • A tumble dryer sheet.
  • Fill a shoebox with cut lemons or a bowl with instant coffee granules and leave in the car for a few days
  • If there has been an accident of the bodily-fluids variety, try sprinkling bicarbonate of soda over the carpet and upholstery, leaving it for 24 hours then vacuuming up. My friends with children swear by this for dealing with baby vomit.

Cigarette smells

The odour of cigarette smoke has a reputation for both being difficult to get rid of and putting off potential buyers.

Of course that's a problem that can be solved by not smoking or letting others smoke in your car.

But if you've inherited a car belonging to a smoker, then a thorough clean and trying the tips above is your best bet.

Leaky soft-top solutions

convertible car can be a status symbol, but not if its roof becomes leaky, leading to damp and mould making the car smelly.

Take your motor to the garage for repairs as soon as you can and in the meantime leave the top down as much as possible – fresh air will help alleviate the problem.

Crying over spilt milk

"Don't spill milk in your car," says Vince Appleyard, 61, a driving instructor from Market Harborough in Leicestershire.

Car air freshener"It's rank. I accidentally spilt four pints of milk over the front seat and carpets of my Ford Fiesta.

"It was only six months old at the time so I had to get it sorted. I had it professionally cleaned twice, and although it smelt fragrant initially, the stale milk smell returned."

Vince adds: "Eventually I had to go to a breaker's yard to get fresh carpets and felt soundproofing. I also had the seats taken out and steam-cleaned from every angle.

"The whole process cost about £300, but thankfully it's sorted now."

Scented air-fresheners: Just say no

It really is best to avoid going down the dangling air-freshener route.

They are sickly and overpowering and can leave people feeling as if they're drowning in a vat of pine-scented cleaning fluid.

I'm willing to bet that no-one has ever sat in a car containing one and thought: "Gosh, if I close my eyes I could be in an alpine meadow." 

What do you think?

Have you suffered with smelly car syndrome? What are your top tips for tackling a malodorous motor?

We want to hear from you! You can share your thoughts on our message board below.

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Maria McCarthy

Maria McCarthy

Maria McCarthy is a motoring and lifestyle journalist and author of The Girls' Car Handbook and The Girls' Guide to Losing your L Plates published by Simon and Schuster. She's also a regular on BBC Breakfast news, and local and national radio, commenting on motoring matters. Her pet motoring hates are potholes and high fuel prices.

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