How best to destinkify a car gone stinky?

OK, for reasons that are too involved to explain (but which involve no felonies whatsoever) our car got left out in the rain for a couple of days a week or two ago. With the windows rolled down. And the rain in questions was the remnants of a hurricane, so there was a lot of it.

Now our car smells like, as Mrs. Evil Captor so delicately puts it, “thousand-year-old urine.” Well, she always has been kinda hoity-toity about these things. We have been able to dry the interior, but repeated spraying with Febreeze has had little effect (“The goggles … they do nothing!”). The worst part of the smell, says Mrs. Evil Captor, is on the drivers’ side seat belt.

Is there anyone out there with some good advice on how to destinkify a car, especially its seat belt which apparently attracts nasty smells? I’m tired of hearing the phrase, “Even worse than your socks” every time she goes for a drive.

And yes, we have seen the episode of Seinfeld about the car with The Smell.

The care is invariably still damp. Paticularly the rugs and upholstery.

Not much you can do until it’s thoroughly dry. To do that, you can put it into a climate controlled garage with very low humidity… which will be tough to find. Or, in a regular garage with a couple of good fans that will circulate the air efficiently inside. Open all the windows and and let the air move through it for a few days. When it’s as dry as you can get it, get some of those closet/basement deodorizers and chemical moisture removers. Close the windows and leave a few in the car over night. Keep doing that until the smell and moisture is dispursed.

Good luck.

It smells of urine in a cat pee or a rotten people juice sort of way? If it’s cat wee, good luck. Those enzyme attacking urine odor eliminators are only marginally successful I’ve found, and they’re the best of the odor killing bunch.

My friend the auto detailer, would clean as much as possible with an upholstery cleaning machine, to pull out as much of the stink as you can. Pull out the mats and everything else you can, clean them. I’ve even seen him remove seats to get at stinky padding. He’s got some sort of liquid concentrate that he’ll wet the upholstery with. Don’t go crazy with the stuff though, you could add to the problem if it gets too wet. You can get it at vacuum repair places.

Last step is to dry the car out. Around here it’s easy to do, just leave it in the sun with the doors open and it’s dry in a couple of hours. If you don’t live in the desert, **Quicksilver’s ** suggestion sounds good. Between cleaning, fragrance, and drying, the smell should be gone until the next time the car gets wet. Hopefully it won’t be very strong then.

The guys on NPR’s “Car Talk” frequently recommend ethyl (rubbing) alcohol for removing odors. This is usually to get rid of things like skunk or dead fish smell, so I don’t know if it will work for your situation, but it’s worth a shot.

“Someone” in our family left one of the car windows open allowing the rain to get in and we also had the stinky problem. Nothing got rid of it - nothing at all. It was fine when the weather was dry but at the first hint of precipitation, the smell returned.

Thanks for all the advice. Last weekend we took Stinkymobile to the local car wash and gave it a good hosing with the super vacuum they had there (washed the exterior, too, for good measure). Then we took it and left out in the 95 degree heat during the day with the windows down and the floormats removed. We sprayed the fabric parts with Febreeze. Smells a lot better now, though it’s not completely unstinkified. Maybe over time, as we spill new things inside it …

Another good tactic is to spread baking soda (dry) EVERYWHERE!

Wait a few hours (days if possible) and vacuum it all up. This all follows a good wash btw…

You might have a few bits of powder in your upholstry/carpet when you’re done, but they don’t do any harm, other than perhaps leaving some white powder marks on the back of your clothes while it either pushes down into the fabric, or comes out on your clothes… no big deal really, it washes out in the laundry, or you can brush it off.


Once, I had a car that somebody vomited in. I took it to a carpet cleaning shop. It came back very clean and smelling nothing like vomit.

If the carpet and the padding underneath both got saturated, you might have a fungal smell. If so, you’ll have to yank out all the carpet and replace it. Auto trim shops do this all the time. My city of 40,000 has three trim shops.

Coffee grounds. They got rid of the smell of rotten milk in my car, and nothing else seemed to work.

Just put some styrofoam cups in your cupholders and put coffee grounds in the cups. After a few days the smell should largely disappear.

How much water are we talking about here? I completely flooded out the interior of my '76 Oldsmobile (damn I miss that car) in the big flood of '94. While the transmission was being rebuilt, I removed the seats and carpet, threw away the padding (called ‘jute’ or something like that), cleaned the carpet and seats with upholstery cleaner, bought new padding, and put it all back together. It hadn’t been that clean in years! If I hadn’t have gotten that old saturated padding out, it would have rusted out the floorboards like crazy (and stunk to high heaven).
If you haven’t yet, pull back the carpet and check to see if the padding got wet. That stuff can get really rank smelling in no time.

I’ll definitely check that out.

Febreeze et. al. mostly just mask odors. Most of the stink probably originates in the fabric parts–unfortunately, because they’re the hardest to get really clean.

The wipe-down with rubbing alchohol is a good idea. Since it evaporates quickly, and it’s cheap, you could do some serious dousing to attack the lingering mildew nasties.

To mitigate future stench attacks, check out the baking aisle in your supermarket. Baking soda is sold in ventilated boxes designed for fridges. The boxes have tear-off panels that keeps the baking soda from leaking but lets it absorb odors. Buy a few boxes (they’re cheap) and put them under the seats.