The best way to keep your car smelling fresh is to avoid letting the trash and other shrapnel pile up. While sometimes this is inevitable, taking a few small steps such as keeping a trash container in your car can make a big difference.
Getting a good wash–including interior detail—will also go a long way to get out unwelcome smells. Don’t forget to check on the cleanliness of your vents as well, since unsavory odors can linger there. Classic air fresheners are always an option, but sometimes it can be hard to find a scent you like.
How to Keep Your Car Smelling New
You just bought a new car or truck and you want to keep it fresh and clean for as long as you can. Luckily there’s lots of ways you can keep your car smelling new by following the tips in this guide.
After all, what’s the point in buying a new vehicle if it’s gonna smell like cheetos and cigarettes in a few weeks? You’re better than that, and we’re here to help.
What’s the New Car Smell, Anyway?
That new car smell doesn’t just happen by accident. Auto manufacturers have smell teams that spend countless hours improving the “interior atmosphere” of their vehicles. And although people typically refer to “new car smell” as if it’s all the same, the aroma is different for different vehicles.
Some higher end vehicles, like Bentley, will smell like a boat hangar because of the natural wood in the vehicle.
new car smell
The smell in other vehicles can come from the finishing products used to soften and treat the leather or other materials inside.
Years ago, the new car scent was fabricated with nasty chemicals that caused health problems, so nowadays manufacturers are trying to go the more natural route. And THAT is what we want to extend, because the wonderful scent of natural leathers and wood is a million times better than the dirty locker room scent that can come about if you don’t treat your vehicle with the respect it deserves.
Here’s how you can do it.
- Don’t eat in your car
We all know someone who treats the inside of their car like a cafeteria. Sit shotgun in one of these vehicles for even a minute and you’ll see candy wrappers, fast food boxes, and remnants of who-knows-what along the floor and on the car seats.
You’ll know this when you see it, because after getting out of the car you’ll likely have gummy bear fragments and graham cracker crumbs stuck to your pants.
That’s not a good look…or smell!
Not only is eating food in your car a hazard to driving, it can also cause some pretty bad odors over time. So save your food for your home or a restaurant…and make sure your passengers are doing the same.
- Don’t smoke in your car…or at all
There’s nothing like smoke that seeps into fabrics, leather and other materials and lingers for days, weeks or longer. You’ll know immediately when you get into a smoker’s car because the smell is overpowering…and it doesn’t matter how many air fresheners are used to try to mask it.
no smoking in the car
Skip smoking in your vehicle…and while you’re at it, anywhere, because even the cigarette smoked outside a vehicle can linger on clothing and make its way into the vehicle.
- Don’t let dirty pets in your car
I’m a dog lover. I have the sweetest, low-riding hound-dog you’ve ever met. But if you want to keep your car smelling new, keep your pets at home. If you need to bring them in your vehicle, make sure they’re groomed, trimmed, and bathed regularly so your car doesn’t smell like your best friend after he’s been stuck outside in a rainstorm and sprayed by a skunk.
- Don’t leave dirty items in your car: shoes, wet clothing, trash etc
You like to work out? Great. You like to hike? Awesome. You surf? Even better! Staying active and exercising regularly is great for your health…but if you’re leaving your used gear in your vehicle, it’s bound to smell like a locker room after a while.
If you do need to travel with fitness gear, make sure you keep it stored in airtight bags that will keep the odor contained until you can wash it properly at home.
- Use a machine washable car seat cover
This one is especially important for our athletes and fitness buffs out there. Sweat and moisture can not only lead to bad odors, but can actually damage cloth and leather car seats over time. That means cracked leather, stained cloth, and serious wear and tear on your seats. This is where a good sweat-proof car seat cover comes in.
To protect your car from sweat and odors after a workout, you’ll want a car seat cover that is:
- machine washable
- -easy to put on and take off
We’ve created a list of the best car seat covers on the market, and recommend the Dry Rub car seat covers (yes, we’re biased!).
- Get a natural air freshener
Some air fresheners do more harm than good. The last thing you want to do is cover up the new car smell with a harmful air freshener that smells like unicorn farts after eating too many skittles. Going natural is best here – you can pick up charcoal air fresheners on Amazon that will absorb bad odors without that obnoxious chemical smell.
- Vacuum regularly
Even if you’re keeping food, pets, and gym gear out of your vehicle, you’re sure to track some dirt and grime into your car from regular usage. Make it a habit to vacuum your car thoroughly to keep any debris and dirt out of your vehicle.
- Clean your seats
There’s lots of seat cleaning products available for both cloth and leather seats. If you don’t use a seat cover regularly, you’ll want to make sure you’re cleaning your seats every now and then to pull out any sweat and grime that’s collected. Even if you’re not working out before you drive, warm temperatures, stress and long drives can have you sweating more than you think.
- Drive with the windows open every now and then
Don’t neglect the power of Mother Nature – driving with your windows down or your sunroof open can clear out any bad odors and help you keep your car smelling new.
To Sum it Up…
Keeping your car smelling new will take a little work, but it can be worth it. Keep the nasty stuff out, protect your vehicle with a car seat cover, and clean your interior regularly, and you’ll be enjoying that new car smell for a long time to come.
Eating, transporting pets, and all-around traveling can leave cars smelling like everything that’s been in them. So what do you do when you can’t get rid of the smells?
Rub down upholstery with dryer sheets. This will keep your car smelling clean, especially as the summer heats up. You can also keep a few of these under your seats to keep things smelling clean.
Clean the mats. It’s easy to forget how much floor mats encounter. Our feet bring in loads of debris, and getting it out of the car will help everything smell better.
Keep some coffee beans around. Not only do they smell nice, but coffee beans absorb odors. Try keeping a small amount in a mesh bag to absorb unwanted smells. Change them out every once in a while to keep things fresh.
Cars are great for getting you from place to place, helping people move, and giving rides to friends and family. But if your car isn’t clean and has a bad smell to it, nobody is going to want to ride with you, and you’ll have to put up with a terrible smell every time you get in the vehicle. And some smells get worse over time instead of dissipating, so if you want to make sure your car always smells good, it’s important to keep it clean, deal with messes right away, avoid doing things that might cause bad smells (like smoking in the car), and clean and deodorize properly when there is a bad smell to address. There are also lots of different products you can use to keep your car smelling fresh and welcoming, and many different scents to please any nose.
Making Your Car Smell Great
- Hang an air freshener in the car. There are many types of air fresheners that are designed specifically for cars. To pick a scent, simply find one that appeals to your sense of smell. No matter what kind you get, be sure to place it in an area that gets lots of airflow, so that the scent circulates throughout the car.
- Vent clip and dashboard air fresheners are meant to be clipped to or positioned over the vents.
- Tree-style and other air fresheners can be placed hanging from the rear view mirror, or under the dash—where the passenger’s feet go—to get the most circulation.
- Apply an odor-eliminating air freshener. Spray or aerosol-style air fresheners can also be used in cars to mask smells and leave a fresh scent. Spray the liquid into the air in the car, rather than directly onto the seats, dash, floor, or roof. You can use a regular house and home spray like Lysol or Febreze, or you can purchase one that’s made specifically for cars, such as:
- Chemical Guys new car smell
- K1 air freshener for cars
- Armor All new car smell air freshener
- Spray perfume in the car. Instead of purchasing an air freshener, you can also use a few spritzes of your favorite cologne or perfume to make the inside of your car smell nice. As with the air freshener, don’t spray the liquid directly onto any of the car’s surfaces.
- If you have an old tree-style air freshener lying around that doesn’t have any scent left, you can spray perfume directly on this and place it back in the car.
- Place an unlit scented candle under the front seat. Scented candles come in hundreds of different smells, and there’s no reason you can’t use them to make your car smell nice. Look for a smaller candle that will fit under the driver or passenger seat. A tea light or votive will be a good size.
- Don’t use candles that are in jars, otherwise you won’t be able to smell them.
- Keep dryer sheets under the front seat. Take a new box of dryer sheets and open the box. Place the box under the driver or passenger seat to give your car that fresh laundry smell.
- To make for a slower release of the scent, keep the box sealed and poke a couple holes in the top and sides.
Getting Rid of Odors
- Go for a drive with the windows down. Sometimes a smell gets into your car and just won’t leave, and the first thing you can do is try to force the smell out. Pick a warm day, and make sure you don’t have any papers or garbage in the car that could fly out while you’re driving.
- If you don’t want to drive around with the windows open, leave the car in the driveway with the windows down and the doors open on a windy day, and hopefully some of the smell will blow out.
- Sprinkle everything with baking soda. Certain smells, like smoke, can get into everything in a car, and sprinkling baking soda everywhere will help draw out and neutralize some of the odors that are in the seats and floors.
- Don’t forget the floor mats, under the floor mats, and the space between the back seats and the rear window.
- Be sure the floors and upholstery are completely dry before you sprinkle on the baking soda.
- Let the baking soda sit for three to four hours.
- Vacuum the interior. This is important to clean up the baking soda, but it will also help remove bad odors, plus any dirt or crumbs that are in the car. Be sure to use the upholstery attachment so that you can get into all the nooks and crannies between the seats, under the seats, and elsewhere.
- When you’re finished vacuuming, leave the floor mats out of the car.
- Spot clean tough stains. When you know of specific stains or marks in your car that need cleaning, spot clean them with a rag and the appropriate cleaner. The right cleaner will depend on what kind of stain you’re dealing with:
- Tackle mold and mildew with disinfectant sprays.
- Address bodily fluids (such as vomit) and food stains with bio-enzymatic cleaners.
- For really powerful smells—think skunk—use an oxidizing cleaner.
- Wipe down the interior with vinegar and water. In a clean spray bottle, mix a fifty-fifty solution of white vinegar and water. Starting with the driver seat, spray down the entire seat with the solution and then wipe it with a lint-free or microfiber cloth. Then do the passenger seat, followed by the back seats, the dash, the floors, the mats, and any remaining surfaces.
- Then it may take a while for the vinegar smell to dissipate, but it will work to help remove most smells, even cigarette smoke.
- Clean the mats. Fill a bucket with several drops of dish soap and some warm water. Place the mats on the lawn, driveway, or garage floor. Dip a shoe brush in the soapy water and scrub the mats with the suds. When you’re finished, spray the mats with water from a hose or pressure washer.
- Hang the mats to dry over a railing or on a clothesline.
- Deodorize the car. There are many products that you can use that will neutralize odors in your car, and you can actually leave the products in the car to continue working even after you remove the smell.
- Place some freshly ground coffee beans in a jar with a plastic lid. Poke holes in the lid and place the jar somewhere in your car.
- Keep an open box of baking soda in your car to absorb and neutralize smells.
- Leave a few orange peels under the front seat to neutralize odors and leave a fresh citrus smell in the car.
- Charcoal is another traditional odor neutralizer, so you can even place a couple lumps under the driver or passenger seat to control smells in your car.