Removing bad odours from your car

Do you have a foul smell in your car, boat or van that is proving to be difficult to remove? Whether it be old food, pets, mould, tobacco smoke, liquid spills, car sickness, seafood, beer, old milk, dead rodents, sweat, or anything kids do in or to your car, we know a normal air freshener is just not enough. With our experience in using the following specialist products we can remove many offensive smells from our own cars and trucks, and have put together this guide on many different types of odour removal for you.

Introducing Pong-Go

Pong-Go utilises odour removal technology that we had made by our chemists to totally eliminate bad smells in our own cars and trucks. Basically, it finds bad smelling odour molecules to permanently encapsulate and remove them, rather than just covering or masking up the smell. It's not toxic, smells great, is safe for all interior surfaces, and works a hell of a lot better than any masking air fragrance could ever hope to!

Pong-Go was created after we found a huge "rodent orgy" in one of our car transporters. The vile smell they left was something we had fears of not being able to remove easily, let alone permanently. We used Pong-Go after the area was vacuumed and cleaned, and it worked a treat! After two years, the smell had still not returned.

Since then we have had great success in removing many unwanted smells permanently. About the only thing we have found it cannot remove is sulphur or rotten egg smells, but with everything else we have encountered it works great. Have a read below on many of the things we have used it for.

Kids, pet mishaps, car sickness, old food, sweat, and other localised bad smells

The biggest thing to remember with any localised smell removal, is to first identify the area the smell is coming from, and do your very best to remove the source of the smell. This can be from car sickness, soft drinks, beer, dead rodents, pet & kid mishaps, cat pee, sour milk, old food, sweat and body odour. Many times we have heard of an item hidden under seats (by mistake or by friends), in seat pockets, glove boxes, baby seats and capsules, or in the boot of the car that is creating a horrid stench as it ages. So, do a very thorough search to find and remove it. If the item that creates the stink is still in the car, it will be nearly impossible to remove its smell till it's found.

Once located, if it's a relatively solid or hard item, use a spatula, big spoon or card for removal. If it's messy and soft, a wet cloth (like our Dirty Deeds microfibre cloth) is best, but make sure to pull the item from the surface into the cloth by placing the cloth over it and going from the outside of the item, toward the centre, then upwards, so you don't spread it any further over the surface.

It's important to clean the area before treating with Pong-Go.

Step 1

Spray with Fabra Cadabra 

Once you have removed the heavier material sitting on the top, give the area a thorough vacuum using the crevice tool attachment of your vacuum. Work methodically in an up/down, and side to side motion.

Mist the area you are cleaning with Fabra Cadabra and allow it to sit for a minute.The way Fabra Cadabra works, is to release the stains and bonded particles from the fibres of the material, while not doing anything to affect the feel or colour of the cloth.

After waiting for a minute, blot the area with a microfibre applicator like our Square Bear, or a microfibre cloth like our Dirty Deeds. Do a second application after this, gently agitating the area with the other, clean side of the applicator pad or cloth so it can suds up - you could also use an upholstery style brush like our Plush Brush for this job. Wipe clean while the product is still wet so it doesn't dry back into the fabric with a separate, dry microfibre cloth once you're happy the area is totally clean. If it's a particularly bad mishap, look at steam cleaning or using a shampoo extractor machine. We have a separate guide on using the SpotClean here - 

Step 2

Let it dry & spray with Pong-Go 

After 15 to 20 mins drying time, spray the Pong-Go odour eliminator into the general area around where the stain was, wind up the windows and close the doors, leaving it to slowly dry. Depending on how bad the odour is, it can take two to three applications of Pong-Go till the smell is totally gone from the car. Leave the car to dry with the doors open in the sun for an hour.

Liquid spills

With liquid spills, especially flavoured milk or melted ice cream, it will depend how much and where it was spilled into the car. Being a liquid, it will be looking to flow to the lowest area, so I'm hoping for your sake it spilt in the foot-well! It's a simple job of cleaning the carpet with Fabra Cadabra.

  1. Mist the area you are cleaning with Fabra Cadabra and allow it to sit for a minute.
     
  2. Blot the area with a microfibre applicator like our Square Bear, making sure not to rub the stain deeper into the material.
     
  3. Wipe off with a clean Dirty Deeds microfibre cloth.
     
  4. Once the area is dry, spray the area with Pong-Go and leave to dry.

If you have a shampoo extraction machine handy, it can be quicker and easier to use this method and quickly clean up any spill. Refer to the link in the previous Step 1 section.

For larger spills, or if they have gone into seats or the boot of your car, you're going to have to look at pulling out the interior trim around that area, to get in and clean away all residue from the spill, with a clean, damp Dirty Deeds cloth and Fabra Cadabra. Once it's all cleaned, spray the area with Pong-Go and leave the car to dry with the doors open in the sun for a few hours.

 

Mould & damp musky smells in the carpet

This is one of the biggest complaints we get from people, which is created from the growth of mould in hidden and usually damp areas of the cars' cockpit. For removing many of these bad odours, it will depend on where the smell is coming from, how long it's been there and how it got there.

Damp or musky smells

For things like overnight water ingress from a window left open in the rain, wet surfing or swimming gear, spilled drinks, wet feet or pets in the car it's pretty simple:

  1. Remove the wet item(s), then clean the area with Fabra Cadabra and a Square Bear microfibre applicator. Afterwards, wipe with a clean Dirty Deeds microfibre cloth.
     
  2. Spray the areas with Pong-Go. Let the car sit in the shade with all four doors open till its 100% totally dry. 

Well established mould infestation

If you're facing a mould infestation that is well established, from things like; a drain hole cover in the floor missing, leaking sunroof, a perished door/window rubber or seal, soaked carpet from the air conditioning system’s interior water pipe being blocked or pulled out from the unit, you really need to focus on fixing these issues first - otherwise you will go to all the effort of cleaning them out, only to have the foul musky smells come back again, which can be very frustrating! So, work out where the smell is coming from and make sure you know 100% how it was created first.

When it's a bigger mould issue, it can become a big job to fix properly. You may need to remove the cars interior to be able to clean and treat the mould properly. However, there are a few thing to try before doing this.

  1. Locate where the mould smell is strongest in the carpet, and give the area a thorough vacuum.
     
  2. Clean the area affected with Fabra Cadabra, sprayed enough to get it damp (not saturated), and with a medum bristled brush like our Plush Brush, gently rub it back and forth over the area you have sprayed, again use it in an up/down direction and then a side to side motion. If the stains are in a harder to reach section that the Plush Brush cannot get into, you can use "The Pouncer" round detailing brush from The Foursome brush set. Spray some Fabra Cadabra into the bristles and gently rub back and forth over the area you need to clean. 
     
  3. Wipe it off with a Dirty Deeds cloth and follow up with a steam cleaner or shampoo extraction machine.
     
  4. Finish up by spraying about 5 to 6 sprays of Pong-Go in and around the affected area. Park the car in the sun and leave all the car doors open to dry for 4 to 5 hours. If the smell returns, try Pong-Go once or twice more, as it might not have been able to get all the bad smelling molecules with the first treatment. If the smell remains unchanged, its time to pull the car's interior out.

 

Extreme mould removal in carpet

  1. Remove the affected carpet from the car, which will involve removing the seats, kick-panels, sill and side cover plates. If the mould is in the under-felt, (it usually will be), replace it with new under-felt. While everything is pulled out, have a really close inspection of the area to be 100% sure you have found where the water has been coming from, and fix the issue (or issues).
     
  2. Thoroughly wipe clean the exposed bare floor with our all purpose cleaner Orange Agent, and wipe dry with a separate dry Dirty Deeds cloth, and steam clean the carpet.
     
  3. While it's drying, spray Pong-Go in all cracks and recesses in the cars' interior, then both sides of the dry carpet and then leave it all to dry for a day or two in the sun.


Smell the carpet before reinstalling; if you can smell or see any mould, it might be best to replace the carpet as well. Mould spores are difficult to kill off, let alone clean from dense matter like carpet, so it can be best to replace it depending how bad the mould infestation is. After making that decision, you can look forward to the fun job of putting it all back (with the new under-felt) in the car. Spray with Pong-Go into the fabric trim and carpet after it's back in the car and you are done. Now make sure you closely monitor for any potential new leaks in the cars' cabin and deal with fixing them ASAP.

Flooded and water drenched cars

Cars never respond well to going for a swim, and after they've dried out, you begin to get that awful stagnant water and mould smell building in the car, which gets worse the longer it's left  untreated. Being able to fix this depends on how far the car was underwater - if the water has gone higher than the cars dash line, then at that point we say forget it, unless you are happy with replacing all the electronics, as the mould and old dirty water smells will be the least of your dramas over the long term.

If the water has not gone further than the lower parts of the dash, the best remedy we recommend is like above for extreme mould removal in carpet, except you will be pulling out the whole interior as far as how high the water line is in the car, thoroughly cleaning everything you pull out and washing the cars interior metal chassis with the Auto Body Gel in a bucket with a microfibre cloth to remove all of the grime and mud/silt that will be deposited in the floor, doors, sills, cracks and recesses. If the door trims went underwater and have evidence of mould, have them replaced, likewise if the seats have been under water, look at having the foam replaced in them as well. Steam clean everything you can, and finish the job after putting everything back in the car and spraying Pong-Go everywhere, especially if it's fabric.

If the smell is still there, look at doing a shock ozone treatment on the car, there is more detail about shock ozone treatment in a section below.

Tobacco smoke and other overpowering smells

For smells that are right through the car, like tobacco smoke, or are hard to identify where they are coming from, you need to follow the procedure below. This also applies if you're going to use the ozone shock treatment we talk about later in the article.

  1. Park in the shade and open all the doors and boot. Remove all rubbish and other items from the car, including boot and floor mats, spare tyre, tools, anything in the door pockets, back seat pockets, glove box, console, ash tray, coin holders, baby seats and capsules, behind the sun visor, compartments under or behind the seats and gear hidden under the carpet in the cars' boot. Inspect and smell everything you pull out to see if they could be the reason for the smell in the car. If they are, you need to either clean them well or have the item thrown out. Clean all items before putting them back in the car (especially the ash tray if it's a tobacco smoke issue). 
     
  2. Using a crevice tool, vacuum the entire car out, carpets, under the seats, in the boot, all fabric trim, using a nozzle to get in the seat cushions and other hard to reach areas. When vaccuming, you need to get everywhere, especially the seat cracks. Using a small brush like from our Foursome brush set can help to get bits of dust, ash etc out too.
     
  3. Clean all surfaces in the car (including the boot, glove box, and other compartments) using Orange Agent for all plastic, dash, vinyl, door trims, doors rubbers, roof pillars, followed by Vinyl Care. All leather surfaces given a good, deep clean with Orange Agent, followed up with Leather Love and Leather Guard, and all fabric trim, including the carpets, seat belts, hoodlining and sun-visors with the Fabra Cadabra. Don't forget to clean the seat belts with Fabra Cadabra - one of the worst areas for holding tobacco smoke.
     
  4. With carpets and thicker pile fabric material, gently apply Fabra Cadabra with the Plush Brush, to help get the product right into the fibres. Also use Fabra Cadabra to spot clean any stains in fabric trim seats or carpet. 
     
  5. Use them one at a time and spray each product into their own separate Square Bear microfibre applicators, applying enough so it's damp. Then wipe the areas down in a gentle side to side motion, wiping off with a dry Dirty Deeds or Plush Daddy cloth straight afterwards. Always check the applicator to make sure it doesn't get too dirty. If it does, hand wash it out in a bucket of fresh water, then wring it out and continue cleaning.
     
  6. Then finally, clean all interior glass with Naked Glass, by spraying it into a Big Softie cloth, wiping onto the glass in an overlapping circular motion, then buffing off the residue with a separate, dry Big Softie cloth. It's super important to clean the glass, as smoke particles can linger on it, especially in the windscreen corners. 
     
  7. After this is done, you hopefully should have the car smelling a little bit better, but to mop up the more lingering smells, spray Pong-Go directly into any fabric areas like seats and carpets that could still potentially hold onto any of the odours, at a distance of about 20cm away from the surface, especially where you think the foul smell is more concentrated (like a drivers seat and seatbelt if it's tobacco smoke). Do this till the areas are slightly damp, but not saturated. Don't forget to spray underneath the seats as well.
     
  8.  Then, close the doors and boot, wind the windows up and leave it till it's dry so the Pong-Go can slowly penetrate and work its magic at removing the bad odours. If the smell is particularly intense, you may need a second application of the Pong-Go to mop it all up. 

Finally, it should go without saying that you don't let anyone smoke in your car any more!

Mould and smoke smells in the air conditioning

Another annoying issue is when you run the air conditioning (AC) and can smell mould or tobacco smoke. The mould smell comes from water that has not dried from your AC's evaporator system before turning it off after use. (Note that turning the AC unit off, with the fresh air running through the system about 5 mins before you stop driving helps prevent this from happening) The water in the unit is helping bacteria and mould grow within the system. To remedy it can be a huge job, involving removing and cleaning the entire system out of the car. But the good news is that it can be treated and most times removed, and the instructions below should help to treat the internal ducting, fan blower, evaporator and heating elements in the car.
 

  1. Find the AC’s air filters (most later model cars have one, older cars not always). They are in different areas with all cars, usually in the passenger side foot-well, but you may need to consult your cars' handbook, or ask your local car dealer/mechanic where it is. These filters remove a lot of the organic particles and pollutants from the air and hold onto them, creating a great place for mould and other bacteria to live in over time. Order a new filter, and once it arrives, follow the procedure below.
     
  2. Park the car outside in a well ventilated area in the shade. Pull the handbrake on, put into neutral gear if it's a manual, or “Park” for an automatic. Remove the old AC filter (you will replace it after all the following is done). Start the engine and turn the AC on full speed, making sure it's switched to the fresh air or outside setting (not recirculate). 
     
  3. Locate the air intake vents for the AC in the front of the car, sometimes under the bonnet, along on the cowl panel, just under the front windshield. Spray about 4 to 6 sprays of Pong-Go into these intakes, then hop in the car to make sure you can smell the Pong-Go coming through the vents inside. Do this at least three times, switching the air direction (if possible in your car) from blowing into your face, then to the feet/ footwell area and finally the windscreen, waiting 1 minute between applications. 
     
  4. Switch the AC unit to recirculate and spray the Pong-Go 6 to 8 times into the cars internal air intake, which will most likely be around the foot-wells, then close the car doors and leave running for 10 minutes. 
     
  5. Then switch the AC off and turn the air directional switch back to your face, then turn the heater on full heat. Spray as you did previously, two to three times in the front cowl air intakes again and leave running with the doors closed for 5 minutes. Wipe any Pong-Go residue away from the vent areas with a clean microfibre cloth. Turn the engine off. Put the new AC filter in and you're done. 

If the smell is still there, repeat the AC/Pong-Go treatment till you're happy it's gone. We recommend you look at doing this at least once every year, including replacing the AC filter, or if and when any smell appears while the AC is running.

A last resort

The Ozone shock treatment 

If the smoke, mould or other vile smell is still there after using the methods above, you may need to do an ozone shock treatment to the cars' interior.

We strongly suggest you try all other methods we have mentioned above first, as this prolonged ozone treatment can hasten the aging to many parts of the cars interior. Strong concentrations of ozone molecules can degrade rubbers, make vinyls and plastics brittle and dull the colour of some fabrics. If done as we prescribe there should not be any issues, as long as multiple treatments haven't been done previously to the car and any treatment you do is not run for longer than an hour. Ozone is toxic for people (and pets) to breathe in, especially for anyone with respiratory issues like asthma, so keep everyone well away from the cars' interior while the machine is being run. It takes around 20 minutes for ozone molecules to break down, so allow the car to be well vented for at least 30 minutes after use.

The way the machine works is by pumping ozone molecules into the car, which enter places that you can't reach in the cleaning procedures above. These molecules then oxidise (kill) odourous, polluting and pathogenic molecules by turning them back to oxygen. This in turn destroys all surface, and air-borne germs, bacteria, moulds and viruses, which are where most foul smells come from.

We have used and seen them used by other professionals a few times over the years, on cars that could never be rid of smoke or "dead" smells. It's the machine to use when all other means to clean the worst interiors are not effective, so give it a go if you believe it's required.

Using the machine.

  1. Park the car in a well ventilated area and clean all material out of the car. Vacuum the car out and wipe down all surfaces in the car using Orange Agent for all plastic, dash, vinyl, door trims, doors rubbers, roof pillars, followed by Vinyl Care. All leather surfaces given a good, deep clean with Orange Agent, followed up with Leather Love and Leather Guard, and all fabric trim, including the carpets, seat belts, hoodlining and sun-visors with the Fabra Cadabra.
     
  2. It's very important that you make sure the cars' interior is 100% totally dry before hooking up the machine for it to work at its best. 
     
  3. Place the ozone machine outside the passengers door, close all the doors and windows, but leaving the passengers window partially down, only as wide as required for the machines pipe to fit in it. The pipe needs to be as high as possible in the cars interior in the most central part of the car to work effectively. The still open area between the pipe and the top of the window frame should be covered by plastic or cardboard, and sealed with a masking tape to seal the interior of the car off, stopping the ozone from escaping the vehicle.  
     
  4. Turn the car on, (must be in a well ventilated area, do not do this in a closed garage!) and run the AC on a medium fan setting in recirculate mode. Run the ozone machine for 15 minutes like this, then turn off the machine, take a deep breath and as quick as you can, open the drivers door and turn off the cars engine. Switching the key to the accessories position, to keep the interior fans running. Then switch from the AC setting, to the heater on full heat. Close the drivers door and move a few metres away from the car before taking a needed breath of fresh air. It would be good to do a trial run or two of this “turn car off/switch to accessories/heater on/close door” before you start the machine, so you can do all this as quickly and efficiently as possible. Run the machine for a further 15 minutes before turning it off.
     
  5.  Open all doors and windows to allow fresh air into the car, and don't breathe the air inside the car! Make sure it's totally vented for at least an hour before going for a drive in it with the windows down, flushing out the last of the ozone from the car.
     
  6. You may find you will need to give the interior surfaces another clean after this treatment, as the ozone will leave a slight residue on the hard plastics in the car. You will also smell the ozone for the next few days, but it will eventually disappear. We recommend that you spray some of the Pong-Go in the carpets and other fabric trim to help remove this smell more quickly.

You can hire ozone machines from many different places. A Google search for “hire ozone machine Australia” or in your general area to find a local hirer.  

Just to say once again, only use this system if all else fails to remove the offensive smells.

Get the good gear

In this article we use the following custom made car care products; Pong-Go, Fabra Cadabra, Orange Agent, Vinyl Care and Leather Love.

All of these products can be found at many of our great retailers nationwide in Australia. Quickly find your closest store by clicking here.

If you have any questions, please email info@bowdensown.com.au or FREECALL our office on 1800 351 308.

 


Vinyl Care

Vinyl Care

Unique rejuvenating, silicone free dash and trim protectant, that's not greasy or slippery.

$21.99 View Product

Leather Love

Leather Love

Gently cleans and conditions leather in one quick step, restoring its natural feel and sheen.

$24.99 View Product

Fabra Cadabra

Fabra Cadabra

A magic deep-cleaning formula for interior fabrics, including Alcantara.

$19.99 View Product

Pong-Go

Pong-Go

Eliminates stubborn and offensive odours from your car, van, truck and boat.

$19.99 View Product