How Do I Get the Mildew Smell Out of My Car?

To remove the smell of mildew from your car, you’ll need to dry out the interior, clean up the mildew, and use a deodorizer.
Written by Andrew Biro
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
To get the mildew smell out of your car, you have to first get rid of the mildew. This can be achieved by drying out your vehicle, using a steam cleaner, and wiping surfaces down with a cleaning solution. You then can use a product such as Odor-X Spray or just baking soda to get rid of the mildew smell altogether.
If you’ve ever accidentally left your car window cracked during a rainstorm or tracked water onto your car’s floor mats, you may have had to deal with mildew and the lingering smell it leaves. In the best-case scenario, all you need to do to remove this smell is dry your car out for a little while.
But if that doesn’t work and you’re struggling to get rid of that unpleasant musty odor, don’t worry—
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How to get the mildew smell out of your car

If you want to get the smell of mildew out of your car, you’re going to have to first remove the mildew itself—neglecting to do so will simply result in a never-ending battle of you against the mold spores producing the smell, which will quickly become frustrating.

How to get rid of mildew

Because mildew is largely caused by an excess of moisture and humidity, the easiest way to get rid of it is to simply let the interior of your car dry out. This can be done with fans, a hair dryer, or even just natural airflow when the windows and doors are open.
But if you want to tackle mildew head-on, you can use a steam cleaner, a mildew/mold-specific cleaner, or a solution of water and vinegar to clean the areas where mildew is present. Make sure to vacuum all of the upholstery and floor mats before you do this—it will make the cleaning process much easier.
If you find that the mildew smell is coming from your AC, you also may need to remove and clean or replace the air filter.
MORE: How to get mold out of your carpet

How to get rid of mildew smell

Once you’ve eliminated the mildew itself, you’re ready to deal with the smell. Here are a few tried-and-true methods of getting rid of mildew odors:
  • Baking soda: Sprinkle baking soda wherever mildew was present and let it sit for at least 15 minutes. The baking soda will help absorb the smell.
  • Mild commercial cleaners: Wipe down any hard surfaces and leather upholstery with a mild commercial cleaner. Many cleaners include deodorizing agents that help remove trapped smells, leaving your vehicle smelling much nicer than before.
  • Car-odor eliminators: You also can opt to use an actual car-odor eliminator such as Turtle Wax’s ODOR-X Whole Car Blast Kinetic or the Armor All® Fresh FX™ Rapid Odor Eliminator to deal with persistent smells.

What causes mildew in your car

Generally speaking, mildew forms as the result of excess moisture and humidity, making it extremely common in late fall and winter when your car’s heater is in high use. However, it makes a difference where the moisture actually comes from—we’ve outlined three of the most common sources below:
  • Weather: If you’ve recently experienced a heavy amount of rain, sleet, or snow, you may have tracked a large amount of water and/or mud into your vehicle and onto your floor mats. Mold and mildew may start to form if these aren’t allowed to dry properly.
  • Clogged evaporator: By design, your vehicle’s AC evaporator is wet when in use as its job is to remove water from the air. When working correctly, the water it collects leaves your car via a small tube. However, it can start to leak water into your vehicle and onto the carpet if the tube becomes clogged, creating the necessary conditions for mildew growth.
  • Leaks: If rainwater finds its way into your vehicle through small cracks in the body or improperly sealed windows/doors, your upholstery will become damp, which can lead to mildew and mold growth.

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The fastest way to get the mildew smell out of your car is to remove the mildew itself. You can do this by letting the inside of your vehicle dry out and then using a steam cleaner or a solution of water and vinegar to clean the area where mildew has started to form. Once the mildew has been removed, you can use baking soda or an odor-removal product to get rid of any lingering mildew smell.
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