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How to Get Mildew Smell out of Car

How to Get Mildew Smell out Car

How to Get Mildew Smell out of Car

Follow our steps when you need to know how to get mildew smell out of car. Even if there are no obvious signs of mildew, there’s no mistaking its musty, damp smell. Moreover, mildew is a type of mold, and breathing in mold spores over time can cause health issues if you have asthma or allergies. So, if you need to know how to get rid of a  lingering mildew smell, follow our step-by-step guide and car interior detailing tips.

If you’re interested in environmentally friendly car care packages, including odor removal, download our Eco Wash Benefit Guide:

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Steps on How to Remove Mildew Smell From Car

If possible, park the car in direct sunlight with the windows open to help dry and air out the interior. Also, when dealing with mold and mildew, it’s a good idea to wear rubber gloves and a face mask to protect yourself from potential allergens and respiratory irritants.

What You’ll Need

Find the Source of the Mildew Smell

Before you reach for your car interior detailing kit, find out where the bad smell is coming from. Damp carpets and upholstery or a moldy headliner could be why you need to know how to get bad smell out of car. Look for signs of powdery white, gray or black spots or patches.

Vacuum Car Interior

Next, take out any trash, papers or damp clothing that could also be causing the bad smell. Remove car mats, too. Then, use your vacuum cleaner to remove mold spores and thoroughly clean the seats, carpets, and other fabric surfaces. And pay special attention to areas where moisture may gather, such as under seats and in the trunk.

Clean Mildew Spots

Choose a mild detergent or a mold and mildew cleaner. If you prefer to make your own cleaning solution, mix equal parts white vinegar and water. But do a spot test first to check if it is safe to use on your type of seats and carpets. Then do the following:

  • Dampen a clean cloth or sponge with the cleaning solution and gently blot the mildew spot.
  • Allow the cleaning solution to penetrate the mildew for a few minutes.
  • Use a soft car interior brush, gently scrubbing in a circular motion to lift the mildew.
  • Dampen a clean cloth with plain water and use it to rinse the area, removing any remaining cleaning solution and loosened mildew residue.
  • Use a dry towel to remove excess moisture, then leave to dry.

Don’t forget to clean your car mats. For stubborn mildew stains, see our tips on how remove mold from car interior.

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Use Baking Soda for Mildew Smell in Car Carpet

After cleaning mildew spots, you can use another home remedy on larger carpeted areas. Here is how to get wet smell out of car carpet using baking soda:

  • Sprinkle a generous amount of baking soda evenly over the entire surface of the carpet.
  • Use a soft-bristled brush to work the baking soda into the carpet fibers.
  • Allow the baking soda to sit on the carpet for several hours or overnight. The longer it sits, the better it will absorb the mildew odor.
  • Vacuum up all traces of the baking soda.

Note that the trunk of the car, especially if it’s damp or prone to moisture buildup, can also harbor mildew growth. Look for moldy spots or patches on the trunk carpeting or lining. If it is a serious problem, you might have to deep clean car interior.

Clean Hard Surfaces

Wipe down hard surfaces like the dashboard, door panels, and center console with a mild detergent solution or a suitable car interior detailing product. Be sure to clean crevices where mold and mildew may be hiding. See our tips on how to disinfect car interior.

Remove Mildew From Car Headliner

The car headliner is one of those places to clean the inside of your car that people often forget. Again, you can use a water and white vinegar cleaning solution, repeating the procedure in Step 4. Vinegar is a natural disinfectant and deodorizer that can effectively kill mold and mildew on your car headliner. This step is also effective if you need to know how to get smoke smell out of car.

Clean AC Vents

Mold and mildew can grow in the air conditioning (AC) and heat vents, particularly if moisture is present. It’s not always easy to see visible mold growth inside the vents, but you may notice a musty smell when you turn on the air conditioning.

Compressed air is handy for dislodging debris and mold from air conditioning vents. It can also be useful for model car interior detailing. Afterward, use a specialized car interior detailing brush dipped in cleaning solution to clean carefully inside the vents.

Use an Odor Neutralizer

After cleaning, use an odor neutralizer or deodorizer specifically for small spaces, like your car interior. You can find these products in spray or gel form. If you prefer an eco-friendly option, Grow Fragrance Car Freshener is a 100% plant-based non-toxic air freshener.

If you need some additional car care tips on odor-removal, see our other step-by-step guides on the subject:

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Air the Car

Final, vacuum once more, including car mats. Then, leave the car parked in a safe, well-ventilated area with the windows down to allow fresh air to circulate and help dissipate any remaining odors. This final step on how to remove mold smell from car is especially effective on a sunny day.

Preventative Tips: Why Mildew Smell Appears in Car?

Knowing why mildew smell appears in your car in the first place can help you take preventative steps. For example:

  • Water leaks from a leaking sunroof or damaged weather seals can introduce moisture into the car’s interior, leading to mildew growth. If this is a problem, replace sealants to ensure your vehicle is watertight.
  • Liquid spills like water, soda, or coffee can saturate the carpet, upholstery, or floor mats, providing a breeding ground for mold and mildew if not promptly cleaned and dried. See our tips on how to get coffee stain out of car seats and how to get water stains out of car seats.
  • Similarly, leaving wet items in the car like towels, umbrellas, or gym bags can cause moisture buildup and mildew growth. So, get in the habit of decluttering your car.
  • Carpets, upholstery, and fabric surfaces in the car can become damp if not properly dried after detailing. See below.

Car Smells Like Mildew After Detail

If your car smells like mildew after detail, it is a sign that your car interior hasn’t dried properly. For instance, traditional detailing methods often involve cleaning surfaces with water-based solutions. If these solutions are not thoroughly dried or moisture gets trapped in areas like carpets and car seats, it can create an environment the mildew loves!

Steam cleaning car interior avoids this problem. Steam’s high temperature kills mildew spores and bacteria, effectively sterilizing seats and surfaces. Moreover, this method uses a minimal amount of water, so there’s less moisture left behind. It also means a faster drying time, which minimizes the risk of mildew growth after detailing.


In summary, knowing how to get mildew smell out of car will ensure a safer, more pleasant driving experience. The key is attention to detail to remove all traces of mildew. Disinfect the problem areas and use natural odor absorbers such as baking soda to banish smells. Alternatively, save time and deep clean your car using steam.

Also, if you still notice musty odors in car vents after DIY cleaning, have the ventilation system inspected and cleaned by a car interior detailing service specializing in HVAC cleaning and mold remediation. For example, our professional team will use steam to sanitize your car interior, leaving it fresh and odor-free.

For more details on our greener clean, download our Eco Wash Benefit Guide:

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