How To Get Rid Of The Smell Of Mold In A Car

Opening your car door only to be greeted with the foul, musty odor of mildew and mold is something no car owner wants, but unfortunately, it’s an all too common occurrence.

So, why does your car smell like this in the first place, and how can you stop it from happening again in the future?

In this article, we answer these questions and delve into the topic of moldy-smelling cars a whole bunch more, so if you prefer your car to smell like it just came out of the factory instead of smelling like a basement, keep reading!

remove moldy smell from a car

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Why does your car smell like mold?

The most obvious reason that a car might have the unmistakably musty odor that only comes from mold, is that the car may itself, contain mold.

The issue that comes with mold formation in cars, is that it’s not always easy to spot straight away. There may well be a patch living under the passenger seat, in the spare tire compartment in the trunk, or in any other generally inaccessible area.

Mold can live and breed in any location where the circumstances are right for it, these include:

  • A source of moisture
  • Nutrients
  • An ambient temperature between 60-80 degrees Fahrenheit

As long as mold has these three components (and oxygen of course), it can survive and thrive in your car.

If you are unsure of what mold smells like, it is often compared to the smell of a basement, or of rotting or damp wood. If you can smell this type of scent upon opening your car doors, you can be fairly confident mold is lurking somewhere within it.

How long does mold smell last in a car?

If you follow the cleaning and prevention instructions later in this article, your car should stop smelling of mold within 24 hours.

If, however, you were to do nothing to tackle the underlying issue (the mold formation), you can expect the smell of mold to be present indefinitely. Not only will the smell of mold not get better over time, if nothing is done to kill and remove it, but you can also expect it to get considerably worse within a matter of weeks.

Is the smell of mold in a car dangerous?

The smell of mold is unpleasant, there’s no denying this, however, there could also be health hazards associated with moldy scents.

Molds can release spores, and when you can smell mold, you are inhaling tiny amounts of these into your nostrils and eventually, your lungs.

In very small amounts, this will usually cause little to no harm, but for individuals with allergic asthma, they can cause attacks and breathing difficulties.

If nothing were to be done about the mold and it was left to grow, over time it could begin to produce metabolites called mycotoxins. These toxins, when inhaled in great enough quantities or over a prolonged period of time can cause breathlessness, nausea, headaches, and brain and potentially even liver damage.

How to get rid of mold scent in your car

After reading the points above, I am sure we can agree that finding and removing any signs of mold in your vehicle is without a doubt, the best method to removing the smell and preventing any potential health concerns.

With that in mind, use the following steps to remove the smell of mold from your car:

Step 1. Find the source of the smell

As you will be searching for the source of the mold in your vehicle, you will be spending time in it which could potentially involve inhaling spores. To prevent this, you should only begin looking for signs of mold after you have put on a breathing mask, goggles, and rubber gloves.

If the source of the smell is not immediately obvious, you will need to look into some of the less conspicuous areas of the car. As suggested above, these could be underneath seats, on or under the carpets of the car, or in any other hidden location. Whilst it may be a hassle to remove seats etc, it will certainly be worth the effort once the smell is located and can be removed.

Step 2. Vacuum thoroughly

Using a powerful vacuum, (preferably with a HEPA filter), vacuum every part of the interior that you can. If you have managed to locate a mold patch, you can vacuum up as much as possible. If you are gentle as you move towards the patch, you should be able to remove most of the mold and its spores without them being released all over the car.

What you are looking to do here is remove as much of the mold that can spread before you begin to tackle it by hand. This is also a good opportunity to look for any crumbs or organic matter that may have fallen down the sides of seats etc and one day become a source of nutrients for mold.

Step 3. Kill any remaining mold with vinegar

White (distilled) vinegar is one of the best (and cheapest) weapons you have at your disposal when it comes to killing mold.

Once you have found a patch of mold, you can make sure it is all the way dead and will no longer produce spores, smells, or potential mycotoxins by dabbing the area with white vinegar.

To do so, simply take a cloth or sponge and pour a little undiluted vinegar on it, then gently dab it on the affected area and allow it to get to work for at least ten minutes.

You can then gently wash the area with warm water and detergent to remove any remaining mold residue and to lessen the vinegary odor that may be unpleasant to some.

Step 4. Steam clean

If you’d rather not use vinegar to kill mold in your car, you can use a steam cleaner, as mold is killed by the high temperatures used.

An added benefit of cleaning mold from your car using steam is that it requires no chemicals, as the temperature will do all the work, as well as creating enough pressure to lift it from its roots, which ensures complete mold removal.

As steam will create a flow of air, it is very important to follow step 2 and remember to vacuum beforehand, otherwise, you may blow spores around the car interior, worsening the situation.

Step 5. Reduce the internal humidity levels

Remember that one of the major causes of mold growth within a car is high moisture levels. In fact, any time the humidity levels in a car reach higher than 55%, mold can begin to grow within 24-48 hours.

With this in mind, it’s important that you ensure your car stays as dry as possible. Some of the easiest ways you can decrease the moisture levels in your car are as follow:

  • Keep an open box of baking soda in your trunk for several days. The baking soda will not only absorb a great deal of moisture but will also absorb foul smells, a plus considering the task we are dealing with. You can also use activated charcoal for the exact same purpose.
  • Place silica packs in hard-to-reach areas. Some areas such as glove compartments and door storage pockets can be areas where moisture condenses, so place silica packs here to dry them out.
  • Open the doors on a warm day. If your car has recently been affected by water damage and you live in a warm climate, open the doors for several hours to allow the moisture to evaporate and move out of the car.

Step 6. Deodorise

Much of what we have discussed so far are methods to remove the cause of the smell within your car. An option to speed up the process of removing the smell of mold in your car is to mask it with a deodorizer.

There are several ways you can deodorize a car interior, one of which is the above-mentioned baking soda method. Another is to use a specific car deodorant spray. Spray the affected area several times, but be careful not to moisten the area too much, as the excess moisture could again promote mold growth.

Step 7. Have the car professionally cleaned if needs be

In some cases, there is only so much you will be able to do with limited equipment, so it may be worthwhile having the car professionally cleaned.

This is especially the case if the mold you have found is well established and may have spread through several locations within the car, or if you have searched and not been able to find the location of the mold.

Specialist car detainers will be able to clean your interior far more thoroughly than you would yourself and usually at a fairly reasonable rate.

If you explain that you have been smelling mold from within your vehicle, but have not been able to find the source, they will certainly be able to assist you in locating and removing it. They will almost certainly have had plenty of experience in removing mold smells from cars in the past.

How to keep a car smelling fresh after removing the smell of mold

After removing all signs of mold and finally getting rid of the strong scent that it brings, you’ll want to make sure that it doesn’t come back any time soon.

There are numerous methods you can use to prevent mold growth in a car and the smell it brings. A selection of some of these are as follows:

Keep your car dry

After a walk in the rain, it’s easy to throw your umbrella on the trunk of the car and forget all about it. Remember though, as soon as the humidity in your car rises above 55%, mold can begin to grow. It’s important for this reason when storing away anything wet, that you dry the area as much as possible as quickly as you can, or if possible, store it in a location that can be quickly wiped dry once safe to do so.

Don’t leave food in the car

Eating in the car is a common way for people to grab something to eat whilst they are on the go, although, it’s easy to forget to clean your car seats once you arrive at your destination or to pick up the pickle from the burger you ate the rolled under the seat whilst you were driving.

Small food items left in the car become the nutrients that mold feeds off, so making sure your car carpets remain as clean as possible removes the mold’s source of nutrients, making it much harder for it to grow.


The smell of mold can be powerful, musty, and generally unpleasant, making the time you spend in your vehicle less enjoyable than it should be.

Removing the underlying issue (the mold) is the only way to remove the smell and prevent it from coming back in the future.

Using deodorizers on their own to cover or mask the smell will only help in the short run, and the potential for health concerns is very real, so complete mold removal is essential for long-term success.

Chris Walker

Chris Walker has struggled for several years with mold after buying his own property. After finding the solutions to several issues around his home, he decided to create this site in order to answer as many questions about mold and mildew as possible to help others dealing with the same problems.

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