Introduction: How to Deodorize Your Vehicle's Interior

Picture of How to Deodorize Your Vehicle's Interior

Video tutorial on how to deodorize a vehicle’s interior. This was an older video I produced back in 2011, I wanted to increase the quality of this video by providing more information on unanswered questions. This is a common method used by mechanics and detailers. I’ve actually used this method many times when working at a dealership. Sometimes an odour can soak into the vehicle’s interior or mould or mildew may grow on the air conditioner’s condenser within the ventilation system. That condenser can be very hard to clean as the dashboard may need to be disassembled. With any foul smells, normally we would start with thoroughly cleaning the vehicle’s interior and replacing the cabin filter if equipped but unfortunately in some cases that doesn’t always work. So instead we used a chemical method.

Tools/Supplies Needed:

  • tape
  • clean cloth
  • a/c treatment cleaner/evaporator cleaner and refresher/ac odour treatment/odour eliminator/foam coil cleaner

Step 1:

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Before using this treatment, it's important to clean the interior surfaces first such as wiping the plastic components, shampooing the upholstery, cleaning the windows, and headliner. An old or dirty cabin filter will also cause foul orders. Smells can come from a variety of sources such as dust, something which soaked into the fabric, left over food, spilled drinks, etc. The application must be done with the vehicle off. Turn the fan off as well.

Step 2:

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Here I am using an a/c treatment cleaner or also known as an evaporator cleaner and refresher, ac odour treatment, odour eliminator or foam coil cleaner. The product can be purchased at your local automotive parts supplier, available in single cans or a kit. There is usually a few difference scents available, this one has a citrus fragrance. While this is intended for vehicles with air conditioning, is can be used on vehicles without it too.

The treatment will come with a long nozzle that is to be inserted in the vents. Normally I insert it into the main center vent in the dashboard. It can also be applied in the other vents too, but this particular vent usually has the best access to the evaporator.

Shake the product up.Install the nozzle and be sure to hold onto it. I’ve had a few viewer that has had the nozzle pop off and end up behind the vent diffuser. Even install a piece of tape as a stopped to prevent it from falling in the vent. Spray the product into the vents for a few seconds. The product will apply as a foam into the duct, expanding, and eventually vaporizing when circulated.

Step 3:

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The product can also be sprayed on the exterior intake for the ventilation system, normally found in front of the windshield. Again using the long nozzle, insert it into the vent, spray for a few seconds and then remove.

Step 4:

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Once done, make sure the windows are closed. Start the vehicle, turn the fan on high, select the coolest setting and select the ac if equipped. If you didn’t apply it to the exterior intake, then you can select the recirculate feature. Allow the system to circulate for 15-20min. We do not want to be inside the vehicle when the product is circulating.

Now you maybe asking yourself why can’t you use some of the household brand products. Good question… We had experienced with some of those household brand products and sadly they didn’t work. They may seem to lessen the odour, but in reality all they did was mask the odour. After a few days the foul odour came back.

Step 5:

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Once the time span has passed, set everything back to it’s regular setting and turn the vehicle off. During the circulation process, the product will eventually evaporate and disappear, leaving a fresh clean scent.

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Comments

AlfieE2 (author)2017-07-28

One way to reduce mold production in the A/C system is to turn it off, but keep the fan blowing to help dry off the evaporator (the cooling coil), when you are near your destination. On very hot humid days I'll open the windows and turn the heat on for a short bit to dry the ducts.

I've also have very good results to keeping mold away by occasionally using unscented Lysol. I simply turn on the blower, put the system into Recirculate mode and spray near in air intake under the dash where the mist gets sucked in.

4DIYers (author)AlfieE22017-07-28

Great idea, never thought about running the heater for a second to dry out any moisture. Thank you for sharing!

JoeV24 (author)4DIYers2017-08-01

There are some misconceptions here concerning airflow in either real air conditioning or those that are incorrectly called air conditioning in motor vehicles.

Running the heater to dry out the evaporator will have negligible effect in

purging the moisture from A.C. systems since they use a "Terminal reheat" system whereas the incoming air is chilled first to remove moisture from the air and then reheated to bring it up to the thermostat setting.

The heater core is downstream of the evaporator and it wont heat it at all.

True air conditioning is somewhat wasteful on energy used to chill then reheat it to desired levels, and usually on lower value vehicles one finds a refrigeration system instead. The operative word here is CONDITIONING.

Still.... even in a vehicle with (misnomered) Air Conditioning: the heater core will be in a y-duct with the heater core in one leg, the evaporator in leg #2 and the discharge into the passenger compartment in leg #3.

The heater can't send heated air through the chilled duct either way.

If the air isn't at least processed to remove moisture, then the system isn't really conditioning the air. Even with the advent of cabin filters, there really isn't any true conditioning without drying the air first either.

MikeH158 (author)2017-07-27

Don't forget that there is a Cabin Air Filter that occasionally need changing.

It's usually behind the glove box.

4DIYers (author)MikeH1582017-07-28

Yep, that we mention the in the video :) That is always the first step I recommend with solving an odour issue. Manufacturers usually have maintenance intervals, they should be changed at least once a year though. If that doesn't work, move onto cleaning the interior and then this method in the video is the final step.

sharpstick (author)2017-07-27

(My credentials: Mom was hospitalized and her Subaru sat for six months in yard. Groceries and laundry left in car.Mice moved in, had babies, died. )

- Ozone generator: Price begins under $100. set it up in the car with an extension cord, start the car, turn on AC, let it run for a couple hours. Repeat if necessary.

- Cheaper alternative: Eucalyptus branches. You can buy them at craft stores, used for flower arrangements. Very intense odor. Only lasts a month or two.

Yowza - quite the "credentials".

When my wife's car developed a nasty, musty odor from the AC that didn't go away with a cabin filter change and several attempts at cleaning, I bought one of these

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B008CQO62W

Ran it in the car overnight (extension cord) to build up a high concentration, then ran car AC a while. Repeated a few times and the problem was gone.

The thing is handy. While ozone is hazardous, and a bit controversial if you don't breath it, it works very well. I occasionally put it in each bathroom overnight with the door closed and that seems to keep them disinfected.

I had tried the special cleaner mentioned in the Instructable in both the vent, air intake, and (by removing cabin filter) the recirculate intake back to the condenser. No joy. I Also tried (lots of) Lysol spray, hoping it would kill things off, but it did nothing but make the car smell "nice" and musty...

I don't know if it makes sense, because it didn't work for me - but it seemed like a good idea... After dumping half a can of (generic) Lysol into the intake whith the AC on, I shut the system down a minute later. My thought was that I wanted the Lysol to coat the condenser and do its germ killing thing for a while. If I left the AC running, the condenser would condense more water and "wash" the Lysol off the plates before it could do its job.

Great tips, thank you for sharing! We have tried some of the household products, never really worked unfortunately. As mentioned in the video they usually ended up masking the odour rather than eliminating it completely. Honestly I've never had a car where this method didn't solve the odour issue. To solve the problem, we would replace the cabin filter, clean the interior, and if it was still there then we used this method.

4DIYers (author)sharpstick2017-07-28

Great tips, thank you for sharing. We've had mice end up in a car at the dealership, what a mess. Needed half the interior replaced, the smell was horrid.

gm280 (author)2017-07-25

Looks like you were doing this to a Ranger truck dash. I have to ask because I can't figure it out myself. What is that little vent for on the passenger's side of the center dash section? I see all the Ranger trucks have one, but what is it for? IDK!

4DIYers (author)gm2802017-07-28

Yes it is. Unfortunately I'm not sure and I've own two with the same dashboard. Mine were the previous generation from 1995. I would guess it's either for a sensor or recirculate vent. I've had other cars (not Ford) with similar little vents and they're for climate control sensors. I believe the Ford Explorer has the same dashboard and have the climate control option.

The small side vents defrost/defog the lower front portion of the side windows - that you look through to see the side view mirrors.

fixfireleo (author)gm2802017-07-27

(try this a third time) oldest answers are at the bottom. looks like you can choose the answer that you like best! :)

sj0305 (author)gm2802017-07-27

It's to help clear the side windows of fog..

RoyK11 (author)gm2802017-07-27

Heat escape for audio and dash control components.

fourstc (author)gm2802017-07-27

If it's like my explorer, there is tubing from there into the heat/a system. I think it has to do with determining the interior temperature for the automatic system.

Bayhop (author)2017-07-27

I get a foul odour when it rains or when I go the the car wash, with my 2002 Tundra. Any ideas?

Thanks

MM

4DIYers (author)Bayhop2017-07-28

Does it smell somewhat stale or boarder line musty? If so, I would start with replacing the cabin filter first, even consider upgrading to a charcoal cabin filter to help eliminate foul odours. But most likely it's something coming off the condenser, especially more noticeable when high moisture is present. So this is the method that you would use.

gm280 (author)2017-07-27

The vent I was talking about is this one. I've had my radio section opened (when installed a new Kenwood receiver) and looked inside and it seems to go nowhere. I have even hear others talk about it, but nobody really knew what it is there for.

sivartd71 (author)2017-07-27

It's for the automatic ac controls - temperature sensor is behind it if you have auto control - nothing behind it if you don't have that option. One dash fits all approach.

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