My car vents stink. How can I get rid of the smell?
December 8, 2008 1:05 AM   Subscribe

My car vents stink. How can I get rid of the smell?

Turning on the fan (either A/C or heat) gives out a blast of foul air for the first minute or so, then the smell goes away. It does not smell like chemicals or anything burning, more like some sweat socks have been cooking on the radiator. I've cleaned and febrezed the car so the interior smells fine, except when I turn on the vents. Is there an easy way to de-stink them without taking it to a mechanic? Peroxide based cleaners?

I'm hoping there are no dead squirrels hiding out in my engine.
posted by benzenedream to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I was just reading about this today.... apparently a damp tea-bag at the intake hole will do it.

This woman is a guru in Australia, and it's her that I read it from. Best of luck possum.
posted by taff at 1:12 AM on December 8, 2008

Best answer: See if your car has a "cabin air filter" - if so, it needs to be changed.

Also, the chances are far greater than you think that something has died in your engine. It's more likely a mouse than a squirrel, though.
posted by mmoncur at 3:36 AM on December 8, 2008

You may have mold growing on your cabin air filter. Take care of it, especially if you've been having more respiratory problems (coughs, sniffles, etc) than normal lately.
posted by jedrek at 3:42 AM on December 8, 2008

Best answer: What kind of car is it?

Usually, this is due to water in the condenser. Run your heat for 30 min every few days, long enough to dry up the moisture and kill the bacteria.

I found this online. Basically, you spray bathroom cleaner into the air intake vents in the engine:

1) Flashlight.
2) One aerosol can of Scrubbing Bubbles bathroom cleaner (you can use a store brand if you want, just make sure the active ingredients and the type of nozzle are the same).
3) A two foot long piece of 1/8" inside diameter flexible plastic tubing (should be available at any hardware store).
1) Open the hood and locate the cover that conceals the air intake filter.
2) Remove it and also pull out the air intake filter.
3) Start the car and turn on the car's vents so that the dampers in the air intake area open to pull outside air into the system.
4) Locate the air intake dampers and confirm that they're open by standing beside the car just in front of one of the front wheels and shining the flashlight from a nearly horizontal angle into the air intake area. There's a damper on each side about size of the palm of your hand that rotates 90 degrees to open or close, and you'll be able to see it if you look carefully. Play around with the A/C recirculation button and sooner or later you'll figure out where the dampers are and what position they're in.
5) Pull the nozzle off the can of bathroom cleaner and place one end of the plastic tubing over the exposed stem that the nozzle used to sit on.
6) Place the other end of the tubing into the air intake area just outside the dampers and empty half the bathroom cleaner into this vicinity. Chances are you'll start to see the cleaner running out onto the pavement within a minute or so.
7) Empty the rest of the can into the air intake chamber behind the open dampers on either side of the car (divide it equally). Use caution, as there's a squirrel cage blower behind the dampers, and it will be spinning as you're spraying the foam.
8) When the can is empty, turn off the car and put the filter and cover back. Let the car sit for several hours or overnight.
posted by luckypozzo at 4:37 AM on December 8, 2008

posted by mandal at 5:00 AM on December 8, 2008

If it is a mouse you will shortly know all about it. The stink will get worse until you cannot actually get in the car because of the stench of rotting corpse. You will then take it to a mechanic who will have to take puke breaks while cleaning putrefied mouse parts out the blower unit. Just sayin'.
posted by unSane at 5:32 AM on December 8, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone for the suggestions. The car is a Honda Civic - the stink has been constant for a few months, so I doubt it's a "fresh kill". The cabin air filter seems like a likely culprit (or the easiest to change, at least) - here's a video of how to change it. If that fails I'll check out the Scrubbing Bubbles solution.

Heat is usually on for 30 minutes or greater during nighttime drives, so I doubt it is water in the condenser. Thanks everyone!
posted by benzenedream at 11:21 AM on December 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

I had a somewhat similar problem with a nasty, strong, organic, somehow...familiar...smell from the vents. In my case the culprit was: mouse turds.

My parking space adjoined a grassy area, I didn't drive the car often, and apparently little visitors crawled under the hood. Around the engine I found a smattering of wee little turds and urine streaks, plus a crumpled piece of paper, like someone was trying to make a nest. Thankfully, no actual mouse had been injured. But the droppings were being toasted under the hood whenever I drove, and the scent was being drawn into the car through the vents.

I cleaned but the stink lingered. Finally scrubbed down under the hood with Nature's Miracle enzymes and that took care of it. (It was actually pretty great - my car smelled fresh again, no animals died, and incidentally, after Nature's Miracle performed so well, we began using it to clean up after our own pet rats...I also realized what the mouseturd blast reminded me of: hot rat poop whirling in the vacuum cleaner.)

Best of luck and may your car-vent problem resolve well too.
posted by spiny at 11:08 PM on December 8, 2008

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