Smells like team spirit -- or worse!
January 3, 2009 6:23 PM   Subscribe

I live in a place that is rainy or snowy half the year, and during that half it is impossible to keep the floor of my car dry. It has begun to smell pretty bad. I recently had the interior detailed, which included washing the floor mats, and it smelt fine until the floor got wet again, which was almost immediately. Does anyone have a good technique for keeping wet carpet from smelling bad? Drying it is not an option. For bonus points, exactly what is it that causes the smell?
posted by ubiquity to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Those rubber floor mats that collect the water and keep it off your carpet really work well. as far as getting rid of the odor, maybe Febreeze or baking soda?
posted by fshgrl at 6:30 PM on January 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

Sounds to me like what's happening is the same thing that happens to bath towels if you let 'em go too long between washings: colonies of bacteria take advantage of the damp conditions to set up shop and emit foul-smelling odors. Once this happens and they really set in, simple washing won't do the trick, as like you've found, the next time things get wet they're still there just waiting to go to work.

Solution? Bleach. Honestly. Put a cap or two of bleach in a bucket of water and wash with that. That dilute and it won't bleach your carpets but it will completely eradicate opportunistic bacteria. Should work for at least few weeks rather than a few days, and you can always do it again next time.
posted by valkyryn at 6:33 PM on January 3, 2009

The smell is mildew or mold, a living organism that grows in damp environs like your car's carpet. Keeping the carpets dry will be the best way to prevent it, which means rubber mats. Maybe with newspaper underneath.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 6:34 PM on January 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

If drying/keeping it dry isn't an option, then either get your carpets steam-cleaned or replace them.

On the drying side, might I suggest a wet/dry vac for those occasions when it's really, really soaked? Also, check for leaks in the car where water might be seeping in and pooling.
posted by zippy at 6:54 PM on January 3, 2009

The rubber mats were what caused our problem after we had our car detailed - The mats were effective enough that they would not allow for the carpet beneath it to dry out and we found ourselves with a very smelly car. We had to do the bleach trick and then let it air out until it was dry. Can you leave it in a garage with the doors open overnight (in our case, several nights because it was so humid) to help with air circulation?

Also, to help get rid of any lingering odors, you can try Exstink. It's volcanic ash and basically works like baking soda on steriods (it's used in morgues, if that gives you any indication of how well it works). Any product that consists of volcanic ash would work the same. You can place it directly on your carpets and vac it up when it dries.
posted by inquisitrix at 7:18 PM on January 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Agreed , the smell is from bacteria in the wet carpet. You could spot clean the worst areas with rug doctor using the upholstery attachment and solution of disinfectant/bleach. Then fit something like Weathertech floorliners . They're molded with a raised lip that stops pooled water from snow and slush going everywhere.
posted by panini at 7:29 PM on January 3, 2009

The fact that you've got mildew sounds like maybe the drain holes in the floor of your car are plugged, which can be very bad news- any salt that you track into your car is also going to start corroding away at your car from the inside.
So far I've lost two cars to this, so it's worth thinking about. I'd find out where the drains are and check them for old leaves and dirt.
posted by dunkadunc at 7:47 PM on January 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

When I had this problem, water was under the carpet and seats. The rubber trim edging the trunk lid was leaking and the water eventually sloshed forward under the backseat, down under the carpet, all the way to the front area. AFAIK, there were no drainholes. The car was still in warranty, so they completely gutted the inside, cleaned everything, and reinstalled the innards. They replaced the trunk rubber seals and created drain holes. No further problems. I lived in Seattle and traveled to Spokane a lot. I never had problems with moisture on top level of carpet/mats.
posted by ick at 11:21 PM on January 3, 2009

Best answer: I had the same problem. Removing the factory floor mats and putting in big industrial looking rubber mats did the trick. After cleaning the carpet thoroughly, and making sure you have no leaks, of course. The kind of rubber mats that are 3/4 of an inch thick with deep channels and an even deeper ridge around the edges. You might find them in the "truck" section of the auto parts store. You have to get those kinds so that water/snow from your shoes is trapped in the mat. The thin rubber ones are mostly useless, because the water just runs off the edge and still gets in your carpet.

The only caveat is that the carpet underneath must be dry before putting them in, or they will trap moisture beneath them and get stinky.

And the best part is that they well-protect the interior of the car. During nice weather or when you go to sell the car, you pull the clean factory mats out of the basement and put them in and the car looks great.

As for cleaning the stink out, that's a chore. Reason is that most cars have a pad under the carpet itself for sound deadening purposes. It's a sort of raggy, felted, spongy stuff. If it's gone nasty, you've got a job on your hands. I've never done it, but if I had to, I probably would flood the thing with clean, soapy, bleachy water. (Just bleachy enough to kill the bacteria but not enough to bleach the carpet. Since the carpet is usually a space-age synthetic of some kind, this shouldn't be too hard to do. Or Lysol.) Anyway, flood it with this, and then use a wet-vac to suck it all out. Repeat a number of times. Then, air it out completely. Either a warm, dry, windy day, or in a garage with fans and a dehumidifier.

(Note- there are not floor drains in a normal car. You don't want water getting into the cabin of the car. Kinda like a boat- having a floor drain would cause more trouble that it would solve. There ARE drains in the outer body of the car between the exterior sheet metal and the interior frame. Especially in doors- this lets water drain through the outside of the door since the window seals are not 100% perfect. These shouldn't get clogged or the car will rust from the inside out. And there may be drain plugs, but they should be sealed normally.)
posted by gjc at 8:05 AM on January 4, 2009

Response by poster: Of course, I will need to wait for a warm, dry, windy day to try this out. I believe we are expecting a day like that some time in July.
posted by ubiquity at 9:28 AM on January 4, 2009

One time my kids left the car door open for several hours on a cold day and a cat peed on the floor - and we all know what cat urine stinks like. After several unsuccessful efforts to get rid of the stink (including enzyme stuff I bought from a janitorial supply), I ordered X-O odor neutralizer from The Cleaning Center. That did the trick completely - even on hot, humid days, we never smelled the cat pee again. It has worked that well for other people, too, when I recommended it to them. I don't know how it would work for your problem, especially if your carpet continues to be wet. But it certainly would be worth a try - it's $7.50 for a quart of concentrate.

Just go to, click on Odor Control in the right column, then on X-O. There's also X-O Plus - it's X-O plus a cleanser. By the way, I order other cleaning supplies from them - for example, the Showers-n-Stuff works way, way, way better than Lime-Away or CLR on hard water deposits.
posted by onemorething at 12:11 PM on January 4, 2009

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