Cat food + leaky trunk = mold nightmare
September 12, 2010 11:59 AM   Subscribe

Mold in my car's trunk, very very nasty. I have a water leak, spilled some cat food in the trunk, and we had some very heavy rains recently. I've started cleaning it but want to know what's best to disinfect it, and whether I need to rip out the carpet.

So I've had a leak in my trunk for awhile now. I have had to use cups & rags to get the water out of the spare tire well and small wells on either side towards the back. The water didn't come back (or so I thought), and I was stupid and didn't get the leak professionally fixed. (I am not sure how it is leaking, the gasket seems to be intact).

So I had a small bag of cat food back there (about the size of two fists) that was a sample from the vet. Stupid me didn't throw it away, so stuff rolling around in the back busted it open.

Then the recent rains, and you can see where this is going. I saw the moldy cat food yesterday and started cleaning it out today, and I have a heroic friend who volunteered to help me.

First I got out all the chunks of cat food and the mold attached to them. Then I used Clorox wipes and sprayed with Clorox bathroom cleaner and Febreeze. It's now airing out in the sun. The smell when we started was vomit-inducing but now it's a thousand times better.

The spare tire well had water and mushy catfood in it, so we cleaned that out and cleaned the tire too. The carpet extends very far inward though, and I fear there is more cat food mush hiding underneath it.

So, my questions: What chemicals are best to get rid of mold in a car carpet-type situation? Should I rip out the carpet? (it is continuous with the sides so I imagine I could snip it just above the edge of the floor part and leave the sides intact.) The carpet is still somewhat damp.

Is there any way to keep the mold from coming back? Or are my odds good after removing the cat food itself?

I know I definitely need to take the car in to have the leak repaired.

Thanks in advance for any clues. This is by far the most disgusting mess I've ever created in my life, and I just want to get it cleaned & solved as quickly as possible.
posted by marble to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Mold is a bacteria and can continue to grow in the fibers of the carpet. Vinegar acts as a disinfectant. I suggest mixing vinegar and water (2 to 1 ratio) in a spray bottle and then using a stiff brush on the affected areas. As well, you can replace the vinegar with bleach (with a 1 to 1 ratio with the water).

Afterwards, spray the area with an antibacterial spray -- such as the Clorox spray you've used or something else like Lysol to alleviate the odor. Air dry, as you are doing.

You might also consider sprinkling the carpet with baking soda after any of these procedures ... and leaving it for a few days ... then vacuuming it up.
posted by ericb at 12:17 PM on September 12, 2010

I like the product No More Mildew, which helps prevent mold from regrowing. It's for use only after you get everything as clean as possible. It smells better to me than hypochlorite bleach, and it lasts longer.

(Mold is fungus, not bacteria. Different kingdom.)
posted by Ery at 12:20 PM on September 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Mold is fungus, not bacteria. Different kingdom.

You are right. Duh. I stand corrected.
posted by ericb at 12:21 PM on September 12, 2010

I'd use a wet/dry vacuum to get as much moisture and cat food residue out as you can; as long as there's a food source, you'll have decay.

Personally, I'd get as much of the solids out as I could and then take the car into an auto detailer to have the trunk steam cleaned. They've seen and fixed much worse messes.
posted by jamaro at 12:25 PM on September 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Go to a DIY carwash, take out the carpet (as much as is unattached) and pressure wash all of it. Just step on one end and "scrape" the carpet with the pressurized water. Then carpet cleaner or 409 or whatever soak with some antibacterial chlorine or detergents or whatever. Wet/Dry or Little Green Machine and you should be good to go. You can always remove seats and go for exposing every nook and cranny, cars can always be completely disassembled. That's not really "as quickly as possible" though.
posted by rhizome at 12:37 PM on September 12, 2010

The main thing, as jamaro said, is to remove the cat food and anything else the mold is feeding on. Doing a thorough job of that will also get rid of most of the spores.

Beyond that, disinfecting is somewhere between pointless and impossible. Molds need warmth, food, and water to grow. You can deny them food and water, and that's the best you can do. The spores are ubiquitous. Nothing you want to do to your car will kill all of them, and even if you could kill all of them, more would drift in the first time you opened the trunk.
posted by Bruce H. at 12:42 PM on September 12, 2010

Also, you said something about dipping the water out of the spare tire wheel well: There should be a hole or drain in the lowest parts of that area- water in a car truck is not that unusual, and the engineers that design these things know that. There is almost always a drain hole down there: if it's covered by a rubber plug, remove it.
posted by pjern at 1:57 PM on September 12, 2010

Lots of good suggestions above, I just want to make a small note since one of them could be read as advising you to mix chlorine with other cleaners and detergents. Don't do this, as chlorine bleach often does not play well with other cleaners (especially ammonia) and may generate fumes which can be quite toxic indeed.

You probably already knew that, but I thought it was worth a reminder. I'd hate for you to unintentionally reenact the Second Battle of Ypres inside your trunk.
posted by Scientist at 3:51 PM on September 12, 2010

Have you considered using a cat to find the last bits of cat food in the trunk?
posted by buzzman at 1:38 PM on September 17, 2010

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