How do I get air freshener smell out of my car?
October 22, 2013 9:26 AM   Subscribe

I just bought a 2002 Honda Civic, and either the previous owner or the dealer who sold it to me was apparently a big air freshener fan. I hate the smell of synthetic air freshener - it makes me feel really nauseated.

Is there any way to get the smell out? I've had the car a week and a half, and it still smells pretty strong when I get into it. I've been running the AC whenever I drive it, and the smell seems to improve when I get going, so either it's not a problem with the cabin air filter or I'm just getting used to it.

In case this makes a difference: the seats are leather. The mats are new. The air freshener was yellow (but didn't smell lemony) and looked like a pine tree. I tossed it out within five minutes of signing the paperwork. If it was the dealer who put the air freshener in there, the car was on his lot for two weeks (max) between the previous owner part exchanging it and me buying it.

Any thoughts on what I can do to get rid of the smell? I'd prefer quick fixes I can do myself to, say, having it professionally cleaned. I considered opening a pot of baking soda and sticking it on the back seat, but the potential for that to spill everywhere seems...high.

posted by terretu to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total)
Maybe have the carpets under the mats and the headliner shampooed with unscented rug shampoo by a detailer? Oops, saw your "not professionally" comment after. There are instructions on the web for how to do these things...
posted by cecic at 9:32 AM on October 22, 2013

Drive around with all the windows open and see what that does -- the AC doesn't give you that kind of airflow.
posted by Etrigan at 9:33 AM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would try an open container of coffee grounds. Just leave it in overnight every night for awhile, hopefully that will help.
posted by Think_Long at 9:35 AM on October 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

I would open a box of baking soda and dump it into a large tupperware or other plastic container -- large because then you'll have just an inch of baking soda on the bottom, and less chance of spillage. Put it on the passenger seat floor and let it sit there for a week.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:35 AM on October 22, 2013

You could put the baking soda in an old margerine container and poke holes in the top, then sit it on the floor in the back and that might reduce the spillage chances.

I would also recommend wiping everything down with a vinegar/water rinse and spraying any carpets and such, then leaving the windows/doors open on a nice, sunny day.

I share your opinion of those air fresheners. They are the devil.
posted by pixiecrinkle at 9:35 AM on October 22, 2013

I'm SO with you. We had a rental in Miami that smelled like a French Whore!

Ozium is kind of the go-to item for this.

I'd also try baking soda all over everything overnight and a good vacuum after.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:42 AM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

By some leather cleaner and clean the leather. (Pick one with a nice smell. Tractor Supply will have them, if there's one on the edge of your town. Sometimes auto parts stores have leather cleaner.) Pick up some turtle wax sun protection vinyl cleaner and clean the dash and everything else - especially things that have been gripped by oily human hands. Sift baking soda into the carpet, let it sit a while and then use a roll of quarters to vacuum it up. Clean the floor mats with a hose while you're there.

Then drive around with the windows open.

Good luck. I am pretty sure regular exposure to air freshener smell will cause you to grow a tail and make your eyes melt.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:45 AM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ugh, my eyes are watering in sympathy.

If you are OK with the smell of coffee, I can vouch that it is good for neutralizing odours. I am pretty sure I've posted here before about my ex-boyfriend's shoes that were mystifyingly disgusting--I filled them with whole coffee beans, we left them for a day or two, dumped out the beans and voila! No more stench. They didn't really smell too much like coffee, either, but if you hate the very smell of coffee I wouldn't recommend this approach.

If you do decide to do it, put the coffee beans in a fine mesh bag and leave it on the floor in the back and maybe one in the front too. Less chance of spilling than the grounds.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:26 AM on October 22, 2013

Just a heads-up: there's a possibility (since this was a used car) that the dealer or previous owner has saturated the car with some kind of spray-on scent to cover another unpleasant smell, like smoke or mold. If you have a warranty, consider bringing the car to an independent upholstery shop for an opinion on what it could be, then bringing it to the place of purchase to "fix" the "terrible smell" (don't mention that you think it is air freshener.)
posted by davejay at 10:39 AM on October 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

In addition to what others suggest, carefully wipe down all washable surfaces with warm water and mild detergent, wash the windows in a suitable way from the inside, and vacuum everything else, and especially the carpets and other clothy matter really carefully.
posted by Namlit at 10:47 AM on October 22, 2013

I'd clean every inch of the car with unscented wipes (leather, handles, dashboard etc) and then finish that off with a towel and water. If you have a good vacuum cleaner, I'd dump some baking soda on the carpets overnight and then vacuum them in the morning. If you have a safe place to do so, leave the windows down during the nights.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 10:51 AM on October 22, 2013

They sell boxes of baking soda specifically to be used as deodorizers! They have panels that peel off to reveal some sort of mesh that allows the baking soda to work its magic without spilling everywhere. That link is for a dozen of them, which is probably overkill, but I'd buy a few and put one under all the seats.
posted by SeedStitch at 11:19 AM on October 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

I would try spraying some lysol or other air deodorant through the air vents. I have done this to get a mold smell out of my car from time to time.

For my car (a camry) if I open the hood there are air ducts near the windshield. I turn my vents open and put the fan on full blast on the inside (with recirculate air off) with all the windows open. I spray the lysol through the outside air ducts - it gets sucked in, circulated through, and blown out the inside of the car (hence the open windows). Do it for a few minutes a couple times a week and it might help. The lysol smell does not linger long. I might also change the air filter in your car.
posted by WinterSolstice at 11:51 AM on October 22, 2013

we got some work done on our car recently and when we got it back in reeked of mechanic pits - like, awful - it lingered for weeks. we just keep blowing the fan and going around with windows down and it eventually went away. there's a lot of good suggestions here, and i'd follow them if i were you, but time (and airflow) will also fix this.
posted by nadawi at 12:36 PM on October 22, 2013

A buddy of mine bought a '55 chevy pickup that the previous owner had decorated with several of those pinetree air fresheners. We tossed them in the trash, but the smell stuck with the truck for months. Then he decided to fix a rust hole in the floor, so we removed the carpet and the seat. Lo and behold, there were about a dozen more of those friggen things stuffed in the seat springs. I'd go over your car and see if there are any stowaways under the dash, the carpet, the seats. Maybe take it for a ride with the windows open to get rid of static smells, then see if you can use your nose to locate where the smell is coming from.
posted by 445supermag at 12:38 PM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Someone who quit smoking could never really rid his car of the cigarette odor. He figured that all the plastic parts absorbed the odor and he could not really remove it. He had the car detailed, and that made the odor was lighter, but still there.
posted by Cranberry at 2:18 PM on October 22, 2013

Car mats can be washed with a hose and some laundry detergent. Cut the detergent with water or it's hard to rinse it out. Dry them in a sunny spot. Clean the windows, and wipe down the insides with a weak vinegar & water solution. Cleaning the carpet would help. Wipe down the leather with water. Air fresheners seem to be oil-based. Sunshine and fresh air help a lot; park in a sunny area and leave the windows open as much as possible. I had a car whose previous owner used lots of scented stuff and it took a couple months for it to be totally gone. Some cedar chips in a plastic container that you poke holes in will smell nicer.
posted by theora55 at 2:48 PM on October 22, 2013

Oh, and don't forget to clean or vacuum the roof (ceiling? ).
posted by Lesser Shrew at 3:14 PM on October 22, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks everyone - these were all really useful answers! I'm going to start with coffee (as making my car smell like coffee will also win major boyfriend points), then baking soda if that doesn't work, and if neither of them fix it I'll do a full washdown!
posted by terretu at 2:11 AM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

« Older What is the best way to get twitter feeds in an...   |   There's Only So Much Wisdom I Can Impart In... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.