February 5, 2015 6:52 AM   Subscribe

Help me please I did a dumb and now my car reeks of the acrid stench of defeat.

About a month ago I was coming home from costco with a car full of stuff. It was very dark, very cold, and all the parking spots in front of my apartment were full, so I loaded up an armful of the most fragile stuff and scurried inside, figuring I'd get the rest in the morning.

Temperature dipped well below freezing, which my new, large costco-size jug of vinegar didn't take too kindly to. It didn't explode, but certainly all the vinegar inside was frozen. I didn't see any leaks but my car smelled a little like vinegar. Brought it back inside, set it in a bucket in case there was a hidden hull breach, and allowed it to thaw. No leaks, no holes in the container whatsoever, jug still appeared completely full.

Go to use my car a few days later (I drive infrequently) and holy mother of god the thing stank. It's like the vinegar imbued my car with its pungent essence to shame me for not loving it as much as the goat cheese and aveeno. I'M SORRY.

I've been leaving the windows cracked as much as possible, but it's winter in Chicago so that's still pretty infrequent. It blizzarded the other day and when I dug my car out and opened the door, WHAM, right in the face with the vinegar smell. I can't tell if it's gotten worse or if I just hate myself a little more every time.

So, knowing that there will be no warmth, dry weather, or sunlight for the foreseeable future, how the friggin crap to do I get my car to not stop smelling like vinegar?? Right now it's just me, but some day someone else might ride in my car. Please help. It is so stinky.
posted by phunniemee to Grab Bag (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What about .... baking soda? Sprinkle it everywhere and let it sit over the weekend, take a vac to it on monday morning. Or park it in a friends garage with everything open as well.

THen some activated charcoal filterslike you'd have for your compost bucket or fish tank (I think - I haven't tried it but I keep hearing it).

If the baking soda and airing out don't do it, get the inside shampooed (if anyone does it in Chi town in the middle of winter) ....
posted by Buttons Bellbottom at 6:59 AM on February 5, 2015 [5 favorites]

Vinegar will evaporate. Eventually.
posted by Namlit at 7:01 AM on February 5, 2015 [7 favorites]

Seconding the baking soda. Even just leave an open box in the car for a few days, but Buttons Bellbottom's suggesting of sprinkling it around is probably much better. Good luck with the de-stinking.
posted by futureisunwritten at 7:08 AM on February 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

A long drive with the heat turned up and the ventilation system set to bring in fresh air (i.e. not recirculate) might help. That's how we used to reduce moisture levels in my wife's car in the wintertime when she had a short commute.
posted by jon1270 at 7:09 AM on February 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yeah, neutralize it. Baking soda is perfect. The salt form, sodium acetate doesn't smell nearly as much as native vinegar, acetic acid.

If you've got one, a wet-dry vac is perfect. If not, go to a gas station or a you-do car wash and have a go with a coin-op one. Bring some pet stain/carpet cleaner and give your carpets a clean while you're at it. A good enzymatic cleaner will destroy any residue the soda doesn't neutralize.
posted by bonehead at 7:12 AM on February 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is a little off the path from being a direct answer, but -- I've found Groupon usually has some good deals for car detailing.
posted by kmennie at 7:24 AM on February 5, 2015

When a friend's car was infused with skunk smell, our research turned up the tip to leave a dish of coffee grounds in the car. It worked, given time.
posted by ejs at 7:31 AM on February 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I'll try the baking soda and the coffee (separately) for sure.

(My car is very old and crappy and I think detailing it would remove the cruft that's holding it together.)

Thanks for the suggestions so far!
posted by phunniemee at 7:40 AM on February 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

Do you have removable floor mats, that can be taken out and shampooed? Lots of car washes do this; perhaps they could also do your upholstery.
posted by easily confused at 8:57 AM on February 5, 2015

If the baking soda and coffee don't work, then consider trying a deodorizing sponge.
posted by oceano at 9:40 AM on February 5, 2015

This doesn't sound like a vinegar spill to me. When vinegar dries, the smell completely disappears. Do you remember if the top of the jar was still sealed? Is it possible that you bought another (food) item that slid under a seat?
posted by raisingsand at 4:57 PM on February 5, 2015

Response by poster: When vinegar dries, the smell completely disappears.


So here's the weird thing: no vinegar actually spilled, or if any did it was an extremely small quantity. It was just in my car, sealed and being frozen (plastic jug container) for approximately 24 hours. It has now been a month since there was any vinegar in the car and maybe I'm just crazy but it actually seems to smell more vinegary every time I open the door.

The smell is absolutely 100% without any shadow of a doubt vinegar.

There's nothing else in my car aside from standard car tools, an ice scraper, and paper maps of Kentucky for some reason.
posted by phunniemee at 5:30 PM on February 5, 2015

You do not have vinegar in your car. You have acetic acid which osmotically escaped from the plastic bottle. The temperature actually had little to do with it. If it had been a hot day it would have been worse.

The surfaces and sub-surfaces of porous structures in the care are coated with dried acetic acid.

Have you ever had "sea salt and vinegar potato chips?" They are dry and not coated with vinegar. But in your mouth you instantly get vinegar smell. Because the acetic acid only becomes noticeable when dissolved in water.

The baking soda in boxes or bowls will help a bit. But the smell only comes out with moisture in the air which, in winter, is only provided by YOU respiring or breathing in the car.

Option 1: Wait until it is warm and it rains - leave windows cracked then

Option 2: liberally sprinkle baking soda all over the car making a huge mess, and leave a large pan of water in the car to provide humidity. Clean FOREVER after a few days and it is done

Option 3: Tough it out until warm weather: ambient humidity is higher when it is warmer.

I'd pick 3 - if you can tough it out until, say, end of May, with leaving the windows cracked during warmer weather, you'll be done.

If you are REALLY bothered you can wipe down every surface with baking soda dissolved in water and then rinse and clean afterward but that will discolor a lot of the plastics in your car, permanently.

Wait it out - it will get better. By Mid-Summer it will all be an unpleasant memory.
posted by BrooksCooper at 10:54 PM on February 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Just in case anyone was waiting for updates, the car still smells like vinegar. It's a bit fainter now, but only just.

Thought you guys should know.
posted by phunniemee at 6:52 AM on March 23, 2015

Hey, phunniemee I'd keep with the wash/smell remover (baking soda, charcoal, bad odor absobers) for a bit, like once a week or so.

but I just saw this thing on "TV" (Hulu Plus).

It's .... paper towels with dish soap in them. Buy a roll, leave a few in your car and just ... over power it.
posted by tilde at 10:57 AM on March 26, 2015

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