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Smelly car? Do something about it

By Ryan Welton, Staff writer
Published On: Jan 27 2012 05:13:44 PM CST
Updated On: Feb 01 2013 10:24:28 AM CST
scared woman driving car

iStock/cookelma

If you spend time in your car each day, odds are high that you've had this reaction at least once:

"Eww. What's that smell?"

While you can find information about how to get rid of pesky odors such as from smoke or food, there really isn't much information available on the proper way to make a clean car smell great. The truth is, there isn't even consensus that a great-smelling car is that important.

"I can only speak for myself, but I would guess that most car enthusiasts, when asked what kind of smell is good for a car, would roll their eyes and shake their heads," said Paul Pollock, webmaster of Web-Cars.com.

His site has information on getting rid of odors ranging from smoke to rotting meat. In the forums, there are suggestions for getting rid of both, although there isn't consensus on how to get rid of the stale scent of cigarette smoke.

One forum poster named "Buda" said that you must kill the bacteria causing a bad smell to eliminate it.

"This can be done by a number of means," Buda posted. "A biological odor eliminator or, better yet, an ozone generator. Hard to say exactly, but it is a problem that has to be handled by a professional."

In the same forum, "Doug" gathered suggestions from other site contributors. The ideas included sprinkling dry coffee grounds liberally, putting a bag of charcoal in the trunk and applying baking soda to problem spots.

Making cars smell great

Lane Pietro makes it his business to make clean cars smell terrific.

Since 2000, he's been selling car scents online, an extension of his mobile car detailing business, called FastLane, based in the St. Louis area. Pietro said he believes it's important to this generation of commuters to have great-smelling vehicles.

"You've got a younger generation. They have animals. They're smokers. You're going to have a smell lingering around," he said.

So, Pietro offered the 1-2-3 on how to make a car smell great. He said it begins with understanding the two types of car fresheners.

Water-based scents don't have "longevity of smell," Pietro said. These scents last up to three to five days at most. Oil-based scents can last anywhere from a half-month to a month, but they are more expensive, he said.

Pietro said that a car owner will need to do more prep work with a vehicle before using water-based scents to maximize freshness. Drivers who want to mask an odor should look to an oil-based scent.

What smells good to you?

The types of scent one chooses for his or her car is ultimately subjective.

"You could smell something and say, 'That's great,' and then I could smell it and say, 'Are you kidding me?'" Pietro said.

For example, Pietro said he's not a fan of what's considered new-car smell these days. He said the scent has evolved into something that smells more leathery and more plastic than in days gone by. However, variations of new-car and leather are among his most popular scents at LanesCarProducts.com.

That might be deceiving, he said, because most consumers search the Web for scent names with which they're familiar, and new-car and leather scents are well-known.

Best spots for scents

Once a car owner decides on a fragrance, it's fairly common to focus the scent underneath floor mats or seats. However, Pietro explains that the best method of spreading a scent throughout a car begins outside of it.

"Put the scent on the outside of the car by the windshield wipers, on the vents, from the outside, and turn the air conditioner on in the inside," he said.

Pietro said that allows the scent to blow throughout the vehicle evenly.

"Doesn't get anything wet, and it blows out the smell," he said.

These techniques are all dependent on having a clean car to start, Pietro said, meaning those with odors that just won't go away will need to deal with those problems before moving forward.